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Basin stand

1811-1820
Origin: America, Virginia, Petersburg
OH. 46"; OW. 25 5/8"; OD. 18 1/4".
Mahogany, yellow pine, maple, and possibly rosewood.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1993-42,A-C
Appearance: Quarter-round bow front washstand with shaped splash board and small upper shelf for bottle or pitcher; central opening for basin, flanked by two small openings for wooden soap cups; front ornamented with rectilinear panels of string inlay; central door with lock leading to lower interior shelf, over a central drawer with brass knob; straight Marlboro legs.

Construction: The small top shelf is dadoed into the splash boards nailed into a rabbet formed by the junction of the basin shelf and case sides. The basin shelf is secured to both the case sides and the veneered upper blade by small, regularly spaced glue blocks. Larger glue blocks abutt the central vertical dividers and provide additional support under the turned wooden soap cups. The veneered vertical dividers are glued to these larger blocks where they meet the underside of the top board and are triple through-tenoned to the interior shelves. The shelves consist of a full-thickness blade grooved at the rear to receive a thin dust board held to the case sides with small rectilinear glue blocks. The blades and the back boards are tenoned into the legs. There is no dust board on the bottom blade. Each of the geometric panels on the front of the case consists of a curved yellow pine core faced with veneer and string borders and is held in place with small rectilinear glue blocks. The veneered door is similarly curved, is tenoned into laminated end battens, and is capped at the top with a three-eighths-inch-thick mahogany strip nailed into the tops of the battens. As on the door, the veneered drawer front is capped by a thin nailed-on strip of mahogany. The drawer is traditionally dovetailed. Its bottom panel is chamfered and set into grooves along the front and sides, but, unlike most southern drawers, it is not secured at the rear.

Materials: Mahogany splash board, upper shelf, top board, legs, top strips on door and drawers, original soap cup, door veneer, drawer front veneer, front case veneers, and back veneers; yellow pine back board cores, bottom board, front panel cores, case dividers, door core, drawer front core, drawer sides, drawer back, drawer bottom, glue blocks, and battens; maple and possibly rosewood string inlays.
Label:A growing interest in personal cleanliness after the mid-eighteenth century promoted the design of several new furniture forms associated with bathing. Among them was the basin stand, also called a "wash-stand" or "wash-hand stand," which typically held a bottle (or later, a pitcher) for storing water and a basin for washing. Such stands increasingly appear in the estate inventories of affluent southerners during the last decades of the colonial period.

After 1800, basin stands took on an even larger role in gentry bedchambers, and several variations appeared. A "Bason Stand" of quarter-round plan is illustrated in the 1794 edition of Hepplewhite's Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide, where it is described as a "new" and "very useful shape, as it stands in a corner out of the way." Sheraton 1803 noted the widespread popularity of this design and illustrated a version with two front legs that "spring forward, to keep them from tumbling over." Some of the more elaborate versions even featured internal plumbing through which water from a lead-lined upper compartment emptied by way of a brass cock into the built-in basin, which could then be drained into a waste container in the base.

Post-Revolutionary southern artisans probably never produced anything as intricate as Sheraton's plumbed basin stand, but they did follow the British lead in shaping the form. This Virginia example, embellished with nine rectangular panels of string inlay, appears to be a merging of two "Corner Bason Stands" in plate XLII of Sheraton 1802. Unlike most British corner stands, however, this one has a finished back so it could be pulled into the room if the need arose. With a history in the Dunn and Osborne families of Petersburg and Amelia County, the stand was made by "Ezra Stith / Petersburg / Virginia," as his signature on the bottom of the drawer demonstrates. Standing on square, untapered legs, Stith's stand is good example of the ongoing popularity of the neat-and-plain style in early national Petersburg.

Not much is known about Stith, who first appears in Petersburg tax records in 1811. He may have been the son of Major Thomas Stith (1729-1801), a planter who was living in the Southside county of Brunswick on the eve of the Revolution. If so, Ezra was the ninth of ten children and one of six boys. That he entered a trade like cabinetmaking reflects the fact that only the oldest sons in a family were likely to inherit their father's land holdings. The earliest record of Ezra Stith as a furniture maker is his participation in a cabinetmaking partnership "in all its several branches" with Machie D. I'Anson and Lewis L. Marks in 1815. The three moved to larger quarters at least twice, and in 1818 advertised they had purchased "a parcel of the best St. Domingo Mahogany--and intend to manufacture and keep on hand a good assortment of Cabinet Furniture, which they will dispose of on the most reasonable and satisfactory terms." By 1820, the partnership was apparently dissolved and Stith does not again appear in local records.

Whether Stith made the CWF basin stand before or during the term of the partnership is unknown. Documentary evidence indicates that other local artisans were producing similar stands at about the same time. The 1813 shop inventory of George Mason (w. 1806-1813), one of Petersburg's more prolific cabinetmakers, includes "1 circular wash stand" valued at $12.00. Given the size of Mason's shop, which included at least eight workbenches and many journeyman, it is possible that Stith trained under or worked for Mason, whose attributed products are stylistically reminiscent of the Stith stand.
Provenance:The stand descended in the Dunn and Osborne families of Petersburg and Laurel Grove plantation in Amelia Co., Va. The first known owner was Joseph Dunn Osborne. He gave or bequeathed the stand to his cousin, John Dunn (1862-1934); who gave it to his niece, Jane Ruffin Tucker (1898-1987); who bequeathed it to her daughter, Kirkland Tucker Clarkson, from whom it was acquired by CWF in 1993.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):The underside of the drawer is inscribed in pencil "Ezra Stith / Petersburg / Virginia" and "2." "V" scratched into the drawer bottom appears to be a construction mark. Several other illegible, apparently original pencil inscriptions appear on the drawer blade.