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Photo: Courtesy National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in New York, Van Cortlandt House, 1988.11; photo by Christopher Gardner
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker Unknown


98 × 38 × 24 in. (248.92 × 96.52 × 60.96 cm)



Current location

Van Cortlandt House Museum, The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York


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


Mahogany (primary); chestnut (linings of interior desk drawers, bookcase backboards, and sides and bottom of bonnet opening); pine (lining of central compartment of desk, vertical drawers in rear of central compartment of desk, dust boards of desk, bottom and backboards of desk, subtop of desk, upper loper guides, rear brackets and blocks of feet, and top boards of bonnet)




“I” and “II,” incised on interior short sides of letter drawers at rear of removable central desk compartment; "X," incised, on exterior back of small secret drawer at top rear of central desk compartment; “XI,” “XII,” “XIII,” and “XIII,” incised on exterior backs of bottom interior desk drawers (proper right to proper left); “XI” and “XII,” incised on exterior backs of upper interior desk drawers (proper right to proper left); “XI,” “XII,” “XIII,” “XIIII,” and “XIIIII,” incised on exterior backs of interior bookcase drawers (proper right to proper left); “1” to “3,” in chalk, on interior bottoms of first three interior bookcase drawers; “X” and "X 2," incised, on two exterior drawer backs


Richard A. Canfield (died 1915), New York. Mrs. Clinton Ogilvie (née Helen Slade, died 1936), New York; gift to The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, 1917

Associated names

Richard A. Canfield
Helen Slade Ogilvie


The bookcase section?s ceiling boards are shaped to align with the serpentine scrollboard in front and single-board backboards behind, to which they are fixed with rosehead and other nails. The ceiling boards are similarly attached to the tops of the single-board bookcase sides and to the tops of the vertical boards of the open pediment?s walls. The pediment floor is fixed with rosehead nails to blocking within. The single-piece pediment backboard is similarly attached to interior elements. Within the open pediment, a shaped vertical block is nailed with brads to a pedestal at the center of the single-piece scrollboard?s three-quarter round cutouts. There is a rectangular cap atop the pedestal (possibly replaced), under a turned urnform finial (possibly replaced) with corkscrew flame; similar finials atop rectangular blocks with molded caps are flanking. A single-piece beaded crown molding is fixed to the scrollboard with wood-filled fasteners, and to the case sides, from above, with rosehead nails. It returns slightly into the open portion of the pediment, where it is face-nailed to shaped blocks nailed to the vertical walls. The pediment backboard, and the three half-lapped backboards below, are fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the case sides, to the bookcase bottom board, and to elements within the bookcase. The scrollboard is lap-jointed to the front edges of the bookcase sides and secured to them with wood-filled fasteners. The single-board bottom rail is lapped over and face-nailed with brads to the case sides and to blocking inside the rabbeted edges of the case-sides? bottoms. The bottom rail contains two candleslides with molded fronts that are attached with wood-filled fasteners. The slides have guides, blocks and stops, all fixed to the two-board bookcase bottom with rosehead nails and later screws. Behind the bottom rail are five rectangular longitudinal glue blocks. The bookcase doors? rails are half-lapped, tenoned, and wood-pinned (the pieces are not visible on the front) to their stiles. At the top of the bookcase interior are two concave quarter-spherical shell- and foliage-carved plaques above a row of conformingly fronted valanced compartments. Below are double-bead-fronted stiles, and shelves routed to accept the serpentine-fronted dividers, the whole flanked by valanced compartments, over five small drawers, whose flat, kerf-marked fronts meet their flush, flat-topped sides in finely cut dovetail joints, with half-pins above. Each single-board drawer bottom, perpendicular to the front, is secured by brads nailed from outside the rabbeted bottoms of the sides and back. Fixed to the front and side edges of the single-board top of the desk section with wood-filled fasteners is a single-piece nose-and-cove molding. The case sides each consist of a board to which are attached, by wood-filled fasteners, a vertical strip at its front edge on top of which is a small block with two diagonal front faces, the lower edge aligning with the bottom of the hinged lid. The lid is in three parts ? a large horizontal, paneled, blocked and shell-carved board into which are tenoned narrow vertical boards. The upper portions of the joints between them are mitered. It opens to an interior centering a removable prospect section with an arched, concave-blocked door flanked by applied turned colonnettes. The prospect section is locked in place by a touch-latch on its underside, accessible from the case below. In its "secret" rear face are one horizontal and two vertical drawers. The sides of the removable box meet each other in dovetail joints. The vertical drawers? sides are nailed with brads into rabbets in their drawer fronts and backs. The horizontal drawer?s sides meet their front in dovetail joints having long, narrow-necked pins. The front door, which has an incurvate backside, opens to an open compartment over a small drawer whose front is incurvate in two dimensions. The drawer?s flush, flat-topped sides meet the front in dovetail joints having very small pins, with half-pins above. Flanking the prospect section are banks of open compartments with straight-fronted valances and dividers which project to follow the serpentine drawers below. Each upper drawer is "double-wide"; the fronts of the lower, narrower drawers below mimic their shapes. The kerf-marked drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, flat-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins with half-pins above. Their single-board bottoms, perpendicular to the front, are nailed with brads from outside the rabbeted bottom of the back and sides. The front edges of the writing surface fit into grooves in the case sides and are lapped over the tops of large vertical blacks in the front corners of the case. The drawer dividers below are set into these blocks and into the case sides. The dust boards are deep, being over half the depth of the case, and the (replaced) drawer supports are short. Loper tip bars are fixed to the case with rosehead nails. The lipped, thumb-molded, prominently kerf-marked, convex- and concave-blocked long-drawer fronts are each cut from the solid. The upper drawer front includes an additional shaped block to accommodate its lock. They meet their flat-topped, slightly shorter drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked (narrower than those of the desk interior) pins, with half-pins above. The multi-board drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the fronts, are fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the drawer fronts. They are slightly chamfered at the sides, where their attachments to the drawer sides is concealed by (later) runners. The case back consists of four horizontal half-lapped boards fixed with rosehead and other nails to rabbets in the top and sides and directly to the case bottom and to interior partitions. The tops of the drawer dividers are prominently scribe-lined. There is no bottom rail; the base molding is integral with a rail flush with the case bottom, to which it is joined by wood-filled fasteners. The two-board case bottom is fixed to the underside of this base with three rosehead nails, and to the case sides with dovetail joints having thick-necked pins. The feet consist of shaped vertical blocks attached to the case bottom, flanked by shaped horizontal blocks fixed to it with rosehead nails, the whole faced with ogee brackets. The backs of the rear feet are simple, straight-profiled incurvate brackets, fixed with rosehead nails to horizontal blocks inside, and through vertical blocks outside. The back edges of the side-facing rear brackets are flush with the case back. Examined by P.E. Kane, J.N. Johnson, E. Litke and T.B. Lloyd; July 27, 2015; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


William N. Hosley, "Extraordinary Furniture Discoveries," Antiques 172, no. 1 (July 2007): 98, fig. 9.
Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), vol. 1, pp. 245–246, fig. 269.
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), 314–318, no. 61, fig. 1, 3.