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Desk and bookcase

1750-1760
Origin: America, Virginia, King George County
OH: 90 3/8"; OW: 45"; OD: 23 1/2"
Black walnut, yellow pine, beech, and tulip poplar
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1976-95
Appearance: Desk and bookcase with deeply coved cornice highlighted with Wall of Troy molding; raised panel doors with indented upper corners; ogee waist molding; neat and plain desk section on short cabriole legs with ball and claw feet; case with one long, over two short, over two long drawers; brass bails and back plates; desk interior consists of central prospect door with carved gothic arch motif, behind which originally were two short stacked drawers; flanking document drawers with inlaid fluted facades; on either side, four gothic arch bracketed pigeon holes over two pairs of small drawers.

Construction: On the bookcase, the one-piece cornice slightly overlaps the top edge of the case sides. The molding is primarily secured with sprig nails and glue to full-depth side glue blocks and large, evenly spaced front blocks glued to the top board. The case sides are dovetailed to the top and bottom boards and rabbeted at the rear to receive the horizontal, nailed-on backboards. The backboards are flush-nailed at the top and bottom. The two-part shelf supports have molded leading edges and are sprig-nailed in position. The two fixed lower shelves associated with the drawers are dadoed to the case sides, and one is additionally nailed in place. Both shelves have dadoes that receive vertical dividers. The thinner dust boards in the bookcase section are conventionally mitered in place. The vertical dividers are multiply dadoed on their interior surfaces for use with a small adjustable shelf. The small drawers are traditionally dovetailed, with the bottom panels set in rabbets and sprig-nailed on all four sides. The mortised-and-tenoned door frames are rabbeted on their interior surfaces to receive the raised door panels, which in turn are held in place by nailed-on interior molding strips. The upper part of the door panels are fitted on two-piece glued-on indented corners.

On the desk, the top and bottom boards are half-blind dovetailed to the case sides. The case sides are rabbeted to receive butt-joined and nailed-on horizontal backboards that are also flush-nailed at top and bottom. The fall board has mitered batten ends. The fall-board supports, which have small interior dowel-shaped stops, are fitted with thin vertical facades that are tongue and grooved in place. All of the drawer blades are open-dovetailed to the case sides, the joints being covered by thin nailed-on strips. The dustboards are thinner than the blades. They are fitted into the rabbeted rear edges of the blades and are also set into the dadoed case sides. The extra spaces in the dadoes are filled by full-depth bottom-mounted strips grained front-to-rear. The divider between the second tier case drawers is through-tenoned at the top and bottom into the drawer blades. The base molding slightly overlaps the lower edge of the case and is primarily glued to large blocks on the bottom board. All four feet have frontally applied volutes and are square-tenoned into large square corner plinths wrought-nailed to the underside of the case.

On the desk interior, the writing surface is backed by a full-depth, butt-joined dustboard. The flush-mounted pigeonhole brackets are backed by small glue blocks. All of the dividers are miter-dadoed to each other and conventionally dadoed to the case sides. The dividers on both sides of the document drawers fit into dadoes on the top and the writing surface dustboard. On the document drawers, the sides are nailed into rabbets at the front and flush-nailed at the rear and bottom. The small drawer construction follows that on the bookcase drawers. The prospect door is carved from the solid.

Traditional dovetail construction is found on the case drawers, which also have slightly beveled bottom panels set into rabbets at the front and sides. The panels are secured along the sides with glued and sprig-nailed full-length glue strips mitered at the rear corners, and shorter glue blocks run across the front edges. The rear edges are flush-nailed.

Materials: Black walnut moldings, sides, doors, fall-board, Fall-board supports, drawer fronts, drawer and shelf blades, front part of writing surface, front section of bookcase shelf supports, vertical strips on inside rear corners of bookcase, and feet; yellow pine back boards, top boards, bottom boards, drawer secondaries, dustboards, rear part of writing surface, rear section of bookcase shelf supports, and glue blocks; beech foot plinths.
Label:One of the earliest southern desks and bookcases in the CWF collection is this black walnut example attributed to Robert Walker, a native of Scotland who worked in King George County, Virginia, and environs.

Ball-and-claw feet are relatively rare on southern case furniture, although identically shaped feet appear on at least two of Walker's case pieces and on many of his chairs (CWF accs. 1938-199 and 1972-230). One of his more unusual case forms is a cabinet-like desk and bookcase made entirely of painted yellow pine despite the presence of the relatively costly carved feet (now in the collection of Mount Vernon). The lower case of this distinctive object features a pair of doors that conceal a series of closely spaced vertical dividers for the storage of ledger books. The bookcase matches the CWF example in the use of adjustable shelves and a many-drawered lower section. Its doors feature arched panels, however.



Provenance:This piece has no recorded history prior to CWF's acquisition from an eastern Pennsylvania collector in 1976. An inscription on an interior drawer makes reference to Point Lookout. Point Lookout is a parcel of land in St. Mary's County, Maryland, at the confluence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. King George County, Virginia, location of the shop of Robert Walker, also borders on the Potomac River.
Mark(s):A modern "H" is stamped in ink on one of the interior desk drawer sides.
Inscription(s):There are a variety of modern pencil assembly marks on the backs, bottoms, and sides of the small drawers of the desk and bookcase. A modern inventory number, "1602/103," is written on the interior of the upper case drawer. In pencil on one of the interior desk drawers, "Pretty Point / a day to be remembered / company of the Maine (?) / Point look out and point look in / point no point and point again / point look in."