Small Table With Straight Legs And Brackets

Both by Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.

Photograph by Dillon


B. DESK BELIEVED TO BE BY JOHN GODDARD, NEWPORT, R. I. By Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City

A. AN EARLY DUTCH-COLONIAL DESK IN CEYLON A Prototype of the American Block-front By Courtesy of The Connoisseur, London

B. RIBBAND-BACK CHAIR AND FIRE-SCREENS From Chippendale's "Director," 1754


Sideboards were not made or used during the Chippendale period, long side-tables of appropriately formal character fulfilling this function in England. Probably very few handsome examples were made in this country, their place being taken by sufficiently large tables of the type of that in Plate 27 B or with cabriole legs.

Tea-drinking had long been the rage in London and the cargo of tea spilled into BoSton harbour before the Revolution is but one indication of the extent to which the cuStom attained here. The tripod-table was a favourite for this function, but any other small table, such as that with gallery-top and raised Stretcher (Plate 27 A), or the Pembroke might be employed.

The tripod was made in infinite variety, moSt of them having the pie-cruSt (raised) edge as in the fine table illustrated in Plate 25 B. This edge might be plain, elaborately carved, or galleried. Another example with the top tilted will be seen in Plate 138. The tops frequently were also made to turn.

The Pembrokes were small two-lidded tables of various forms. A transition piece appears in Plate 72 but they were often of slenderer build with plain or clustered legs and sometimes with saltire, or crossed, Stretchers. They were also called "book-tables," but of them Sheraton rather quaintly says: "The use of the piece is for a gentleman or lady to breakfaSt on. The Style of finishing these tables is very neat, sometimes bordering upon elegance." Chippendale, too, calls them breakfaSt tables. Doubtless they were often employed as what we now call "occasional" tables —for any purpose to which at the moment they might be convenient.

We do not need the numerous references to "loo" and other games of chance to inform us how wide spread was card-playing here: the number of card-tables and the care lavished upon them are sufficient evidence. Even Staid New England (and especially in the next period) is famous for the workmanship of its many examples. These card-tables naturally appear in the several Chippendale Styles and, being so charming and useful, three examples are illustrated here. That in Plate 25 A—a pre-Chippendale design—has the claw-and-ball foot and one of the varieties of the cabochon knee: a splayed gadroon moulding ornaments the skirt. Plate 26 is one of the fineSt examples in the country and is shown by special permission of the owners. It is a wonderful specimen of Philadelphia design, workmanship, and clean-cut carving. In these tables the shallow circular depressions were provided for the holding of candlesticks, while the deeper oval hollows were for counters or money. The double lids not only open but swing. Plate 27 B shows a very attractive example with grooved Straight legs, brackets, and bead-and-reel moulding. It will be noted that the handles in this and the firSt mentioned example are identical.

The various ingenious treatments of the insides of legs in this period are well worth observation. In the table Plate 27 B they are rounded; in the one above it they are chamfered in two places, above and below the Stretcher: in the chair shown in Plate 21 they remain square: while in Plate 22 A the legs are L-shaped so as to allow the pierced fret.


I cannot but feel that the so often mentioned paucity of books in America is somewhat exaggerated. In 1638 Cambridge had its printing-press—it is said before Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool in Great

Britain itself. And one has but to look through the long lists of Americana in rare-book catalogues to realise the number of volumes published here, to say nothing of the multitude that were imported. It would be unfair to refer to the eminent men who, we know, possessed extensive libraries. Doubtless the average family owned few books as compared with that of to-day, where we find a book-case or two in almoSt every home—though perhaps the less attention we call to the quality of their contents the more discreet* we shall be. But the Chippendale period produced not only that extremely convenient piece of furniture the secretary-bookcase but many such book-cases as the type illustrated in Plate 30. Here again, however, fairness compels me to own that the top of the secretary-bookcase might be, and frequently was, used for chinaware.

The book-case illustrated (Plate 30) has Gothic arched tracery, chamfered, fluted corners, and ogee bracket feet.

A taller, Still finer, example also owned by the writer cannot be photographed because of its situation in a narrow hall. It has a re&angular and diagonal tracery, two lower drawers, dentil moulding at the top, and splayed gadroon at the bottom, and block feet. The very large "break-front" library book-cases were common in England, but few were constructed in this country.

Desks were made in the current Chippendale Styles, with claw-and-ball, Straight bracket, and ogee bracket feet. But the specimens illustrated in Plate 28 A and B bring us to the block-front, which is universally considered not only an American but more particularly a New England development.

Realising, however, that no such special type is an out-and-out invention, but is always due to suggestion from some anterior source, I set myself, several years ago, to the finding of this suggestion. I have found more than that. The plate opposite—29 A—illustrates an early Dutch Colonial writing-cabinet in Ceylon. If this feature existed in that then Dutch colony (and possibly originated there) it existed in Holland also. Many early Puritans came direct from Holland or from Holland by way of England: a knowledge of the type or even the existence of such a piece in New England is entirely possible. And this type was made in New England and nowhere else.

Considering this Dutch writing-cabinet it will be seen that it has a veritable double block, and that if the intricately curved front were simply Straightened out we should have a very close approximation to our American block-front. Of course our craftsmen developed the form into such charming pieces as those seen in Plates 28 B and 31. John Goddard of Newport, Rhode Island, was the foremoSt exponent of the type, and as a secretary known to have been made by him has the particular form of shell topping the block and the special Style of beading on the bracket feet shown in Figure B of Plate 28 this piece is ascribed to him.

Where they occur, the shell and this form of ogee feet with the additional beaded scroll indicate that the piece was made in Rhode Island and probably by Goddard. Occasionally the shell was omitted in this section. John Townsend of Middletown, Connecticut, had his training at Newport and his work shows that affinity but had not the Goddard characteristics.

The illustration immediately above this shows a knee-hole block-front dressing-table, though, as they might be used as writing-tables if desired, they are often called knee-hole desks. It has Straight bracket feet, and is of the type made elsewhere than at Newport. It will be noted that in both of these the block extends downward through the feet, a chara&eriStic of the fine pieces.

Plate 31 shows a secretary-bookcase representing the beSt northern New England type. Its upper se&ion is tall and with scrolled and hooded top accompanied by three spiral finials. There are two slides for candlesticks beneath this upper se&ion. The pilasters on its front are a survival from the "architect's furniture" of Queen Anne. When the doors are closed the pilaSters undoubtedly add much to the appearance of the piece, but they are of course amusingly illogical and inconsequent, inasmuch as when the doors are opened the pilaSters applied to them go with them, so supporting nothing and leaving their upper blocks upon the frame. Chippendale avoided pilaSters and they do not appear in his work. In these block-fronts the bracket and the claw-and-ball foot are indiscriminately used.

The very fine secretary illustrated in Plate 32 is in typical Chippendale Style though in general of pre-Chippendale design. The lower panelling is of the Batty Langley type adopted by this school. The scroll top with leaf extension to the also scrolled rosettes is seen in the "Director," and the fretted front and ornamented ogee bracket feet are chara&eriStic. Indeed the whole piece is an exceedingly close following of English models, but its finish with American pine Stamps its origin.

The Rittenhouse clock in Drexel Institute, Philadelphia, also has the scrolled rosettes with leaf extensions, as does one of the fineSt of the highboys here illustrated—Plate 36.

A very few secretary-bookcases with bombe (kettle)

base were made here. Some of these have the blockfront as well.


Among these we find some of the moSt splendid examples of American craftsmanship.

In England the highboy of Queen Anne times was now discontinued, because of the inconvenience in reaching the high upper drawers and probably also simply in answer to a demand for a change in fashion or a wish on the part of cabinet-makers to exploit a new mode. Perchance we do .not often enough take into account this very human itch for change. If the Grand Rapids manufacturer of to-day feels that to "keep in the procession" he muSt provide a brand-new Style every season, surely a live eighteenth century craftsman may be granted an occasional leaning in that direction. And Chippendale says: "if no one drawing should singly answer the gentleman's taSte, there will yet be found a variety of hints sufficient to construct a new one."

In any event Chippendale in the "Director" gives the social world a moSt liberal choice of substitutes for the discarded highboy. He provides numerous designs for plain and for the very decorative commode, clothes-presses (wardrobes) and double-cheSts of but moderate height. He gives one design for a highboy, but with Straight, fretted legs, flat top, and the right half occupied by a cupboard. Strange to say he also goes back to the antiquity of furniture-making and supplies a number of designs for cheats—that moSt primitive and inconvenient of Storage-pieces. He shows no cheSts-of-drawers but very fine ones with his characteristics were made at this period.

Photograph by Mary H. Norrhend

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