image of object
Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery, Bequest of Doris Brixey, 1984.32.26
Click the image to enlarge

High chest of drawers

Object number



Maker John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


88 7/8 39 7/16 22 1/8 in. (225.7 100.1 56.2 cm) Upper case: 19 7/16 36 15/16 in. (49.4 93.8 cm) Lower case: 38 3/4 20 11/16 in. (98.5 52.6 cm)



Current location

Yale University Art Gallery


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


Mahogany (primary); chestnut (bottoms of drawers in upper case, back and bottom of wide drawer in lower case, sides and backs of lower side drawers lower case); eastern white pine (lower side drawers in lower case bottoms, back and bottom of middle drawer in lower case); cottonwood (sides and backs of drawers in upper case, sides of wide drawer in lower case, sides of middle drawer in lower case)


"No. 28 / Made by / John Townsend / Newport / 1759" in pencil, inside bottom of top wide drawer in the upper case.


"A" and "B," in chalk, on exterior back of left and right drawers in upper case; "C," "D," and "E," in chalk, from top to bottom on exterior backs of long drawers in upper case; "A," in chalk on exterior back of wide drawer in lower case; "August I day," incised, on inside of left side of same drawer; "A" and "B," in graphite, on exterior of deep drawers in lower case; "A," in chalk, on underside of drawer divider below stile between upper case small drawers' "B" and "C," in chalk, on top of upper case drawer dividers; illegible word, in chalk, diagonally in center of lower case backboard; double loop, in graphite, on underside proper left drawer support in lower case drawer; elongated scroll, in graphite, on top of drawer divider below wide drawer in lower case; "A," or possibly "M," in chalk, at center of back of lower case


Richard DeWolfe Brixey (1880–1943), New York; by descent to his daughter, Doris M. Brixey (died 1983); bequeathed to Yale University Art Gallery, 1983

Associated names

Richard de Wolfe Brixey
Doris Marguerite Brixey


The roof of the upper case consists of multiple transverse boards nailed to the case back, pediment front, and case sides. The crown molding is attached to the pediment with brads, and centers a painted area, which in turn centers a plinth block, fluted on three sides, atop which sits a carved and turned finial. The crown molding dies into the moldings on the voids on either side of the center finial. A fillet molding at the bottom of the plinth is missing. Below the three-quarter round voids with applied molded edge are two thumb-molded and shaped scroll board plaques. Fluted plinth blocks with carved and turned finials sit atop the exterior front corners of the pediment. The upper case is flanked by three-fluted quarter columns with separate turned capitals and bases. The flutes are arched at top and bottom. The case sides consist of two boards apiece. The horizontal backboards are joined with a half-lap and nailed to rabbets in the sides. The top and bottom of the upper case are dovetailed to the sides. Under the case top, along the case sides, are transverse boards to keep the upper drawer from tipping. There are three long glue blocks attached to the case top and top rail. Each drawer has boards, within the quarter-column spaces, acting as drawer guides, to which are nailed, with brads, drawer supports. There are later blocks (some missing) glued to the joints between the two boards of each case side. At the back of the case, below the small drawers, is a longitudinal drawer support, lapped into the upper drawer supports. At its midpoint is a transverse board lap-jointed to it and to the upper drawer divider. The upper drawer divider is nailed with brads through its underside into the stile between the small drawer above. The drawer dividers are faced with mahogany, (attached with brads) and half-blind dovetailed to the case sides, the tail of some joints reinforced with a brad. The bottom rail is set into a groove in the case side and blocked behind. The bottom board is cleated and is flush with the midmolding, to which it is attached with brads. The mahogany-faced upper rail of the lower case is lapped under a portion of the corner post and attached with a dovetail joint, reinforced with nails, to the case sides. The long upper drawer has supports attached to the case sides, with drawer guides above, as well as a drawer support at its midpoint, tenoned into the backboard and half-lapped to the drawer divider below. Each smaller, flanking lower drawer is guided by a board nailed with brads to the case sides (proper right later, proper left missing) and a board tenoned into its stile in front, and the backboard behind, and supported by a board dovetailed into the skirt in front, and tenoned into the backboard behind. The stiles fit in grooves in the underside of the drawer divider and lap the front skirt; that joint is reinforced with long glue blocks (now missing) on the interior. The small, central lower-case drawer is supported by a board, dovetailed into the skirt above the shell, tenoned into the backboard, and guided by the aforementioned flanking drawer guides. The single-board lower-case sides are attached by dovetails to the backboard, which consists of one large horizontal piece with square, straight edge above two flanking boards with square, serpentine edges. The detachable legs are set into rabbets in the case sides, back, and front, and secured by vertical glue blocks, some missing, some replaced, or reinforced with screws. The rear cabriole legs are square-sectioned, have angular knees and end in shod pad feet. The front cabriole legs are square-sectioned with angular knees carved with stylized foliage and shells, vigorously carved tendons and feet with slightly undercut balls and undercut talons. Examined by P. E. Kane, E. Groening, A. Coze, and T. B. Lloyd, March 21, 2012; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.


Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), 235, 265–268, 270, 272, no. 140, ill.
Gerald W. R. Ward, "American's Contribution to Craftsmanship: The Exaltation and Interpretation of Newport Furniture," American Furniture (1999): 236–237, fig. 8.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 90–91, no. 8, ill.
Loan Exhibition of Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Furniture and Glass, exh. cat. (New York: American Art Galleries, 1929), n.p., no. 659.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 95, 177–179, fig. 3.99–3.99a-e.
Eleanor H. Gustafson, "Museum Accessions," Antiques 127, no. 1 (January 1985): 133.
Dennis Andrew Carr, "The Account Book of Benjamin Baker," American Furniture (2004): 51, fig. 6–7.
Walter A. Dyer, "The American Highboy: Chippendale; An Outline of American Furniture, Part II," Antiquarian 17, no. 1 (July 1931): 37.
"Acquisitions 1984," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39, no. 3 (Winter 1986): 40, ill.
Patricia E. Kane, "Object Lesson: A High Point of Americana," Yale Alumni Magazine 74, no. 4 (March/April 2011): 58.
Robert Hughes, "Claw Daddy," New York Times Magazine (2005): 53, ill.
Sotheby's, New York, The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Mahogany High Chest, sale cat. (January 21, 2012), 12–13, fig. 2.
Christie's New York, New York, Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, and Chinese Export, sale cat. (January 19–20 and 23, 2012), 97, fig. 1, 2.
Erik K. Gronning and Amy Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition," American Furniture (2013): 32–35, fig. 76–79.
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), 64n102, 453.