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Desk and bookcase

1765-1775
Origin: America, Virginia, Norfolk
OH: 95 1/2"; OW: 39 1/8"; OD: 21 3/8"
Black walnut with yellow pine and cherry
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1978-9
Appearance: Pitch pediment with dentil cornice, applied moldings, blind fretwork, and turned finial; glazed bookcase doors with sash-molded muntins; waist molding with blind fretwork; slant top desk with drawered and pigeon-holed interior; four graduated case drawers; ogee base molding with straight bracket feet.

Construction: The removable cornice consists of a half-blind-dovetailed frame with a dovetailed front-to-back medial brace and quarter-round corner blocks. The fretwork frieze is glued in place and extended at the bottom to create the rabbet that fits over the bookcase. The moldings and dentils are flush-mounted to the single-board pediment nailed to the top of the cornice frame. Fronting the pediment is a flush-mounted plinth above which is a turned plinth with a round-tenoned finial.

The back of the bookcase consists of a mortised-and-tenoned frame with three horizontal raised panels. This assembly is nailed into the rabbeted case sides and flush-nailed at the top and bottom. The top and bottom boards, faced with butt-joined blades, are half-blind dovetailed to the case sides. The through-tenoned door frames have coped and tenoned muntins. Three bladed and unmolded shelves fit in a series of dadoes cut into the case sides. The ogee waist molding barely overlaps the bookcase and is backed by segmental glue blocks that are also glued to the underside of the bottom board. The glue blocks rest inside a shallow frame created by the waist frieze, which is attached to the desk with a series of segmental glue blocks.

On the desk, yellow pine top and bottom boards with black walnut blades are half-blind dovetailed to the one-piece case sides. Horizontal, half-lapped backboards are nailed into the rabbeted case sides and flush-nailed at the top and bottom with the upper edges extended above the top board to help provide direct support for the bookcase. The one-board fall board has tongue-and-grooved end battens with mitered upper corners. The writing shelf has a dado on the underside at either end to guide the lid supports and is set into the dadoed case sides. It is joined at the rear to the bottom board of the desk interior, which sits in the same dado as the shelf and is secured from below with small wooden wedges. The drawer blades are half-dovetailed into the case sides, and the joints are covered by thin vertical strips. The dustboards are dadoed to the case sides, and the upper dustboard is fitted with thin front-to-rear strips set in dadoes that act as guides for the fall-board supports. A single horizontal batten located behind the second case drawer and inside the backboards is open dovetailed into the rear edges of the case sides. The stiles adjacent to the fall-board supports are tenoned into the adjacent writing shelf and dustboard. The base molding barely overlaps the lower edges of the case and is backed by close-set glue blocks that are also glued to the bottom board. The feet are flush-mounted to the bottom of the base molding and backed by triangular, horizontally grained stacked blocks and shaped flankers that surmount the close-set glue blocks. There is a thin, square, transitional block at the top of the stacked blocks.

On the desk interior, the traditionally dovetailed drawers have flat bottom panels glued into rabbets on all four sides. The pigeonhole valances conceal a pair of similarly constructed drawers that rest on the top board of the pigeonhole section. The bracket-shaped fronts have an applied vertical bead that suggests a continuation of the lower dividers. The double-beaded shelves have thin blades and are dadoed to the case sides, while the thinner shelves are miter-dadoed to the double-beaded dividers. In the shallow opening below the central drawer, a pair of nailed-on runners support the central long drawer adorned with an applied bead meant to simulate its support on another thin shelf.

Traditionally dovetailed case drawers have bottoms that are beveled on the front and sides, nailed into rabbets, and additionally secured by close-set glue blocks. The rear edges of the bottom panels are flush-nailed. The top two case drawers are fitted with partitions set in dadoes. Small rectilinear drawer stops are flush-mounted to the rear of the dustboards.

Materials: Black walnut tympanum, finial, cornice, doors, bookcase shelf facings, case sides, drawer blades, moldings, exposed parts of writing interior, drawer fronts, fall board, fall-board supports, and exposed parts of feet; yellow pine top and bottom boards for both cases, backboards for both cases, dustboards, dustboard wedges, drawer sides, drawer backs, drawer bottoms, drawer glue blocks, foot blocks, book shelves, and cornice frame; cherry drawer stops.
Label:This well made desk and bookcase descended through the Galt family of Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia. The earliest record of the object is its inclusion in Norfolk's Art Loan Exhibition, May 27, 1879. The piece likely came to Williamsburg when the Norfolk branch of the Galt family inherited their relations' Frances Street residence (the Nelson-Galt House) in 1880 and moved into it. The desk and bookcase remained there until the contents of the house were auctioned in 1978.

Long attributed to Williamsburg, it is now clear that this piece of furniture was made in Norfolk. The unusual arrangement of the writing interior is not seen in Williamsburg cabinet wares, but has been found on several later Norfolk desks and secretaries.
Provenance:The desk and bookcase descended through the Galt family of Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia. The earliest record of the object is its inclusion in Norfolk's Art Loan Exhibition, May 27, 1879. It likely came to Williamsburg when the Norfolk branch of the family inherited their kinfolks' Frances Street residence (the Nelson-Galt House) in 1880. The piece remained in that house until the contents were auctioned in 1978. CWF purchased the desk and bookcase at that auction.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):None