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Chest of drawers

1785-1792
Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
OH. 36 1/4; OW. 39 1/4; OD. 22 1/8
Mahogany, tulip poplar (by microanalysis), white pine, yellow pine, satinwood, maple, and rosewood
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1991-12
Appearance: Serpentine-front chest of drawers; tapered feet inlaid with arched-top maple panels; maple shell inlaid on half round central pendant of shaped front skirt with dark stringing and maple crossbanding above, lower edge of side panels between feet is serpentine shaped; crossbanded striped maple panels on front of stiles with ovolo-cornered rectangular mahogany panel at top and mahogany flutes (3) terminating at the feet; four graduated drawers with maple crossbanding, a dark string on the outer edge and dark/light double stringing between the banding and the main veneer panel; maple crossbanding on the edges and perimeter of top, both surrounded by dark/light double stringing; large oval mahogany inlay at the center of the top with maple crossbanding surrounded by dark/light double stringing.

Construction: The top consists of veneers and inlays applied to a solid mahogany board that rests on a frame with front and rear rails and two laterally grained side rails. This assembly is attached to a pair of rails dovetailed to the case sides at the front and rear. The bottom board is set into the case sides with sliding dovetails. The back consists of horizontal tongue-and-groove boards nailed into rabbets at the sides and flush-nailed at the top and bottom. The front stiles are glued to the inner faces of the case sides. Veneered drawer blades are dovetailed to the case sides, and dustboards extending the full depth of the case abut the drawer blades. Half the thickness of the blades, the dustboards are set into dadoes the same thickness as the blades and are wedged in place from below with four-inch-wide laterally grained strips. The vertically grained drawer guides are glued to the case sides behind the front stiles. The drawer stop blocks are nailed to the drawer blades. The side aprons are extensions of the case sides and are backed with horizontal glue blocks. The veneered and inlaid front apron is glued to the bottom board and is backed with large, shaped, glue blocks. The front feet are formed by downward extensions of the case sides and the front stiles. They are veneered on their front surfaces. The rear feet are formed by downward extensions of the case sides that are rabbeted to receive rear brackets. The resulting units are backed by thin, full-height glue blocks.

The drawers have dovetailed frames. Their fronts are veneered and inlaid on horizontally laminated cores. The drawer bottoms are beveled on the front and sides and are set into grooves. The sides are supported with rows of close-set glue blocks that are cut off diagonally at the rear. The rear edges of the bottom boards are flush-nailed.

Materials: Mahogany top board, case sides, front stiles, feet, laminated drawer front cores, top veneers, drawer front veneers, drawer blade veneers, and some inlays; *tulip poplar top board frame, case top rails, backboards, dustboards, dustboard support strips, drawer sides, drawer backs, drawer bottoms, drawer bottom glue blocks, and some inlays; white pine drawer blades; yellow pine drawer guides; satinwood, maple, and rosewood remaining inlays and veneers.
Label:This extensively inlaid chest of drawers represents a large group of case furniture now generally believed to be from the Baltimore shop of John Bankson (1754-1814) and Richard Lawson (b. 1749), in partnership 1785-1792. Executed in a strongly neoclassical style, their productions cover a wide range of forms that include sideboards, cylinder desks, secretary and bookcases, clothespresses, and tall clocks.

The goods from this shop also reveal that the makers were familiar with George Hepplewhite's Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, first published in London in 1788 and significantly revised in 1794. Records confirm that a copy of the Guide was on deposit at the Library Company of Baltimore as early as 1798. In creating the chest shown here, the cabinetmakers appear to have combined elements from three plates found in the 1794 edition. The apron with its inlaid spandrels may have been inspired by the one on the chest in fig. C of plate 76, and the cross-banding pattern used on the top of the chest seems to come from the lower image in plate 78. Even the remarkable drawer inlays probably are an interpretation of those on the bottom drawer of the chest in plate 77. This last pattern must have had special appeal for the cabinetmakers since they used the motif on several other objects, including the cornice friezes of at least three desk and bookcases.

The inlays are among the most unusual features of the furniture in this group. Almost certainly made in the shop that produced the furniture, the execution of the ornaments is both ambitious and naive. Although the maker of the inlays produced everything from flowers and foliage to classical figures and trophies, their lack of refinement suggests inlay making may not have been his principal profession.
Provenance:CWF acquired the chest from antiques dealer Sumpter Priddy III, Richmond, Va., in 1991. Priddy had acquired the piece from 1740 House Antiques in Charlottesville, Va. No prior history is known.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):"WTB" is written in stain on the inside of the left case side. "Wertenbacker" is chalked on the replaced back of the top drawer.