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Photo: Courtesy Diplomatic Reception Rooms, United States Department of State, Washington, D.C.
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Slant-front desk

Object number



Maker John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


42 45 1/4 24 7/8 in. (106.68 114.935 63.183 cm)



Current location

Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State


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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (lining of valance drawers, sides and backs of other interior drawers, bottoms of some interior drawers); cedar (bottoms of some interior drawers); yellow poplar (linings of exterior drawers, back boards, horizontal support for well, vertical brace at case back, drawer supports, blocks for lopers, case bottom, drawer runners)


"Made by / John Townsend / Rhode Island / 1765," in ink, on a paper glued inside top exterior drawer


“A” through “D,” in chalk, on exterior back of proper-right interior drawers [top to bottom]; “A” through “D,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of proper-right interior drawers [top to bottom]; illegible chalk, on exterior backs of proper-left interior drawers; “H,” in graphite, on interior bottom of drawer to proper-left of prospect; “E” through “G,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of prospect drawers [top to bottom]; “Cabinix,” in graphite, on exterior back of prospect drawer marked “G”; “I” or “J” through “L,” in graphite, on exterior bottoms of proper-left interior drawers [top to bottom]; illegible graphite, on exterior bottom of drawer marked “K”; "A" through "F," in graphite, on interior and exterior bottoms of valance drawers; “A” and mathematical figures, in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawer marked “A”; "50:8 oz ["oz" above "8"], in graphite, on underside of valance drawer marked "B"; probably "Penny," in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawer marked "C"; scribbles and doodle of a face, in graphite, on exterior bottom of valance drawer marked "C"; illegible graphite, on exterior bottom of valance drawer marked "D"; illegible graphite, on exterior backs of upper and lower exterior drawers; illegible graphite, on interior proper-left side of upper exterior drawer; possible “B” and other illegible graphite, on exterior back of middle exterior drawer; “A” and “B,” in graphite, on top of dividers for upper two exterior drawers; “[?] /35/ Stout [possibly] / Pay,” in graphite, on upper surface of bottom rail; illegible graphite, on interior case bottom; “Bottom,” in chalk, on interior case bottom


Robert Y. Townsend (1827–1878) and Emily M. Cleland (1842–1875, married 1865). John S. Walton, Inc., New York, 1960. Israel Sack, Inc., New York, 1972; sold to Stanley Paul Sax (1925–1997), Birmingham, Michigan; bequeathed to the U. S. Department of State, Washington, D. C.

Associated names

Robert Y. Townsend
Emily M. Cleland
Israel Sack, Inc.
John S. Walton, Inc.
Stanley Paul Sax


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 hinged, lipped, thumb-molded lid consists of a large horizontal board to which are applied two two-part convex shells and panels, and into which is carved a concave shell and panel. The board is tenoned into flanking vertical rails; the tenons are visible at the top and bottom of the lid when it is closed. The interior includes a shell-carved, concave-blocked prospect door flanked by beaded stiles and rows of quarter-spherically concave-blocked and beaded scallop-skirted valance drawers separated by scalloped uprights set into V-grooves in convex-blocked shelves atop convex-blocked small drawers. At either side are banks of three concave-blocked small drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The interior sits upon a blocked and ogee-molded base. The concave-blocked small drawers meet their slightly shorter, round-topped, scribe-lined drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The tops of the drawer-backs are flat. The drawer bottoms are parallel to the fronts and glued into rabbets in the elements above. The valance drawers lack rabbets at their drawer fronts and their bottoms are perpendicular to their fronts. The convex-blocked drawers? dovetail joints have shorter, thicker-necked pins. The interior writing surface consists of a front rail half-blind dovetailed to the case sides, into which are tenoned two lateral boards. These elements and a longitudinal board largely obscured under the interior drawers have thumb-molded inside edges enclosing a sliding well cover. The case back consists of half-lapped horizontal boards. Within the case is a transverse batten attached to the caseback just below the tranverse boards of the interior writing surface. A vertical batten is tenoned into the transverse one at the midpoint of the caseback?s inside face. Drawer dividers and a bottom rail are half-blind dovetailed to the case sides. Their cockbeading is integral; the case sides? cockbeading is applied with brads. Drawer supports with tapered ends are flush with the dividers, nailed to the casesides with brads and interspersed with rectangular vertical drawer stops fixed to the case sides with rosehead nails. The upper-drawer support is tenoned into its drawer divider. Loper supports, each with two supporting horizontal glue blocks, are nailed with brads to the case sides and tenoned into the transverse batten at the case back. Vertical loper stops are set into grooves, nailed into the loper supports below and set into the underside of the transverse interior boards of the writing surface above. The inside face of one of the exterior drawers? central concave-blocked portion is reinforced with blocks held on with nails and glue. The upper extremities of the top drawer are cut out to accommodate the lopers; the inside edges of the cut-out are chamfered. The upper drawer?s sides appear to be set into a groove or dovetail key-way in the drawer front; there are three brads in the outside face of the drawer side near the joint. The lower drawer fronts are very faintly kerf-marked and meet their slightly shorter, round-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The single-board bottom of the top drawer is parallel to the front. The inside faces of the lower drawers are blocked, and their three-board bottoms are perpendicular to the fronts. The bottoms are nailed with brads into rabbets in the drawer fronts and nailed directly with brads and rosehead nails to the drawer backs, whose tops are slightly rounded. Some back edges of the drawer back tops are chamfered. The drawer bottoms are full-width; their connection to the drawer sides is covered by runners. In the top of the bottom rail are nails fixing it to the case bottom below. An ogee-shaped base molding is attached to the bottom rail and to the case sides with wood-filled fasteners. The feet consist of shaped horizontal blocks glued directly to the case bottom. To the underside of these blocks are attached shaped vertical blocks, the whole faced with carved ogee brackets; the front brackets of the front feet are blocked and scroll-carved. The back brackets of the rear feet are simple straight-profiled ogee brackets. The back edge of the rear feet?s side-facing brackets are ogee-shaped and project beyond the plane of the backboard. Inspected by P. E. Kane and J. N. Johnson, August 21, 2014; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.


Clement E. Conger, "Decorative Arts at the White House," Antiques 116, no. 1 (July 1979): 116, ill.
Clement E. Conger, Alexandra W. Rollins, and Mary Itsell, Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), 132–133, no. 51, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "John Townsend's Block-and-Shell Furniture," Antiques 121, no. 5 (May 1982): 1145, fig. 2.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 108–11, no. 17, ill.
Harold Sack, "The Furniture," Antiques 132, no. 1 (July 1987): 171, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 88, 96, 100, 102, 131, 174, pl.10, fig. 3.2, 3.8, 3.49,.
"Israel Sack, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 101, no. 1 (January 1972): frontispiece, ill.
Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 161, ill.
Wendy A. Cooper, In Praise of America: American Decorative Arts, 1650–1830, Fifty Years of Discovery since the 1929 Girl Scouts Loan Exhibition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 26, fig. 22, 23.
American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, 10 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Highland House Publishers, 1957–89), vol. 3, pp. 784, 790–91, no. P3448, ill.; vol. 4, p. 854–55, no. P3448, ill.; vol. 9, p. 171, 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), 5n11, 64n101, 290n4, , 453–454.