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Corner Cupboard

Origin: America, Virginia, Tidewater
OH:76 1/2";OW:36";OD:19 1/2"
Yellow pine, tulip poplar, and black walnut
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1930-379
Appearance: one-piece cupboard of triangular plan with chamfered front corners; two lockable glazed doors above with six lights each, top right and left lights with cyma-indented outer corners; two lockable bottom doors with single, beveled panels; each door hung on two foliated iron H-hinges, each door fitted with a 2 3/4" asymmetrical brass escutcheon, blind on left doors, with keyhole on right doors; applied cornice and base molding with short returns on either side; no waist molding; two straight-front shelves above, one below; three turned, ball feet with long necks; interior of upper section originally painted white; interior of lower section and exterior surfaces originally painted light blue; exterior originally painted Prussian blue.

Construction: The cupboard was built as a single unit. Its facade consists of top, bottom, and waist rails tenoned into right and left full-height stiles and fastened with pins up to one-half inch in diameter. The stiles are heavily chamfered on their outer edges. Each of the two rear faces consists of three full-height, butt-joined boards. The triangular top and bottom boards are set into rabbets on the upper and lower edges of the backboards and the front assembly. Large rosehead nails are driven through the backboards into the top and bottom boards and the front stiles; additional nails go through the top and bottom boards into the upper and lower front rails. The rear faces of the cupboard are butted at the back corner and joined with rosehead nails driven through the left face. The cornice and base molding are attached to the case with wrought sprigs. The four shelves are set in dadoes and glued. The three turned feet are round-tenoned through the bottom board. The door rails are tenoned through the stiles, and the joints are pinned. The glazed upper doors exhibit standard sash construction; the cyma-shaped elements in their upper corners are integral with the top rails. Curiously, the artisan initially cut the two central door stiles to accept an additional pair of cymas, but then reshaped them and left them plain. The panels of the lower doors rest in grooves.

Materials: Tulip poplar base molding; black walnut feet; all other components of yellow pine.
Label:This corner cupboard is one of the earliest southern examples known. A production date of about 1720 is indicated by the heavy one-and-one-quarter-inch-wide muntins, turned ball-form feet, and foliated iron hinges. However, the original brass escutcheons that survive on three of the four doors probably were not made before the late 1730s. Their simple, asymmetrical shape presages the taste for the rococo, which was often manifested in metalwares much earlier than in furniture, textiles, and other goods.

CWF purchased the cupboard in 1930 from the pioneering architectural historian Thomas Tileston Waterman. An employee of the Foundation during the late 1920s, Waterman spent a great deal of time recording isolated eighteenth-century buildings in the rural Tidewater. He probably acquired the cupboard during one of those expeditions. Another cupboard made by the same artisan was discovered in 1929 in Surry County, thus reinforcing the Tidewater attribution (CWF accession 1930-131). Made of black walnut and yellow pine and arranged in two sections instead of one, the second cupboard probably was produced a decade later than the first. Both objects exhibit identical internal construction, the same distribution of panels and glazing, and a like number of shelves above and below the waist rails. Each has face-mounted hinges, paired escutcheons (the left ones always blind), and, most notably, singular cyma-shaped indentations at the outer corners of the topmost left and right panes. The placement of both cupboards' waist rails near the center of the facades rather than at one-third the overall height is unusual. Like the cyma-shaped indentations on their upper panes, this detail may represent a regional British approach to corner cupboard design. Such idiosyncrasies were transferred regularly to America by immigrant British artisans; in time, many were abandoned as craftsmen adapted their productions to local tastes.

Many southern corner cupboards were made of cabinet-grade woods like mahogany, black walnut, and cherry, while others were fabricated of inexpensive, unpainted pine. This example falls between the two extremes. Largely of native yellow pine, its surface is covered with a layer of bright blue paint that conceals the coarse grain of the inexpensive wood, thus slightly increasing the cupboard's cost and making it more fashionable than its plain pine counterparts. Now almost black from oxidation, the foliated iron hinges were originally painted blue as well. The white used on the interior of the upper section was intended to provide a contrasting background for better display of ceramics and glass. The survival of the original painted surfaces inside and out makes this rare and early cupboard all the more important.
Provenance:Cupboard was purchased from architectural historian Thomas Waterman in 1930. Waterman worked for the Foundation and was then recording large numbers of early buildings throughout eastern Virginia.
Inscription(s):Fragments of an unidentified nineteenth- or early twentieth-century Virginia newspaper are adhered to the interior. Small Roman numerals were written in yellow grease pencil on the backboards by CWF workers in 1955.