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Knife box, one of pair

1790-1815
Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
OH. 12 1/4"; OW. 13 1/2"; OD. 8 1/2".
Mahogany, yellow pine (by microanalysis), and probably maple.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1993-321,1
Appearance: Ovoid knife box with hinged lid; exterior covered with book-matched mahogany veneers and passages of patterned string inlay.

Construction: On the lid, the curved sides are composed of vertically laminated staves. The flat back board is set into rabbets in the ends of the curved section. The top board rests in a rabbet on top of the curved side and back board assembly. All exterior surfaces are covered with veneer, and the bottom edge is faced with nailed-on cock beading. The interior was originally lined with a textile, probably napped baize.

On the body, the curved sides and flat back board are like those of the lid. The bottom board is set into a rabbet on the lower edge of this assembly. The upper edge is faced with mahogany strips, and the exterior surfaces, except on the bottom, are covered with veneer. Six narrow vertical supports for the knife board are glued to the interior. The slotted knife board originally rested atop these supports but was not permanently attached.

Materials: Mahogany lid veneers, body veneers, and cock beads; *yellow pine lid top core, lid side cores, lid back core, body side cores, bottom board, and vertical knife board supports; probably maple inlays.
Label:The most common version of the knife case from the form's inception through the 1820s was a rectangular box with a shaped front and a deep, slanted lid. New knife case designs were introduced between the 1780s and the middle of the nineteenth century. Some, like the vase- or urn-shaped case, became fashionable standards, while others, including the elliptic form shown here, were never produced in large numbers. In fact, these are the only American-made elliptic knife cases known.

The CWF cases, which descended in the Marshall family of eastern and central Maryland, were made in Baltimore, where furniture of innovative form and decoration was often produced during the Federal period. An early nineteenth-century advertisement confirms that at least one local shop made cases akin to these. In 1809, Baltimore cabinetmakers David and Jonathan Ogden offered "for sale a quantity of CABINET FURNITURE, consisting of, Pedestal Side Boards with Sattin Wood, Vase Knifecases, superior to any ever imported from Europe, Eliptic, do. Kidney do.," and a host of dining, breakfast, card, and writing tables. The Ogdens were not alone among Baltimore artisans in producing unusual knife cases; at least two other designs popular there during the early nineteenth century appear to be unique to Baltimore. One features the atypical flat lid seen here.

A common design element in the neoclassic period, the ellipse was often used for inlays, architectural elements, and engravings. Small boxes such as tea caddies were frequently made in the same shape, so it is possible that one of these readily available boxes inspired the maker of the Marshall knife cases. To achieve an elliptic shape in such a large wooden object, the maker built both the body and the lid from narrow vertical staves much like those used in the production of barrels. He then covered the yellow pine carcass with vivid, book-matched mahogany veneers and patterned string inlays. The resulting cases would have been displayed at either end of the owner's sideboard, where their unusual size and design must have drawn considerable attention.
Provenance:The knife cases descended through the Marshall family of Baltimore and Frederick, Md., to Charles Ross Rogers; to his wife, Amelia Fisher Rogers; from whom they were acquired by the Baltimore firm of Colwill-McGehee Antique Decorative and Fine Arts in 1993. CWF purchased the boxes later the same year.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):Although there are multiple inscriptions on box no. 2, there are no marks on box no. 1.