COLLECTION: Furniture

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Writing Table

1770-1790
Origin: America, North Carolina, Roanoke River basin
H:28 1/2"; W:31 1/4"; D:21 7/8"
Black walnut, yellow pine, and oak
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1930-94
Appearance: Writing table with rectangular top with a double ogee curve at each front corner; deeply incised ovolo molding on all four side of top; straight skirt on all sides; at the front, a drawer the width of the skirt with an original shaped brass back plate with a key hole and bail handle surmounted by two shallow drawers each half the width of the skirt, each with a single brass knob; four straight legs rectangular in cross section and chamfered on inner corners; three flutes on outer side of each back leg, and on outer side and front of each front leg; original knee brackets consist of a C-scroll forming a right angle at two corners of the sides and two corners of the front; a single incised line at the outer corners of each leg and ex tending continuously over each side of skirt through the brackets down each leg.

Construction: Screws set in wells on the inside of the rails secure the two-piece top to the frame. Two runners for the large drawer are tenoned into the rear rail and ship-lapped with a mitered front onto the blade. Four supports for the smaller drawers are tenoned in the front and rear. The drawers are dovetailed. While the large drawer has a chamfered bottom panel set into grooves at the front and sides and flush-nailed at the rear, the smaller drawers have bottom panels that are flush-nailed into rabbets on all four sides. Pinned mortise-and-tenon joinery holds the frame together. The pierced brackets are sprig-nailed and glued.

Materials: Black walnut top, front rails, side rails, drawer fronts, legs, and knee brackets; yellow pine rear rail, drawer sides, drawer backs, and drawer bottoms; oak drawer runners.
Label:This table is part of a large, well-defined group of furniture produced by an unidentified artisan who worked in North Carolina's Roanoke River basin from the 1760s through the turn of the nineteenth century. Other objects in the group include a chest of drawers, two bottle cases or cellarets, and a variety of tables.

Some of the objects from this Roanoke basin group feature fluted Marlborough legs often associated with the furniture of Newport, Rhode Island, but rarely encountered in the South. In addition to the CWF table, two other examples from the shop--a four-foot-square dining table and a small four-legged stand with a single drawer and no upper blade--employ the fluted leg. The bottle cases stand on plain, slightly tapered legs but carry pierced knee brackets virtually identical to those on table the CWF table. As it does on the table, the scratch beading on the legs and rails of the cellarets runs across the lower edges of the knee brackets.

Although the overall form of the CWF table is comparable to many American and British dressing tables, its two shallow upper drawers indicate that it was designed specifically for writing. With a depth of less than one inch and interior dimensions of 8 5/8 inches by 11 1/8 inches, the small drawers are the right size for storing demy sheets of paper that have been cut into quarters for writing. The numerous ink stains on the table's top and in its drawers further demonstrate that it saw long service as a writing surface. British design manuals such as Chippendale's DIRECTOR offer plans for a variety of writing tables, most of which were highly complex and contained multiple drawers, boxes, and other interior fittings for paper, quills, and inkwells. The present table is a much more pragmatic version that fulfills the same needs.
Provenance:The table was purchased from antiques dealer Israel Sack of Boston in 1930. Sack had acquired the table the same year from dealer W. L. Parker of Richmond, Va.
Mark(s):None.
Inscription(s):The underside of one of the smaller drawers has a geometric drawing perhaps depicting a picture or window frame executed in what appears to be brown wax pencil. Inside the other small drawer is a pencil inscription that appears to read "150."