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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


71 38 3/4 21 1/4 in. (180.34 98.425 53.975 cm)



Current location

Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc.


Made in Newport, Rhode Island, or made in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, or made in Providence, Rhode Island
(view a map of Rhode Island)


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (sides and backs of the valance drawers, top of the desk); chestnut (backboards, linings of the exterior drawers, sides and backs of the interior drawers, bottoms of the valance drawers, glue blocks for feet, one glue block on the top on the desk, top of the bookcase, glue blocks for the top moldings on bookcase); pine (bottoms of the interior drawers, board below the desk interior, some of the blocks on the top of the desk, glue blocks between the front rail and bottom of the desk, supports for the bottom drawer of the desk, brackets on the rear feet, a vertical glue block on the proper left rear foot); cherry (the back of the lopers); yellow poplar (bottom board on desk); maple (bottom of bookcase, original dividers in bookcase, although the latter are possibly cedar)


"Dan Spencer" and mathematical calculations, in graphite, on exterior bottom of proper-right interior shell drawer


"A" through "D," in graphite, on interior backs [center] of exterior drawers [from top to bottom]; "I [script]" or "1," in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of top, third from top, and bottom drawers; "2," in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of the second drawer from top; "1" through "11," in graphite, on the interior backs [center] and sides [at front corners] of interior drawers [from proper-right to proper-left]; "1" through "6," in graphite, on the interior backs [center] and sides [at front corners] of valance drawers [from proper-right to proper-left]; "/," in graphite, on underside of most of the interior desk drawers [often extending on to the bottom edge of the drawer front]; "/," "//," "///," and "4," in dark graphite, on the underside of each of the exterior drawer and the slashes only on the tops of the drawer dividers [probably later]


Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, December 8, 1984, lot 367; sold to John Walton, Griswold, Connecticut; estate of Mary Walton; consigned to Keno Auctions, New York, January 18, 2011, lot 169; sold to Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc., New York

Associated names

Sotheby Parke Bernet
Keno Auctions
Mary Walton
John S. Walton


There are five blocks fixed to the single-board top of the bookcase section?a lateral block at each end and three blocks across the front. The two lateral blocks are fixed to the top with rosehead nails, as is the central front block; the two other front blocks are glued in place and mitered to the ends of the lateral blocks. A one-piece beaded crown molding is fixed with rosehead nails to the single-board case sides and the top rail of the bookcase section, and with face-nailed brads to the case sides and top rail. These blocks conceal the joints between the bookcase top and its sides and top rail. The bookcase doors have thumb-molded edges; their rails are half-lapped and through-tenoned to the stiles. The stiles? and rails? outside faces have integral ogee moldings enclosing the fielded panels. Inside the doors all is plain. The interior faces of the bookcase sides are routed to receive three fixed shelves with double-beaded front edges, into which are fixed vertical dividers with serpentine front edges. There are two horizontal fillers in the interior walls of each bookcase side. The five horizontal half-lapped boards which comprise the bookcase back are chamfered at the sides, when they are fixed into rabbets with rosehead and other nails; the upper and lower boards are nailed directly to the back edges of the top and bottom boards of the bookcase. The joints between the single-board top of the desk section and the single-board case sides are concealed beneath five rectilinear glue blocks. To the single-board desk top is fixed with wood-filled fasteners a small bed molding. The back of the desk section consists of multiple half-lapped horizontal boards fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the case sides and directly to the back edge of the top board. The hinged, thumb-molded lid is in three pieces?one large, horizontal board tenoned into two flanking vertical boards. It opens to an interior centering a concave-blocked and shell-carved prospect door which opens to three graduated small drawers and is flanked by double-beaded stiles. On either side are quarter-spherically concave-blocked valance drawers over open compartments separated by serpentine uprights over convex-blocked small drawers, flanked by narrow double-beaded stiles and banks of concave-blocked small drawers (the upper one shell-carved), the whole on a conformingly blocked cove-molded base. The prominently kerf-marked small-drawer fronts meet their slightly scribe-marked, slightly shorter, arched-top sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The drawer sides meet their backs in a similar manner. There is a slight variation in the configuration of the pins. The small-drawer bottoms are parallel to the fronts and glued into rabbets in the elements above. The tops of the drawer-back ends are rounded to align with the tops of the drawer sides. The top rail/writing surface and upper drawer divider meet the case sides in half-dovetail joints, the drawer dividers below in half-blind full dovetail joints; the bottom rail sits in grooves in the case sides. The vertical pieces enclosing the loper fronts are set into grooves in their neighboring horizontal elements. The thumb-molded front of the proper right loper is now fastened with face-nailed brads. Within the case are full-depth drawer supports (probably replaced), butt-jointed to the drawer dividers. There are two longitudinal, rectangular glue blocks behind the bottom rail. The thumb-molded, graduated, prominently kerf-marked long-drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, slightly scribe-marked arch-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins, with large half-pins above and smaller half-pins below. There is some variation in the pins? configuration. The two piece-drawer bottoms, parallel to the fronts, are glued into grooves in the front and sides and nailed with brads into the bottoms of the drawer backs, whose tops are chamfered. A single-piece base molding is fixed to the case sides and the bottom rail with wood-filled fasteners. The case bottom meets the sides in dovetail joints having large, thick-necked pins. At the front corners of the case bottom are large horizontal blocks miter-jointed at the case corners, nailed and glued to the case bottom, to which are fixed thin vertical blocks, the whole faced with ogee brackets. At the back corners are larger vertical blocks fixed to the bottom, and flanked by narrow horizontal blocks glued to the case bottom, the whole faced with side-facing ogee brackets and rear-facing, straight-profiled ogee brackets set into grooves in the side brackets. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, January 20, 2011; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, Important American Furniture and Folk Art, sale cat. (December 8, 1984), 66–67, lot 367, ill.
Patricia E. Kane, "Yale University Art Gallery Seeks Info On 'Dan Spencer' Desk and Bookcase," Antiques and the Arts Weekly (December 4, 2009): 2, ill.
Keno Auctions, New York, American and European Paintings, Folk Art, Furniture, and Decorative Arts, sale cat. (January 18, 2011), 66–67, lot 169, 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), 308, 313n2, 449, fig. 10–11.
"Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 183, no. 6 (November/December 2016): 1, ill.
Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc., Gallery Catalogue (New York: Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc., 1974–2020), vol. 16, p. 16, ill.
Tara Gleason Chicirda and Mack Cox, "A Rhode Island Cabinetmaker in Kentucky: Revelations of a Clock Reexamined," American Furniture (2018): 187, 189, fig. 30.