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Photo: Courtesy private collection; photo by Laura Wulf
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High chest of drawers

Object number



Maker John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


88 1/2 × 40 1/4 × 21 1/8 in. (224.79 × 102.24 × 53.66 cm)



Current location

Private Collection, Private Collection


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


Mahogany (primary); red cedar (drawer linings small center drawer lower case); yellow poplar (drawer divider upper case below second drawer from bottom and top of bonnet); mahogany ( two drawer supports upper case proper left side and some glue blocks on legs); chestnut (front to back braces under the bonnet); pine (all other secondary wood)


"Made By John Townsend / Newport 1756," in graphite, on interior bottom of long drawer in lower case;"John Townsend," in graphite, on an upper case drawer divider


"£ 14 Wigg," in graphite, on underside, of long drawer in lower case; "A," "B," "C," in graphite, from proper-left to proper-right on exterior backs of small drawers in upper case as well as on inside of those drawer bottoms; "D," "E," "F," in graphite on the exterior backs of the long drawers in the upper case; "A" and "B," in graphite, on exterior sides of deep drawers in lower case; "A," in graphite, on exterior back of long drawer in lower case; "A," in graphite, on exterior back of proper-right deep drawer in lower case; "B," in graphite, on exterior back of proper-left deep drawer in lower case; "B," in graphite, on exterior back of center drawer in lower case; "M," in graphite, within scroll work, on interior bottom of small center drawer lower case, on bottom of middle long drawer in upper case, and on backboards of lower and upper cases; illegible graphite on the pediment backboard; "Woman tis By / Nature False & Inconstant / W [illeg.] FULL / W. Richardson," in graphite, on interior bottom of PR uppermost drawer in upper case; " W Richardson / J Robinson / E Wanton / J Townsend / To Ride Out Next Wensday," in graphite, underside of PR uppermost drawer in upper case; illegible graphite on lower case drawer dividers and on top board of upper case; "Polly," in graphite, on bottom of middle long drawer in upper case


Mary Arnold (1725–1762) and Oliver Arnold (1725–1789), East Greenwich, Rhode Island; by descent to his daughter Mrs. Orthneil Gorton Wightman (née Sarah Arnold, 1768–1826), East Greenwich, Rhode Island; by descent to her daughter Mrs. Stukley Wickes (née Almy Maria Wightman, 1793–1879), East Greenwich, Rhode Island; by descent to her daughter Sarah Arnold Wickes (1824–1911), Warwick, Rhode Island; by descent to her nieces Almy Wightman Wickes (1858–1914) and Mary LeMoine Wickes (1860–1916), Warwick, Rhode Island; by descent to their niece Harriet Almy Wickes (1908–1996) Warwick, Rhode Island; by descent to her niece; consigned to Sotheby's, New York, January 20–21, 2012, lot 186; sold to a private collection

Associated names

Oliver Arnold
Mary Arnold
Sarah Arnold Wightman
Almy Maria Wightman Wickes
Sarah Arnold Wickes
Almy Wightman Wickes
Mary LeMoine Wickes
Harriet Almy Wickes


The pediment roof comprises multiple boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the pediment backboard, the pediment scroll board, and a blocking strip above the upper case side and two transverse battens. The pediment molding is attached to transverse supports which span from pediment backboard to scroll board with nails covered with wooden pegs, and attached similarly to the scroll boards. The thumb-molded scroll board plaques are attached by means of screws through the rear of the scroll board. Glue blocks, some chamfered, most square-sectioned, join the upper case top to the case back and front. The center plinth of the scroll board is topped by a rectangular block fluted on the front only, into the base of which is set a small half round fillet. The block is crowned by a small cyma reversa molding and attached to the back of the scroll board with brads. Atop the fluted block is a finial carved with flutes in the urn (except at the center back) and held in place on an inverted nail. The top rail and all drawer dividers are joined to the two (vertical) board sides with half-blind dovetail joints. The joints between the bottom rail and case sides are concealed. The single-board upper case top has two extant (pl and center) and one missing (pr) upper drawer guides. There is a full-width drawer support across the back of the case for the thin small upper drawers, as well as full-depth drawer guides and drawer supports behind the stiles between the drawers. Two longitudinal glue blocks attached to the case top and scroll board are above each flanking small drawer. Drawer supports nailed to the case sides with rosehead nails extend fully to the case back. The case bottom is dovetailed to the case sides and the underside is fitted with two transverse battens at the outside edges, set back from the front of the case and attached to the case bottom with rosehead nails. The case bottom is nailed to the lower rail with brads. A single piece molding is attached to the bottom of the upper case, flush with the case bottom. The four horizontal backboards of the upper case are half-lapped together and attached with brads in rabbets to the case sides and to the back edges of the bottom and top boards with brads alone. The small drawers of the upper case are fitted with touch latches attached to the drawer bottoms with one rosehead nail at the mid-section of the strip and one brad at the drawer back. The drawer side tops are rounded and just shy of the drawer fronts. The drawer backs have a slight chamfer at the back. The inside of the upper drawer fronts are toothed and exhibit short and long kerf marks. The upper drawer bottoms are chamfered at the front and sides, set into grooves at the drawer fronts and extend the full width of the drawer, with runners nailed to them with brads. The drawer bottoms are nailed with brads to the drawer backs. Dovetails are finely cut, narrow necked, and evenly spaced with half-pins above and full pins below. The single-board lower case back is dovetailed to the two horizontal board case sides and has a shaped, square edged skirt. The top rail of the lower case is rabbeted to fit into a groove in the corner post, which is veneered to conceal the dovetails which join it to the case sides. The rail behind is dovetailed and nailed with brads to the case sides. The long upper drawer has full drawer supports and guides lapped into the drawer divider, glued to the case sides, and attached to the backboard with rosehead nails and (later) screws. The two flanking small drawers have drawer guides attached with rosehead nails to the case sides and drawer supports dovetailed and nailed with rosehead nails to the skirt board. The upper portions of medial drawer guides for the lower drawers are missing. The veneered drawer dividers are butt jointed. The legs are attached to the case by glue blocks nailed with brads and rosehead nails. The knees of the rear legs extend beyond the back board. The knee brackets are glued to the tops of the legs. The square-sectioned cabriole legs terminate in crisply carved ball and claw feet with prominent tendons and knuckles and undercut talons. Examined by P. E. Kane, December 5, 2011; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.


Sotheby's, New York, Important Americana: Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Porcelain, Prints, and Carpets, sale cat. (January 20–21, 2012), 128–133, lot 186.
Sotheby's, New York, The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Mahogany High Chest, sale cat. (January 21, 2012), 1–25.
Lita Solis-Cohen, "Americana Week Auction at Sotheby's," Maine Antique Digest (April 2012): 36-A.
Erik K. Gronning and Amy Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition," American Furniture (2013): 2–9, fig. 1, 3–12.
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), 2, 39, 214, 218–221, 302, 453–454, no. 32, fig. 1–3, 20–21.