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Secretary and bookcase

Origin: America, West Virginia, Shepherdstown
OH. 91 3/4"; OW. 40 1/4"; OD. 21 1/4"
Mahogany, cherry, maple, tulip poplar, yellow pine, and sumac
Acquisition funded by F. G. and Kathy Summitt of Bloomington, Indiana
Acc. No. 1987-550
Appearance: Secretary and bookcase with removable cornice, adorned with Gothic arch molding, lightwood pendants, and light/dark stringing; cross banded bookcase doors open to reveal three fixed shelves with double scratch beaded leading edges; veneered breakfront shelf; cross banded drawer facades with elongated diamond-shaped escutcheons, oval brass backplanes with common pulls; banding around base, surmounts inlaid patera; flared French feet; secretary drawer with upper drawer ranks over pigeonholes, central prospect opens to reveal two drawers over pigeonhole.

Construction: The removable cornice features a frame that is open dovetailed and a medial brace open half-dovetailed into the front and rear rails. The side and front rails are adorned with figured veneer and inlaid stringing. The one-piece cove molding is flush-mounted at the top. The lower portions of the Gothic arches are decorated with flush-mounted turned pendants. The cornice frame is held in place by blocks flush-glued to the top of the bookcase.

The top and bottom boards of the bookcase are faced with mahogany on their front edge and half-blind dovetailed to the case sides. The horizontal backboards are nailed into rabbets on the case sides and flush-nailed at the top and bottom. The fixed shelves are set into dadoes on the case sides. The door frames are through-mortised-and-tenoned and their central panels are set into rabbets from behind and secured with quarter-round moldings. The small coved waist molding is flush-nailed to runners flush-nailed to the bottom board. The entire bookcase is secured to the lower case with a pair of large screws that penetrate the bottom board.

On the lower case, thin runners nailed to the top board correspond to the matching runners on the underside of the bookcase. The top board is adorned with veneers and banding along the edges and at the front and sides of the upper surface. The underside of the top board is dadoed to receive the upper edges of the case sides. The top board is additionally secured to a front batten dovetailed into the case sides. Dadoes on the lower part of the case sides receive the bottom board. The case sides extend to the floor and form the bracket feet whose flared shape is created by sawing several inches in from the bottom and inserting a shaped wedge. The side feet are further reinforced by vertical glue blocks. The integral front feet and apron are constructed similarly. The bottom board is also secured all the way around by a series of closely spaced, chamfered glue blocks. The back assembly consists of a pair of vertical raised panels set into a mortise-and-tenon frame. The panel assembly is screwed into rabbets on the case sides. The stiles extend to the floor to form the rear foot brackets. The case drawers are supported on frames consisting of front and rear blades tenoned into the case sides and side blades tenoned into the front and rear members. Small wooden drawer stops are nailed to the tops of the veneered drawer blades. Thin vertical strips are applied to the leading edges of the case sides to cover the blade joints.

On the traditionally dovetailed case drawers, the bottom panels are beveled, set into grooves at the front and sides, and flush-nailed into gouged-out holes at the rear. The veneered drawer fronts have inlaid wooden escutcheons. On the secretary drawer, the mahogany-faced top board is screwed into notches on the drawer sides. The veneered fall board is compass-hinged to the sides and butt-hinged at the bottom. The underside of the writing shelf is beveled like a drawer bottom, similarly set into grooves at the sides, and rides on applied runners. The vertical dividers framing the prospect are set into dadoes and further screwed in place through the top board. The thinner two-part blades and dividers are dadoed in place and to one another. The dovetailed interior drawers have bottom panels glued into rabbeted sides, nailed into a rabbeted front, and flush-nailed at the rear.

Mahogany doors, interior drawer fronts, secretary drawer bottom board and sides, fall-board core, fall-board veneers, front half of interior shelves and dividers, prospect door, bookcase sides, moldings, runners on bottom of bookcase, frieze veneers, veneers on front of lower case, large drawer front veneers, apron veneers, and front foot veneers; maple cornice pendants, ebonized stringing, and foot pads; cherry lower case sides and side feet; tulip poplar shelves, back assemblies on both cases, top and bottom boards on both cases, interior drawer secondaries, large drawer secondaries, glue blocks, drawer stops, drawer runners, and drawer blade cores; yellow pine backboard on secretary drawer; probably sumac cross-banding; lightwood inlays.
Label:Boldly decorated with contrasting cross-banding and figured mahogany veneers, this secretary and bookcase has a history of descent in the Lewis and Washington families of Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). The secretary's structural and stylistic similarities to documented furniture by Charles Cameron of nearby Shepherdstown strongly suggest that he made this piece as well. A chest of drawers inscribed "Charles [-] Cameron Sheperdstown Sept 27 1808" has aprons and feet of the same design, a nearly identical inlaid fan, and the same wide, three-part string inlay at the base (Winterthur Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, 78.442). Both objects feature uncommonly thick drawer blades and the unusual combination of a cherry carcass with mahogany-veneered drawer fronts. A cylinder desk inscribed "Made by / Charles C. Cameron and Co. / No. 2" also displays closely related feet, aprons, and drawer blades (MESDA accession 4309). The case drawers of all three pieces rest on open four-part frames, and the rear edges of the drawer bottoms on the secretary and the desk are secured with rose-head nails set into gouged holes. Unfortunately, little is known about cabinetmaker Cameron beyond the fact that his name appears in local census records as late as 1820.

Like adjacent Martinsburg and Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), and Frederick, Maryland, Shepherdstown played an active role in the upper Potomac basin grain trade to Baltimore. Not surprisingly, some of the neoclassical furniture produced in these small towns, including the Cameron pieces and a card table from Frederick (CWF accession 1930-115), exhibit strong similarities to Baltimore cabinet wares. Advertisements such as the one placed by Shepherdstown furniture maker William Eaty (w. 1797-1817) in 1799 confirm that artisans along the upper Potomac maintained Baltimore connections. After announcing that "gentlemen and ladies may be supplied with [furniture of] the newest and neatest fashions," Eaty noted that he had "brought with him from Baltimore, a rich stock of mehogany, and an elegant assortment of Brass Furniture, for Cabinet work." Eaty went on to say that he made "Desks of almost every description, Clock-Cases, Card and Dining Tables, ornamented in merquatry or shell work; [and] heart, urn, and oval back chairs . . . at a much more reduced price, than in the seaports."

Despite its similarity to furniture from eastern Maryland, physical details on the CWF secretary proclaim its backcountry origin. While Cameron made the facade of imported mahogany, the wide side boards of the lower case are cherry, a favorite primary wood in the backcountry but one long out of fashion in post-Revolutionary Baltimore. The four-sided mortised-and-tenoned frames that support the drawers represent another backcountry approach not typical of Baltimore work. Finally, the dramatically figured cross banding on the doors and drawer fronts appears to be sumac, a wood similarly used in backcountry Frederick but unknown in Baltimore furniture.
Provenance:The secretary and bookcase descended in either the Lewis and Washington families of Berkeley Co., Va. (now W. Va.), or possibly the Todd family of Winchester, Va., to Mrs. Augustine Jacqueline Todd of Charles Town, W. Va. She bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986. The National Trust deaccessioned the piece by auction at Weschler's in Washington, D. C., the following year. Richmond, Va., antiques dealers Priddy & Beckerdite purchased the secretary and bookcase and sold it to CWF in 1987.
Inscription(s):"Kingston" or "Kinston" is incised on the underside of the secretary drawer in an early hand. The drawer shelves in the secretary drawer are inscribed with penciled Arabic numerals that appear to be original construction markings.