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Photo: Courtesy Historic Deerfield, Inc., Mass., HD 1999.5.1. Photo by Penny Leveritt
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Desk and bookcase


Object number

RIF4730

Maker

Maker Unknown
Maker, formerly attributed to John Townsend, American, 1732/33?1809

Dimensions

91 41 1/2 23 3/4 in. (231.14 105.41 60.325 cm)

Date

1755–75

Current location

Historic Deerfield, Inc.

Geography

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

Medium

Mahogany (primary); mahogany (bookcase interior); cedar (linings of interior desk drawers); yellow poplar (exterior desk drawer linings, bottom board of desk, backboard of desk, vertical brace at back of desk, board under desk interior, brackets of rear feet, some horizontal and vertical glue blocks of feet, backboards of bookcase, and bottom board of bookcase); chestnut (backings of dividers for exterior desk drawers, blocks for lopers, guides and supports for exterior desk drawers, glue blocks at lower front rail of desk, and horizontal board that supports well cover); pine (most vertical and horizontal glue blocks of feet)

Marks

None

Inscriptions

Faint numbers followed or preceded by a symbol or letter, in graphite, on interior backs [at lower edge] of interior desk drawers; faint numbers, in graphite, on interior sides and fronts of a couple interior desk drawers; one notch, cut into top of drawer front of one interior shell drawer; two notches, cut into top of drawer front of other interior shell; “/” and “//,” incised on interior front of desk drawers flanking prospect; "1" through "6," in graphite, on exterior bottoms of valance drawers [newer numbers in same location]; lines numbering "/" through "//////," incised on interior fronts of valance drawers; numbers written multiple times, in graphite, on tops of dividers under interior desk drawers [some may be original]; "3," in graphite, on top surface of divider under top exterior desk drawer; "2," in graphite, on top surface of divider under second exterior desk drawer from bottom; "Martin," in graphite, on exterior back of bookcase and top surface of desk

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

The Spieler family, 1921. Willoughby Farr, Edgewater, New Jersey; sold to Charles Warner Hurst and Julia Bates Hurst, New York, 1938; by descent in their family; given to Historic Deerfield, Inc., Massachusetts, 1999

Associated names

Spieler family
Willoughby Farr
Charles Warner Hurst
Julia Bates Hurst
Descendants of Charles Warner Hurst and Julia Bates Hurst

Construction

The top of the closed pediment consists of several boards, shaped to align with both the single-piece pediment backboard and the crown molding atop the scrollboard in front. The boards of the top are fixed with brads to the top of the backboard and the upper-case sides, to the top of the scroll-board in front, and to blocking within the pediment. The single-piece beaded-cove crown molding is fixed to the case sides and scrollboard by invisible means and by nail pockets in its rear faces. The bookcase section?s multiple-board half-lapped back is fixed with rosehead and other nails directly to the bookcase ceiling, and to rabbets in the single-board case sides and bottom. Thumb-molded plaques are set into the scrollboard, held in by invisible means. The crown molding returns upon itself and its lower nose-and-cove portion (which surrounds the three-quarter-round closed oculi below) meets the crown above in a triangular "patch" (the proper right one is missing). The lower moldings are mitered into the molded base of a capped plinth, fluted on all three sides and supporting a partially fluted ball finial with a separate corkscrew flame. The bookcase?s outside corners each contain matching finials on simpler, unfluted plinths. The bottom of the scrollboard is half-blind dovetailed to the bookcase?s stiles, rabbeted to accommodate quarter columns consisting of separate abaci, turned capitals, fluted shafts, turned bases, and plinths. Below each quarter column is a vertical block, on the front face of which, near the bottom, is a wood pin. The bookcase doors consist of rails tenoned into vertical stiles, and arched, molded panels proud of their frames. The panels are secured by a small ogee molding at the doors? inside faces, held into the frames with face-nailed brads. Full-width fixed shelves with double-beaded front edges are set into grooves in the full-height boards which line the bookcase sides. There are fixed, similarly beaded uprights and shelves as well as serpentine vertical dividers, both fixed and removable. Two candleslides with molded fronts are enclosed within the bookcase?s single-board bottom rail and case bottom, which meets its sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins with half-pins in front and large half-pins with rabbets in back. A three-sided flat frame is fixed to the single-board top of the desk section. A single-piece bed molding is fixed with wood-filled fasteners to the outside edge of the frame. The proper left side of the desk consists of two boards; the proper right side one. The case back consists of several half-lapped horizontal boards now fixed to rabbets in the case with brads and screws. Shrinkage of the upper backboard has revealed now-empty slots in the rabbeted back edge of the desk top. Inset screws attach the lower backboard to the back edge of the case bottom. The thumb-molded, hinged lid consists of three pieces-one large horizontal board tenoned into narrow flanking boards. The joints between them are visible at the bottom of the lid when it is closed. The interior centers a concave-blocked, shell-carved prospect door flanked by double-beaded stiles and opening to two concave-blocked small drawers, flanked by beaded, quarter-spherically concave-blocked scallop-skirted drawers over serpentine-fronted dividers and convex-blocked small drawers. At each end is a bank of concave-blocked small drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The kerf-marked valance-drawer fronts meet their flush, flat-topped sides in dovetail joints having long, narrow pins with half-pins above and below. Their drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the fronts, are glued into rabbets in their sides and backs. The larger-drawer fronts, also kerf-marked, meet their slightly shorter, arch-topped scribe-marked drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The ends of the drawer-backs? tops are rounded to align with the drawer-sides? tops. Some of their drawer bottoms are one-piece and parallel to the fronts, some are two-piece and perpendicular; all are glued into rabbets in the sides and backs above. The interior sits upon a blocked and molded base. The front board of the writing surface and the three drawer dividers below are half-blind dovetailed to the case sides. Perpendicular to the writing surface board are lateral L-shaped boards, supported at the back of the case interior by a longitudinal batten. The L-shaped boards also serve as tip boards for the upper drawer and enclose the writing surface?s sliding well-cover. A vertical batten, fixed with rosehead nails to the inside of the case-back is set into a groove in the bottom of the horizontal batten. The lopers, with thumb-molded fronts, are short, enclosed at the front by L-shaped blocks, and riding on supports with diagonal rabbets shy of the case back and fixed to the case sides by rosehead nails in rabbets slightly inward of the drawer dividers below. The inner face of the proper right loper contains nails and is missing its stop; the proper left loper stop is a round dowel. The upper-drawer supports are fixed to the case sides with rosehead nails in deep rabbets near the case back. Drawer supports below (one set is replaced) are similarly fixed to the sides and chamfered shy of the back, and set into grooves in the drawer dividers. The bottom rail fits into grooves in the case side. Behind it are four long chamfered rectangular glue blocks. The thumb-molded, graduated, kerf-marked drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, scribe-marked, arch-topped sides in dovetail joints having thin-necked pins of slightly varying configuration, with half-pins above and half-pins with grooves below. The full-width drawer bottoms are chamfered at the sides and parallel to the front, where a separate narrow board is set into grooves. The bottoms have glued-on runners and are nailed with brads to their backs, whose tops have ends rounded to align with the drawer-side tops. The back edges of the tops are chamfered. The two-board case bottom meets the case sides in dovetail joints having large, thick-necked pins of slightly varying configuration. The bottom of the case interior?s vertical batten is visible at the case bottom?s back edge. A single-piece base molding is fixed to the case sides and bottom rail with wood-filled fasteners. The feet consist of vertical blocks, fixed directly to the case bottom, to which are butt-jointed horizontal rectangular blocks, fixed to the case bottom, the whole faced with ogee brackets, some of which are now fastened with nails and/or screws. Between each foot?s ogee bracket is a small longitudinal molding ? its front edge coplanar with the top of the bracket ? fixed to the case bottom and base molding with a variety of nails. The rear feet are configured similarly to the front but for the rear brackets, which are simple straight-profiled serpentine boards set into grooves in the side-facing ogee brackets. The back edge of their side-facing brackets are ogee-shaped and extend slightly beyond the plane of the case back. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, October 29, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Five College Museums/Historic Deerfield Collections Database, "Desk-and-bookcase," http://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&f=&s=&record=0&id_number=HD+1999.5.1&name_title=desk-and-bookcase (accessed March 25, 2010).