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Dressing glass

Origin: America, South Carolina, Charleston
OH. 30 5/8"; OW. 20 3/8"; OD. 10".
Mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar, satinwood and inlay woods, and glass.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1991-432
Appearance: Shield-shaped swinging looking glass with dashed stringing at edges and (restored) ivory finial; shaped standards with (restored) applied, turned ivory bosses; box with three drawers, serpentine front, half serpentine sides, and canted front corners on (restored) ogee bracket feet; top of box and drawer fronts outlined with satinwood cross-banding and colored stringing; top of box features ovoid central inlay with carnation and spray of leaves on light ground; canted corners each feature ovoid inlay of roses and leaves, the whole surrounded by quarter-fans.

Construction: The shield- or vase-shaped looking glass frame is made of laminated wood and bent to form, probably with moisture and heat. Its front and side surfaces are covered with veneer. The mirror plate is secured within the frame between a series of thin, heavily chamfered glue blocks and the back board, which is fastened with cut nails. The solid mahogany standards are tenoned into the top of the box and backed at the base with shaped brackets secured by screws. Veneer conceals the nature of the joints between the top, sides, and bottom of the box. A series of small square holes along the front and side edges of the bottom board were made by nails temporarily set in these locations to aid in tying down the veneers on the curved surfaces while the glue dried. The back of the box is nailed to the case. The laminated drawer fronts are veneered, and their upper edge is covered with a thick mahogany strip. The drawer frames are dovetailed, and the bottoms are set into grooves at the front and sides. The rear edges of the bottoms were not nailed or glued originally.

Materials: Mahogany standards, frame veneers, top veneers, side veneers, blade and divider veneers, drawer front veneers, drawer sides, and drawer backs; white pine mirror back board, box back board, top board core, side board cores, bottom board, drawer dividers, drawer front cores, and glue blocks; tulip poplar drawer bottoms; satinwood and other inlays.
Label:Advertisements suggest that the few dressing glasses made in America before 1750 were the products of standard cabinet shops rather than specialists. Several cabinetmakers in Charleston, South Carolina, followed that practice. In 1732, the firm of Broomhead and Blythe sought new commissions, or "bespoke work," offering a full array of case furniture as well as "peer Glasses, Sconces and Dressing Glasses." The next year, cabinetmaker William Carwithin (w. 1732-1746) advertised "Desks, and Book-cases, Chests of Drawers, Clock-cases, Tables of all sorts, Peer-Glass Frames, Swinging Frames, and all other sorts of Cabinet Ware, made as neat as ever." Scattered advertisements from specialists began to appear only later in the century. "Carver & Gilder" William Lawrence (w. 1768-ca. 1778), having just returned to Charleston from London, announced in 1774 "that he has brought with him a variety of looking-glass Plate, for Pier, Gerandole, and Dressing Frames." American-made dressing glasses finally became more widely available during and after the Revolution when trade with Britain was disrupted. Charleston carver and gilder John Parkinson (w. 1777-1798) took advantage of the situation in 1783, advertising that he manufactured "ladies toilet or dressing glasses made oval or square."

Like much neoclassic Charleston furniture, this dressing glass is an imposing example of its form. Standing more than two and one-half feet high, the glass echoes the vertical proportions of many other Charleston goods from the early national period. The shape of the base, which has a serpentine front, half-serpentine ends, and canted corners, was quite popular in Charleston, where it was used for card tables, clothespresses, chests of drawers, and other forms. The strongest tie to Charleston, however, is the remarkable floral inlay on the base. Each of the canted corners features a sprig of roses and leaves set on an ovoid, white wood ground, and the top has a central spray of carnations in a similar setting. Although lush floral inlays on white grounds are almost unknown in furniture from other American cities, a surprising number of Charleston examples survive. The decorative panels were probably imported from professional inlay makers in Great Britain.

As often happened in Charleston, the basic design for this dressing glass was drawn from British prototypes. The maker may have been a British immigrant familiar with the form, or he may have looked to a published design source or pricing guide. Except for the floral inlays, each of the decorative options that appear on the CWF dressing glass is described in the 1793 edition of The Cabinet-Makers' London Book of Prices. A simple "DRESSING BOX AND GLASS" with "one drawer," "a square glass frame veneer'd cross-way, and straight standards" could be embellished with extra drawers, "A vase-pattern" looking glass, and "standards to fit an oval or vase-pattern frame." "Sweeping" the front of the box into a serpentine shape, "Canting the corners, and hollowing the front of the ends" were additional options. All were employed by the maker of this glass.

A popular resource among American cabinetmakers, the 1793 edition of the London Book of Prices was owned by at least two Charleston artisans. A copy signed and dated by Robert Walker (1772-1833), an immigrant Scottish cabinetmaker, has survived at MESDA and Charles Watts (ca. 1756-1811), another Charleston Scot, advertised that he would pay journeyman cabinetmakers based upon the prices quoted in the 1793 edition. It is likely that Thomas Lee (w. 1804-1813) owned a copy as well, since a signed example of his work features several details taken directly from the London Book.
Provenance:The dressing glass was acquired by antiques dealer Sumpter Priddy III at a Christie's sale, New York, N. Y., in 1991. CWF purchased it later that year. No prior history is known.
Inscription(s):"3" is penciled inside the left drawer opening, and "1" is penciled inside the right opening.