image of object
Photo: Courtesy Diplomatic Reception Rooms, United States Department of State, 78.67
Click the image to enlarge

Bureau table

Object number



Maker, formerly attributed to Edmund Townsend, American, 1736/7–1811
Maker Thomas Townsend, 1742–1827


33 36 1/4 20 3/8 in. (83.82 92.075 51.753 cm)


probably 1765

Current location

Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State


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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (some glueblocks on interior top front rail); cedar (backings of drawer dividers); yellow poplar (drawer sides and back and one back board of case); pine (drawer bottoms, drawer supports, tip bar for top drawer, sides of central cabinet, cabinet shelves, cabinet bottom, three back boards of case, bottom boards of case, and original glueblocks of feet); chestnut (sub-top and some glueblocks on interior top front rail)


"Thomas Townsend of Newport son of Job Townsend / deceased of Newport," in graphite, on underside of divider under proper-left upper drawer


Illegible graphite, on interior sides of top drawer; illegible name ["Mar....H...."], in graphite, on exterior proper-right side of proper-left upper drawer; “6,” incised on exterior back of proper-left lower drawer; compass work designs [pin wheels and a heart], incised on exterior case bottom; illegible chalk, on exterior case bottom; "1" and "1," in graphite, interior proper left front corners of one drawer; "3," in graphite, interior proper right rear corner one drawer; "4" and "4," in graphite, interior proper right front corners of one drawer


By descent in the Watts family, Newport, Rhode Island. Christie's, New York, October 21, 1978, lot 296; sold to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State, Washington, D.C., 1978

Associated names

Watts Family


The rectangular, oblong, single-board top is molded on the front and sides and square at its back edge, where it overhangs the back of the case. There is a single round hole in the proper left side of the top?s back edge. The beaded cove molding under the top is fixed to the case with wood-filled fasteners as well as face nails and returns upon itself at the top?s overhang in back. The top is attached to the single-board case sides in dovetail-shaped keyway joints. Fixed to the underside of the top with rosehead nails is a two-board sub-top whose connection to the case sides (presumably dovetail joints) is obscured by tip bars nailed to the case sides. The case back consists of four horizontal half-lapped boards nailed into rabbets in the case sides and case bottom and directly to the sub-top and interior partitions with a variety of nails. Within the case, a support for the upper drawer, routed to fit over the tops of the interior partitions and set into grooves in the case sides, spans the back. Vertical drawer stops for the upper drawers are glued to the back board. An irregular group of eight glue blocks ? some rectangular, some chamfered, some triangular ? occupy the joint between the sub-top and the top rail. Within the banks of drawers below are drawer supports (replaced) nailed to the case sides and interior partitions. The dustboard beneath the frieze drawer is full-width but not full-depth; it provides a ceiling for the open portion of the central cupboard section, but not for the backs of the small drawers and central shelves. The top rail, drawer dividers, and bottom rails all meet their case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. The dividers? horizontal cockbeading is integral, the openings? vertical cockbeading is nailed on with brads. There are two rosehead nails in the upper face of each bottom rail. The joints between the single-board inside walls of the drawer banks and the underside of the divider below the frieze drawer are concealed, and the bottom edge of the span across the void is not cockbeaded. The block-fronted frieze drawer?s convex shells are applied, and its interior face is flat. Its kerf-marked front meets its shorter, arched-top drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and below. Its two-board bottom is parallel to the front and chamfered at the front and sides, where it fits into grooves. The drawer sides, formerly full-height, are now fitted with runners held on with brads. The bottoms are nailed with brads to the drawer backs, whose outside top corners are shaped to align with the drawer-side tops. The fronts of the drawers below are incurvate within; their construction is similar to the frieze drawer, having retained their full-height drawer sides, accompanied by full-length glue-blocks/runners. The drawer-banks center a recessed cupboard with a single-board, convex-blocked, shell-carved, hinged door with an integrally cockbeaded mitered frame, opening to two fixed shelves set into grooves in the single-board partitions. A single-piece base molding is fixed to the case with nails and wood-filled fasteners. The four-board case bottom meets the case sides in dovetail joints with pins of slightly varying configuration, and is fixed with two nails each to the interior partitions above. A portion of molding at the center recessed section is nailed with brads from below, with brads to the base molding above. The feet consist of shaped vertical blocks (some replaced) attached directly to the case bottom and flanked by shaped horizontal blocks (some replaced), all now screwed into the case bottom. Each foot is faced with ogee brackets, the front ones blocked and scroll-carved. The backs of the rear feet are simple straight-profiled ogee brackets (replaced) set into grooves in the backs of the side-facing brackets. The backs of the rear feet?s side-facing brackets are ogee-shaped, and project beyond the plane of the backboard. Examined by P.E. Kane, August 14, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


The inscription on this bureau table suggests that it was made shortly after the death of Job Townsend in 1765.


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), 134-35, no. 52, ill.
"Christie's, New York, advertisement," Antiques 114, no. 3 (September 1978): 371, ill.
Karla Klein Albertson, "Becoming a Nation: Americana From The Diplomatic Reception Rooms of The U.S. Department of State," Antiques and the Arts Weekly (January 9, 2004): 70, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 298–99, fig. 7.23, 7.23a–b.
American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, 10 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Highland House Publishers, 1957–89), vol. 9, p. 161, ill.
Christie's, New York, Fine American Furniture and Decorations, sale cat. (October 21, 1978), 100–101, lot 296.
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), 284n4, 285–287, 292, no. 53, fig. 1–3.
Oscar P. Fitzgerald, American Furniture: 1650 to the Present (Lanham, Md.: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2018), 85, fig. 4.49.