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Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, 1957.37
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Bureau table

Object number



Maker, attributed to John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


34 3/16 36 3/4 20 3/16 in. (86.9 93.3 51.3 cm) Case: 34 7/16 18 7/16 in. (87.4 46.9 cm)



Current location

Yale University Art Gallery


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


Mahogany (primary); yellow-poplar (drawer linings); chestnu (top, bottom and other elements); eastern white pine (one block)




"16 B[illegible text] [illegible figures] / "[illegible text]ont [illegible figures] / "F 14 1/2," in crayon, on underside of bureau table; "Upper," in crayon, on top of dustboard under long drawer; illegible text [including a concentric spiral that may be part of a Townsend finishing mark], in graphite, on top of dustboard under long drawer; illegible mark, in graphite, on exterior backboard of bureau table; "A," in graphite, on exterior back of long drawer; "A" through "F," in graphite, on tops of dividers under small drawers [from proper-right top to proper-left bottom]; "A," in graphite, and "B," in crayon, on exterior back of proper-right upper small drawer; "B" through "F," in graphite, on interior and exterior bottoms and exterior backs of small drawers [from proper-right middle to proper-left bottom]; "W" or "M," in graphite, on exterior backs of small drawers; "G198" [later], in crayon, on interior bottom and exterior proper-left side of proper-left upper small drawer


Francis P. Garvan (1875–1937), New York, by 1928; by descent to his wife, Mabel Brady Garvan (1886–1979), New York; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, 1957

Associated names

Francis P. Garvan
Mabel Brady Garvan


The rectangular, oblong, single-board top is molded at its front and side edges and square at its back edge, where it slightly overhangs the case below. The beaded cove molding beneath it, fixed to the case with wood-filled fasteners, extends beyond the case back to the edge of the overhanging top and returns upon itself. The top is joined, by means of transverse keyways visible at its back edge to two longitudinal battens at its underside, which are blind dovetailed to the tops of the single-board case sides. The case back consists of two horizontal half-lapped boards fixed with a variety of nails (some later) to the back edge of the rear longitudinal batten, to rabbets in the case sides, to the back edge of the case bottom, and to interior partitions. Tip bars are nailed with brads to the case sides directly below the longitudinal battens. Behind the top rail (whose cockbeading is attached with nails) are three rectilinear longitudinal glue blocks, each with one diagonal end. Within the banks of drawers below are drawer supports (some replaced) nailed to the case sides and interior partitions with brads, and drawer stops glued into each corner. The dustboard under the frieze drawer is full-depth, providing a ceiling for both the central cupboard and the open recessed area in front of it. The top rail, drawer dividers, and bottom rails all meet their case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. The dividers? horizontal cockbeading is integral, including the cockbeading at the bottom of the upper drawer divider which spans the recessed section. Vertical cockbeading is fixed to the case sides with glue and nails. The convex, flanking carved shuls of the blockfronted frieze drawer are applied; the concave center shell is carved from the solid. The inside faces of the convex-blocked, graduated small-drawer fronts are flat. The frieze-drawer front meets its slightly shorter arch-topped sides in dovetail joints with finely cut, narrow-necked pins, with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. Its single-board bottom, parallel to the front, is nailed with brads into the drawer front?s rabbet and is chamfered at the sides, where it is nailed with brads through its runners. The bottom is also nailed with brads to the flat-topped drawer back. The small-drawer fronts meet their shorter, arch-topped sides in dovetail joints with short, thick-necked pins, with half-pins above and half-pins with grooves below. Their bottoms are perpendicular to the fronts, very slightly chamfered in front and at the sides, fit into the grooves in front and are nailed with brads to their flat-topped backs with chamfered rear edges. The banks of graduated small drawers flank a recessed cupboard with a cockbeaded surround enclosing a single-piece, concave-blocked, shell-carved door. A single-piece base molding is fixed to the case with wood-filled fasteners and slightly overhangs the case back. The single-board case bottom is joined to the case sides by dovetail joints having short, slightly thick-necked pins and later nails, and to the interior partitions by rosehead nails. The central recessed portion of the case bottom is prominently scribe-lined, in part for the layout of a quarter round molding aligning with the upper portion of the ogee bracket faces of the feet, and fixed with rosehead and other nails to the underside of the base moldings at the central recessed area and between the outer bracket feet. The feet consist of shaped horizontal blocks attached to the case bottoms and mitered at each corner, to which are attached shaped vertical blocks, the whole faced with ogee (and at the forward faces of the front feet, blocked and scroll-carved) brackets. The rear-facing brackets of the back feet are simple straight-profiled ogee brackets, butted to the inside of the rear feet?s outer brackets. On the backside of the straight-profiled brackets are shadows indicating the former presence of vertical blocks presumably once aligning with the ogee profile of the side-facing outer brackets? rear faces. Examined by P. E. Kane and J. N. Johnson, March 9, 2015; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.


Other bureau tables attributed to John Townsend include RIF 231, RIF 271, RIF661, RIF1430, RIF1784, and RIF1785. A variation, also attributed to John Townsend, has a cupboard that is not recessed, see RIF210 and RIF 1431.


Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury (New York: MacMillan Company, 1963), no. 272, ill.
Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury, 1st ed., 3 vols. (Framingham, Mass.: Old American Company Publishers, 1928–33), vol. 1, no. 272, ill.
Thomas H. Ormsbee, The Story of American Furniture (New York: MacMillan Company, 1934), 139, fig. 60.
Meyric R. Rogers, "Garvan Furniture at Yale," Connoisseur Year Book, 1960 (1960): 57, fig. 7.
Rick Mastelli, "In Search of Period Furniture Makers," Fine Woodworking No.23 (July-August 1980): 42–60, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "John Townsend's Block-and-Shell Furniture," Antiques 121, no. 5 (May 1982): 1151, fig. 20.
John T. Kirk, American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 149, fig. 381.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 163, fig. 3.87.
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), 40, 216–217, no. 109, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 128, 130, no. 25, ill.
Meyric R. Rogers, "The Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of Furniture," Yale Alumni Magazine 25, no. 4 (January 1962): ill. cover.
Gerald W. R. Ward, The Eye of the Beholder: Fakes, Replicas and Alterations in American Art (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1977), no.1, ill.
Jeffrey P. Greene, American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, Structure (Newtown, Conn: The Taunton Press, 1996), 78, ill.