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Photo: Courtesy Newport Historical Society, R.I., inv. no. 32.1; photo by Rhode Island Furniture Archive
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Slant-front desk


Object number

RIF5965

Maker

Maker Unknown

Dimensions

43 × 39 1/2 × 22 1/4 in. (109.22 × 100.33 × 56.52 cm)

Date

1750–70

Current location

Newport Historical Society

Geography

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

Medium

Mahogany (primary); red cedar (lining of interior drawers); pine (lining of exterior drawers, upper backboard of case, bottom boards of case, and supports for upper and lower exterior drawers); chestnut (lower and middle backboards of case, drawer divider backings, vertical brace at case back, supports for third exterior drawer from top, loper supports, and rear foot brackets)

Marks

None

Inscriptions

Interior desk drawers: “1,” in graphite, on interior back of proper-right upper drawer; “2 2,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-right middle drawer; “2,” incised on interior front, sides, and back of proper-right middle drawer; “3,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-right lower drawer; “// [with dot at center],” incised on interior front, back, and sides of proper-right lower drawer; “i [slash and dot],” incised on interior front, back, and sides of proper-right long drawer; “X,” incised on interior front, back, and sides of upper prospect drawer; “/,” incised on exterior bottom of upper prospect drawer; circle, incised on interior front, back, and sides of middle prospect drawer; “//,” incised on exterior drawer bottom of middle prospect drawer; “//,” incised on interior front, back, and sides of lower prospect drawer; “///,” incised on interior front, back, and sides of proper-left long drawer; “9,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-left upper drawer; “10,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-left middle drawer; “V [with dot underneath],” incised on interior front, back, and sides of proper-left middle drawer; “10,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-left lower drawer; “. . [two dots],” incised on interior front, back, and sides of proper-left lower drawer; “1” through “4,” in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawers [proper-right to proper-left]. Exterior drawers: “/,” in chalk, on interior front corners of all exterior drawer sides; “1” through “4” [later], in graphite, on exterior drawer bottoms [from top to bottom]. Mark [loop?], in chalk, on exterior case bottom; “IX [lumber mark]," incised on exterior case back

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

William Ellery (1727–1820), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his granddaughter Henrietta Ellery, Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to her neice Mrs. William H. Hammett (née Anna Ellery, probably born 1867), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to her husband William H. Hammett (probably born 1857), Newport, Rhode Island; given to the Newport Historical Society, Rhode Island, 1932

Associated names

William Ellery
Henrietta Ellery
Mrs. William H. Hammett
William H. Hammett

Construction

The single-board top meets the single-board case sides in half-blind dovetail joints, having finely cut narrow-necked pins, with half-pins in front. The lipped, thumb-molded lid is attached to the case with two pairs of brass hinges and assembled in the "breadboard" manner, with a large horizontal board tenoned into flanking vertical boards. The joints between them are visible where the lid meets the case. The interior contains a concave-blocked, shell-carved prospect door, flanked by beaded stiles, opening to three graduated, concave-blocked small drawers. On either side are two beaded, quarter-spherically concave-blocked valance drawers with scalloped skirts, above open compartments separated by straight uprights with partially scalloped edges over convex-blocked small drawers. At either extremity are banks of three concave-blocked small drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The interior sits upon a molded base, in front of which is a sliding well cover within a molded frame. The small drawer fronts meet their sides in dovetail joints, having very finely cut pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The tops of the drawer sides are slightly arched and nearly flush with the tops of the drawer fronts. The tops of the drawer backs are sometimes slightly rounded, sometimes slightly chamfered. The tops of the rear corners are chamfered. The drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the fronts, are glued into rabbets in the front, sides and backs. Inside the case below, the transverse portions of the writing surface are tenoned into a horizontal front rail. Half-height lopers with thumb-molded fronts slide on supports, fixed to the case sides with countersunk rosehead nails, which also serve as guides for the upper drawer. The loper stiles sit in grooves in their neighboring members, as does the bottom rail. The top rail and drawer dividers meet the case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. The drawer supports are attached to the case sides with rosehead nails. There is a vertical batten fixed to the middle of the case-back interior. The back consists of several half-lapped horizontal boards. The graduated long drawers of the case have lipped, thumb-molded fronts which meet their arched-top sides in dovetail joints, having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with grooves below. The tops of the kerf-marked drawer fronts are slightly higher than of the drawer side tops. The full-width, multiple-board drawer bottoms, parallel to the fronts, are slightly chamfered where they fit into grooves in the drawer fronts, and are secured to the drawer sides under applied runners. On the top of the rear corner of each long drawer is a diagonal scribe line. The top drawer is divided by partitions, set into grooves in its front and sides, and fitted with a carved wood, sliding lock mechanism. A base molding is applied to the bottom of the case with brads. The feet consist of shaped vertical blocks, flanked by horizontal blocks and attached directly to the case bottom, faced with mitered ogee brackets. The back faces of the rear feet are straight brackets in an ogee/ flat/ diagonal configuration. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, March 25, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Joseph K. Ott, Daniel Snydacker, and Deborah Walker, "Masterpieces of Simplicity: Newport Desks and Chairs, 1740–1780," Newport History: Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society 60 (Fall II 1987): 179, ill.
Adams Taylor, "A Writer's Dozen: Desks from the Collection of the Newport Historical Society," Newport History 83, no. 270 (Spring 2014): 48–49, ill.
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), 204n4.