image of object
From: Wendy A. Cooper and Tara L. Gleason, "A Different Rhode Island Block and Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments, " American Furniture 1999, 176, fig. 12
Click the image to enlarge

Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, formerly attributed to John Carlile, Jr., American, 1762–1832, active 1781–1830
Maker Unknown


86 × 39 1/2 × 23 in. (218.44 × 100.33 × 58.42 cm)


about 1769

Current location

Private Collection


Made in Providence, Rhode Island
(view a map of Rhode Island)


Mahogany (primary); chestnut (drawer linings interior drawers and some exterior drawers, and backboards on upper and lower case); white pine (linings for some exterior drawers and drawer dividers)




"XB1" and XB2," incised on exterior backs of long interior drawers; "XB1," incised, on exterior back of shell drawer; ""X" and "X," incised, on exterior backs of proper right short interior drawers; "X3 [or 13" and "X1]," incised on exterior backs of proper left short interior drawers; "XB1," incised, on exterior back of top exterior drawer; "GIVEN BY CAPT. GEORGE CORLIS TO HIS DAUGHTER / SARAH ON HER MARRIAGE IN 1769 TO DR. WM BOWEN [OF PROVIDENCE (inserted)] / FROM MRS. BOWEN TO HER DAUGHTER MRS. THOMAS / AMORY [OF BOSTON (inserted)] TO HER DAUGHTER AMNA M. AMORY TO HER/ GREAT NIECE HELEN AMORY ERNST, " in sepia ink, on a paper label glued to proper left interior side of bookcase


Mrs. William Bowen (née Sarah Corlis, 1748–1825), Providence, Rhode Island; by descent to her daughter Elizabeth Bowen Amory (1776–1858), Roxbury, Massachusetts; by descent to her daughter Anna M. Amory, Roxbury, Massachusetts; by descent to her great niece Helen Amory Ernst (1867–1933), Washington, D.C.; by descent to Mary Abbott (born 1921), New York; consigned to Christie's, New York, May 28, 1987, lot 200 (unsold); Christie's, New York, January 18, 1997, lot 278. Private collection, overseas; Sotheby's, New York, September 30, 2010, lot 51

Associated names

Dr. William Bowen
Sarah Corlis
Elizabeth Bowen Amory
Overseas private collection
Descendants of Corlis-Bowen Family
Helen Amory Ernst
Anna M. Amory


The roof of the upper bookcase section consists of boards shaped to align with the open serpentine pediment, decorated by a crown molding, to which it is attached by brads. The lower edge of the crown molding, also attached with brads, is notched just shy of its inner termini at the cylindrical blocks carved at the front with stylized foliage, to accommodate the molding at the two three-quarter round cutouts, which center a molded and fluted plinth supporting a fluted urn-form finial with turned base and corkscrew flame, similar plinths and finials flanking. The single-piece scroll board is lapped and nailed to the single-board case sides, which are fitted with brass carrying handles. The upper case back consists of multiple horizontal boards. The arched, edge-beaded, lipped, thumb-molded convex-blocked and shell-carved doors have two brass hinges each and stiles and rails which are connected by mortise and tenon joints, with no wood pins, There are half-lap joints visible at the underside of the doors? bottom rails. The bookcase interior consists of two stiles with rounded faces, routed to receive shelves with rounded faces. The case side interiors are similarly routed. The stiles are shaped at the top to fit into grooves in the bookcase roof, which is shaped to align with the quarter-spherical concavities above. The bottom rail of the upper case is joined to the bookcase floor with four wood pins and contains two unmolded candleslides. The bookcase top sits within a molding attached to the desk below, the one-piece case sides of which are fitted with brass carrying handles. The three-hinged, thumb-molded lid consists of four boards?the central longitudinal one carved with a concave shell and fitted with mortise and tenon joints, visible at the bottom and mitered at the top, to the flanking vertical "breadboard" ends, and a top board, mitered at the corners and exhibiting wood pins in its connection to the central board. The flanking, convex shells are applied. At the bottom of the diagonal portion of the lower case sides are separate, trapezoidal pieces attached with brads. The lid, when open, is supported by short lopers which, when closed, occupy the upper left and right, unblocked corners of the upper long drawer. The interior contains a small concave-blocked and shell-carved prospect drawer flanked by valanced open compartments separated by scalloped round-fronted uprights fitted into grooves in a board above five straight-fronted small drawers, with two long drawers with shaped fronts below, the whole above a molded base. The interior drawer fronts meet their drawer sides in dovetail joints, having pins of slightly varying configurations, with half-pins above. Interior drawer sides have slightly rounded tops level with their drawer fronts. Smaller interior drawer bottoms are fitted into rabbets in the drawer sides and are glued at the sides and nailed at the front and back with sprigs. Some drawer bottoms are replaced. Larger interior drawer bottoms are nailed on all four sides. Their drawer back tops are lower than their sides and all their top edges are flat. Larger interior drawer bottoms are parallel to the drawer fronts, smaller drawer bottoms perpendicular. The case below has single-board sides and a multiple-board back. Within the case are replaced drawer supports and vertical rectangular glue blocks acting as drawer stops. The loper supports appear to be replacements. The cockbeading which surrounds the drawers is nailed to the sides of the drawer openings. Strips of wood nailed to the case sides cover the joints between the case sides and drawer dividers. The center concave portion of the top drawer front is an applied block. The top drawer bottom is replaced. Drawer fronts and sides come together in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above. The tops of the drawer sides are flat and flush with their drawer fronts. Drawer back tops are shy of the drawer side tops. The multi-board drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the drawer fronts. They are nailed with brads into the drawer fronts and drawer backs, and are chamfered at the sides, where they fit into grooves in the bottoms of the drawer sides, which act as their own runners. The bottom board of the upper case is flush with the top of the base molding to which it is joined in a large box joint. The base molding projects below the bottom board. The front faces of the front ogee bracket feet are blocked and scroll-carved. Behind each foot is a rectilinear vertical block to which are glued shaped horizontal glue blocks. The backs of the rear feet are simple angled brackets. Examined by P.E. Kane, September 21, 2010; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

See also


Wendy A. Cooper and Tara L. Gleason, "A Different Rhode Island Block-and-Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments," American Furniture (1999): 176, fig. 12.
Christie's, New York, Important American Furniture Including Silver, Folk Art, Prints, and Decorative Arts, sale cat. (January 18, 1997), 174–79, lot 278.
Christie's, New York, Important American Furniture, Folk Art, and Prints Including American Folk Art from the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, sale cat. (October 3, 2007), fig. 3–4.
Christie's, New York, Important American Furniture, Silver, Folk Art, and Decorative Arts, sale cat. (May 28, 1987), 100–1, lot 200.
Sotheby's, New York, Important Americana: Featuring The Collection of Frank and June Barsalona, sale cat. (September 30, 2010), 46–49, lot 51, ill.
Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2016), 455n4.