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Photo: Courtesy Rhode Island Furniture Archive
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, possibly by John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


90 × 40 3/4 × 23 1/2 in. (228.6 × 103.51 × 59.69 cm)



Current location

Private Collection


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


Mahogany (primary);mahogany (sides of interior drawers, vertical blocks on the feet); chestnut (board under interior section of desk, desk bottom board and backboards); Atlantic white cedar (bookcase back boards); pine (blocks on feet); yellow poplar (back of pediment, blocks on feet and rear brackets on back feet)




"A", "B", "C" in graphite on interior bottoms of proper right tier of interior drawers from top to bottom; "A" and "B" in graphite on interior bottoms of two long interior drawers flanking prospect door from left to right; illegible graphite on proper left bookcase backboards; a double loop at top of one bookcase backboard


Possibly John G. Wanton (1729–1799), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his daughter, Mary "Polly" Wanton (born 1762) and her husband, Daniel Lyman (1756–1830), Newport and North Providence, Rhode Island; by descent to their daughter, Mrs. Jacob Dunnell (née Mary Wanton Lyman, born 1788), North Providence; by descent to her son, Jacob Dunnell (1811–1886), Pawtucket, Rhode Island; by descent to his son, William Wanton Dunnell (born 1850), Pawtucket; by descent to his son, William Wanton Dunnell, Jr. (born 1894), Pawtucket; by descent to his son, William Wanton Dunnell III (born 1932), Boston, Massachusetts; by descent to the present owner

Associated names

Daniel Lyman
Mary "Polly" Wanton
Mary Wanton Lyman
John G. Wanton
William Dunnell, Jr.
Jacob Dunnell
William Dunnell
William Dunnell III


The closed roof consists of multiple boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the pediment backboard and the scroll board. Nailed to the upper-case sides and scroll board with brads is a one-piece crown molding which follows the scrolling pediment. Three-quarter round cutouts below center a molded and fluted rectangular plinth supporting a reeded and fluted vasiform finial with turned base and corkscrew flame, flanked, at the upper case?s upper corners, by similar assemblies. The lower portion of the crown molding is notched just below its terminus at the three-quarter round cutouts to receive a matching profile framing the cutouts. The board behind the central plinth is carved out at its top in order to accommodate the central finial. Behind the plinth, multiple brads connect the board to unseen interior elements. Below are thumb-molded scroll board plaques. The single-board pediment back is attached to the top board of the upper case with rosehead nails. The upper-case back consists of five vertical boards half-lapped together and nailed with brads to the upper case?s top and bottom boards, to the rabbeted case sides, and to the interior vertical stiles. The single-board upper-case bottom is dovetailed to the single-board sides. The scroll boards are set into grooves in the upper-case stiles. Below are two rectangular hinged doors, their stiles and rails joined by mortise and tenons, showing two wood pins at the top of the stiles and one at the bottom. The doors? arched panels are coplanar with the rails and stiles, and the moldings which surround the panels are integral with the rails and stiles. The doors swing by means of two brass, five-knuckled hinges apiece, and are held in the case by brass push latches in the left hand stile of the proper right door, which are attached thereto by screws and convex-headed brass brads. The upper case corners are occupied by quarter columns with six stop-flutes and turned bases and capitals. The bookcase interior contains two horizontal shelves, with double-beaded front edges, into which are set six double-beaded stiles. The nine cubbies thus created are fitted with one, two, or three upright dividers with scrolling front edges, set into grooves in their respective shelves. There are two thumb-molded candleslides below. The bookcase section sits upon two transverse cleats within a two-part molding nailed with brads to the desk-top below. The thumb-molded lid, which opens by means of three brass hinges, each leaf thrice-screwed, is of the ?breadboard? type, containing one large horizontal board tenoned into two small flanking vertical boards. The tenon is visible at the bottom of the lid. The elaborate interior contains a concave blocked and shell-carved prospect door, flanked by beaded stiles, and by two banks of three open compartments separated by scrolling uprights with concave-blocked and scallop-skirted small drawers (two missing) above, and convex-blocked drawers below, each flanked by banks of three concave-blocked drawers, the upper shell-carved, the whole on a molded base. The interior drawer fronts meet their sides in dovetail joints, having finely cut pins, with half-pins above and half-pins and rabbets below. The tops of the drawer sides are rounded and shy of the drawer fronts. The drawer side tops are chamfered at the rear, where they meet the flat drawer-back tops, which are chamfered on their back sides. The drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the drawer fronts and glued (and sometimes nailed with brads) into rabbets in the fronts, sides, and backs above. The valance drawer-fronts join their drawer sides with dovetails, having finely cut narrow-necked pins, with half-pins above and below. The lower case back consists of three horizontal boards, half-lapped together, and nailed with brads into rabbets in the desk top and sides. A vertical brace, now missing, once fit into a slot in the bottom board and was attached to the back board, where its nail holes are visible. The bottom of the lower case contains two boards, joined to the case with dovetail joints having thick-necked pins of varying configurations, and some later reinforcing nails within the tails. The top rail of the lower case, and the rails surrounding the thumb-molded, half-height lopers are joined to the case sides by half-blind dovetail joints. The long drawers below have been substantially reworked, and the fluted quarter columns are of later date. The base molding is joined to the case bottom with brads and wood pins. The ogee bracket feet have been substantially reduced in height. The backings for the feet consist of two horizontal glue blocks, attached to the case bottom, shaped to align with the front brackets and mitered together. Below the glue blocks is a vertical rectangular block. Some pieces are missing. The backs of the rear feet contain an extra horizontal glue block and simple curving brackets, set into grooves in the mahogany facing. Examined by P. E. Kane, W. S. Braznell, G. Sullivan, July 20, 2010; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.