American Federal Walnut Slant Front Desk, Mid-Atlantic States, possibly Maryland c. 1790-1810
Item # 130102EWP01
This is a very fine American Federal Period Slant Front Desk of Mid-Atlantic origin, crafted in solid walnut c. 1790-1810. The lid is a highly figured single board (14 1/4" in horizontal depth) flanked by lipped cleats pinned on either end with an applied molded front lip. It lowers over original forged iron hinges to rest on walnut lopers, revealing eight small drawers over eight valanced pigeon-hole slots flanking a tombstone-door with channel-molded document drawers on either side of it. The scroll cut form of each valance over the pigeon-holes perfectly matches the form of the slot dividers. The interior drawers have numerous inscriptions: each has a "WW" which are intertwined on some drawers as "\X/", one inscribed "Small...amd 74.957 NDE". The interior door opens to reveal a pair of drawers over a large cubby, one of the drawers inscribed:
"J C (quite clear) Reuben ...", or possibly "J C Lieutenant" and dated "January 25th 1787" - the 17 of 1787 is quite unclear, but after carefully examining it we are pretty sure that is what is inscribed.
The interior cubby is an ingenious bit of craftsmanship - by pulling out a nail from the middle backboard, that backboard quickly is removed from the case; this reveals a natural knot in the pine board behind the cubby-hole with two tiny tenons that drop into the desk; by lifting on this knot, the tenons lift and allow the entire cubby to slide forward out of the desk. It is a gorgeous and flawlessly crafted box of solid walnut with dovetail joinery, the back board lifting out of the cubby-box from rabbets along either side, revealing a pair of hidden drawers inside. It is so well crafted and hidden that while after a close examination, the careful observer might suspect the presence of hidden drawers, actually being able to find these requires access to the backboards.
The four graduated drawers that line the front are hand dovetailed with tacked cockbead molding, each framed with satinwood inlay notched at each corner with a pair of replaced oval brasses. The drawers are mostly pine with some poplar. The dovetailing is identical in all of the drawers, including the tiny interior drawers, being somewhat distinct in the handling of the back dovetails - on most drawers, the back dovetails are actually reverse graduated with the largest dovetail at the top and the smallest at the bottom. The drawers are flanked on either side by bevelled corner columns.
The sides and top of the case are single solid planks of walnut with dovetail joinery along the top and bottom, the backboards a row of pine boards chamfered on the top and bottom to slide into a rabbet along the top and nailed with a row of square iron nails. The desk rests over splayed French feet.
Notwithstanding the replaced brasses and later finish, this desk remains in almost entirely untouched condition. The lines of the overall form are simply above reproach - the protrusion of the feet give it a strength and firmness of stance, the chamfered columns softening the stoic squareness of the case, the wild and uncontrolled ribbing of the walnut grains tamed by the formal satinwood inlays. These elements come together joining elegance and simplicity harmoniously for an overall form that is above reproach and very fine in every way.
Measurements: 40 58" wide at the feet; 20 7/8" deep at feet; 44 1/2" high to the top; writing surface is 24" deep x 37" high and is 31 3/4" high over the ground.
Condition Report: Finish is not original, but has a nice overall patina in the well preserved surface. All feet are original, including all blocking; feet have numerous horizontal cracks and repairs, the front left foot with some wear at the bottom left side, one foot has a modern screw repair, some blocking has fresh glue. All pine backboards original with some modern pins shot through for strength. Scratches to the right side of the case, patch repairs to the cockbead molding on drawers, lip of slant-lid is cracked and glued. Oval brasses replaced - this is a bit odd, as plugged holes are visible on the outside but not on the inside of the drawers; however, the drawer faces are solid boards of walnut, the interior grains mirroring the exterior grains; one conclusion is that the craftsman may have marked for larger brasses, then chose to use these smaller oval brasses and plugged those incomplete scores. Top of desk has ring scar. Numerous dings, abrasions and scratches, though overall in very fine visual condition.
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Period American Furniture, French Furnishings, Fine Nineteenth Century Art and Sculpture
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