I’ve had several inquiries about the location of Thomas Nevell’s account book and how I access the scans I’ve used in the posts. The account book is in the collection of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Several years ago the the account book was scanned at high resolution and became available to the public through the internet. The manuscript can be found here:

http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/medren/pageturn.html?id=MEDREN_4008367&

You can zoom on the pages and jump to pages as they are numbered in the book. The highlighted text in the blog posts will direct you to the page from which I’ve drawn the highlighted debit or credit while all the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

In 2011 Erin E. Kuykendall completed her Masters thesis PHILADELPHIA CARPENTERS, CABINETMAKERS, & CAPTAINS: THE WORKING WORLD OF THOMAS NEVELL, 1762–1784, University of Delaware. Her analysis of the account book, Nevell’s working life, and his interactions with his apprentices and journeymen and his clients, though not generally available, is required reading for those wanting to delve deeper into Nevell’s story .

http://www.worldcat.org/title/philadelphia-carpenters-cabinetmakers-captains-the-working-world-of-thomas-nevell-1762-1784/oclc/770380112

Sculpture behind Mount Pleasant

In 1765, 250 years ago this month of May, Mount Pleasant was completed. Thomas Nevell, his journeymen and apprentices along with sub- contractors in other trades, were putting the finishing touches on the “plantation” that included a main house, two pavilions, a barn, a stable and carriage house, a smoke house, and a necessary. On May 10th, Nevell charged John Macpherson 8 shillings, his usual day rate, for “hanging 4 Luking glasis.”

looking glass

On May 18th Nevell and a young apprentice spent one day “putting up furniture” at Mount Pleasant and the same day Nevell charged Macpherson for “making the bottom for the organ case & fixing casters.”

organ case

At the end of the month, on May 29th, 1765, Nevell charged Macpherson £1.3.9 for measuring the completed interior plastering work done by John Bezer.

measuring plaster

The end of a large building project usually occurs over weeks or even months. Perhaps it is impossible to pinpoint the precise “day” a project of this scale ends. In addition to the choice of any of above dates as the “official” completion date of Mount Pleasant, we can add two others. The debits and credits to Macpherson in these entries in Nevell’s account book shed light on the both the full cost of the carpenter’s work and the compensation  Nevell ultimately received for his time and materials building Mount Pleasant. On July 24, 1765 Nevell debited John Macpherson £1084.1.7 “To All the Remainder of Carpenters work measured by Mr. Smith & Thornhill not here to fore charged.”

Carpenters work

What came next was…well, silence. Macpherson’s name does not appear in Nevell’s account book for almost a year and ten months. On April 28th 1767 Nevell credits John Macpherson £418.11.9 for cash received and £39.9.9 “By an Abatement on the general Acct.” According to Nevell’s records he was still owed £400 for the carpentry work at Mount Pleasant, money he never received. Macpherson would never again appears in Nevell’s account book for an obvious reason, Macpherson had stiffed Nevell for an amount equal to three years of his labor.

last payment

In May of 1765, it was spring in Philadelphia but the hot, humid summer would not be far behind. In the coming weeks John Macpherson, with his wife Margaret, their two sons, two daughters who were both born during the three years of construction, Margaret’s mother, and their servants and slaves, would escape the city and move to Mount Pleasant for the summer. Their looking glasses were installed, their furniture “put up” and repaired, but their debts were outstanding, never to be paid for in full.

Mount Pleasant

rear legThe surviving rear leg on the dressing table was used as a model for shaping and carving two new front legs and one new rear leg. While only the sides of the rear legs had carving on the knees, the carving on the front legs wrapped around the knee completing the bilateral design. The matching high chest base, known only from a magazine advertisement, was one source of information confirming the appearance of the original front legs of the dressing table.High chest base Equally important was the opportunity to examine  a pair of chairs in the collection of the Winterthur Museum that had entered that collection in 1957 with a tradition of ownership by Charles Carroll of Baltimore, Maryland. These chairs, and several others of the set in private collections, were most likely the chairs designed and made en suite with the dressing table and high chest base. If the Carroll provenance associated with the chairs holds up to future research, it would infer Carroll family ownership of the matching high chest and dressing table. One chair of this pair at Winterthur bears the same version of Thomas Tufft’s label pasted into drawers of the high chest and dressing table at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (see Charles F. Hummel. A Winterthur Guide to American Chippendale Furniture, Middle Atlantic and Southern Colonies, Winterthur, 1976, pgs. 66-67, figs. 58, 58a.)

side chair

Side chair
Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft

As mentioned in the first post on the restoration of the dressing table, the all the original knee returns survived the loss of the legs. The shaping of the new legs had to harmonize with the flow of the existing knee returns. This is one of the constant challenges of restoration, creating the appearance of a smooth transition across new and old elements without manipulation of or damage to the original surfaces.

new legs

The new legs installed on the dressing table before
matching wear patterns of the original surfaces, coloring, and finish work.

new legs, after treatment

The legs after finish treatment to match the
surviving layered finish of dressing table.

IMG_2322

A detail of the top of the new leg with its inset corner column.
The finish on the upper rail and moulding under the top board was
present on the dressing table before the restoration.

Front corner

With the modern legs removed, the tenons of the front rail and sides are revealed. There are four separate tenons on the side board, the bottom tenon flush with the bottom of the side and the top tenon (the top tenon is cropped out of this photo) begins a half an inch below the top. There is no tongue between the three tenons as often seen in the joining of table tops or desk falls to end cleats. A groove for a tongue connecting the tenons would have to be plowed in the cabriole leg to accommodate the tongue. This could have been accomplished though the groove would have been visible behind or under the knee return. This view inside the leg to side joint is a rare one as it is difficult to make an x-radiograph at the corner of an object and obtain a clear view. As the legs have inset corner columns, the tenons do not meet with a miter at the corner as they might in a case without columns. To the left of the center tenon of the side in the above image you can make out one of the dadoes in the backboard that receive the vertical drawer dividers. The dividers were also secured with nails through the back.

New front leg

This is one of my new legs being test fit to the case. The mortises were cut and wood was removed from the corner to accept the columns before the lower cabriole section of the legs were shaped. The columns were then made as the originals, in three sections, a turned capital, a turned base, and a center section with flutes. Contrary to how a number of modern makers describe and make this type of column, only the capitals and bases were turned, the tall center section was treated as a moulding and was shaped with a round plain before being fluted. If you have a chance to examine a Philadelphia high chest having corners without flutes – there are a few – you will be able to feel the facets left by the round plane. Although often described today and in the period as “quarter” columns, the corner columns of 18th century case work in the British tradition were not truly quarters but rather slightly more than a fifth of a circle.

Corner column capital

Clock case
Made in Philadelphia c. 1770
Corner column capital

Corner captial base

Clock case
Made in Philadelphia c. 1770
Corner column base

The high chest with the paper label of Thomas Tufft in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has not been web published to date but is on display in the American Art galleries in the museum.  The carved fronds that would have spiraled off the volutes of the scroll mouldings are missing and the urn and flower cartouche is a late 19th or early 20th century replacement but is an appropriate restoration.

Tufft high chest and dressing table

High chest and dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The upper section with its straight cornice and scroll mouldings above gives a good indication of the appearance of the missing upper case of the high chest that is the mate to the dressing table of the restoration project.

High chest base

High chest base section
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
“The Magazine Antiques”
January 1928

In an invoice for furniture made to Mrs. Mary Norris and paid in full February 24, 1784 , Thomas Tufft described himself as “Joyner” and charged Norris 45 pounds “To One pair Mahogany Drawers With fret & dentels & Table to suit.” On the same invoice Tufft charged Norris 1 shilling 6 pence for “One roling Pin” – wood not recorded. Tufft was clearly ready to furnish your house top to bottom. “Mahogany Drawers With fret & dentels” is a suitable description of the labeled high chest at the PMA, though the extent of the carved decoration on the  high chest ordered by Mary Norris is unknown.

A detail of the fret and brass drawer pull shows Tuffts attention to detail in the correspondence between their designs. While Tufft chose to center the fret on the quatrefoil device, and not have the diamond pattern line up over the center drawer pull of the top tier, the pulls on the long drawers do roughly line up under the diamond motifs of the fret.

High chest detail

High chest detail
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Dressing table Philadelphia, c. 1770

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.

Most of the information needed to restore the missing elements of the dressing table were present in the surviving table. But research was necessary to confidently restore elements that had no surviving counterpart.  I was also interested in gathering as much information as possible about related objects.

The research phase of the project was extensive and too long a tale for this blog post but here are a few highlights.

A dressing table in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since the mid-20th century had many similarities to the  table I was working with. Additionally it bears the paper label of the Philadelphia cabinetmaker Thomas Tufft glued inside the top drawer. Tufft was likely working on his own shortly after his marriage in 1766.

Dressing table Philadelphia c. 1775 Made by Thomas Tuffft

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

1955-87-1label(1)

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The matching high chest for the labeled dressing table is also in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A   high chest that would have been made along side the table I was working with would have been similar in form. That high chest is on display in the galleries along side the labeled dressing table but there is no information or photographs of the high chest on the museum’s website at this time.

I was eventually able to put the PMA labeled table and the table I was working on side by side and it was clear they were made to the same patterns and measurements. They had been made by the same joiners, most likely in the same shop – I now had a firm attribution for the maker of the dressing table I was restoring. With a less elaborate carving plan, the PMA table didn’t, however, provide information for the missing carved elements.

A carved drawer appliqué  featuring rococo foliage and scrolls over columns appears on a small group of objects. They were produced in different shops with various carvers taking their stab at it. This then had become a popular appliqué design in the small community of carvers living in close proximity to one another in Philadelphia. It saves time if you don’t have to invent the wheel every time you begin a new project.

This photo appeared in “The Magazine Antiques” in the 1930’s. I was not able to locate this table during the restoration.

dt 3

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, c. 1775

Another object with a similar drawer appliqué was illustrated in an early 20th century book of American Furniture. I was able to track this one down. It is located in the Ford Mansion/Washington’s Headquarters in the Morristown National Historic Park, New Jersey.

Bottle chest

It turns out it is a cellarette, with a hinged top, false drawer fronts, and vertical dividers in the case for bottles. It is larger in size than a dressing table but smaller than a high chest base.

Bottle chest

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Collection of the National Park Service

Drawer

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Drawer detail
Collection of the National Park Service

drawer detail

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Drawer detail
Collection of the National Park Service

IMG_2334

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Front leg detail
Collection of the National Park Service

Leg detail

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Front leg detail
Collection of the National Park Service

rear leg

Cellarette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Rear leg detail
Collection of the National Park Service

An exciting but bitter sweet discovery was an advertisement from the 1920’s illustrating the matching high chest. Unfortunately, by the early 20th century the base and top sections had  been separated. The fate of the upper section is still unknown. The mostly intact carving on the center drawer of the base showed that the bases of the columns resolved in the same manner as the other related drawer appliqués. The brass pulls had been replaced but the carved drawer knob was in its original location.

Time to start drawing and getting out 12/4 mahogany for the legs.

High chest base

High chest base section
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
“The Magazine Antiques”
January 1928

Dressing table Philadelphia, c. 1770

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Before treatment.

A project from years ago was the restoration of this Philadelphia dressing table c. 1775 that had been significantly damaged and had undergone an extensive restoration in the past. The previous restoration, which included the creation of three new legs and their fluted corner columns, was well intended but the new parts did not match, in materials or workmanship, the other elements of the dressing table. The photographs above and below show the condition of the table when it was purchased at auction and as it arrived at my studio. The proper right rear leg was the only original leg. Fortunately the side of the knee of this leg was carved – I had the information needed to re-create the carving on missing legs.

Dressing table

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Before treatment.

The knee returns for the three missing legs were still in place, nailed to the case. The new legs were made of a wood light in weight and color with large, distinct pores. It has the appearance of Luan. It didn’t appear to be a species normally found the lumber trade but the dressing table had recently come from England and the previous restoration was likely done there. Their dark appearance is due to an opaque, nearly black coating.

Portions of the carved applique on the drawer were missing. The brass pulls were missing but the escutcheon on the long drawer survived and there were witness marks of the pierced pull plates on the drawer fronts. It didn’t appear that any subsequent pulls had ever been installed. The top, sides, and drawer fronts were without a film finish but there was a multi-layered finish on the drawer dividers, in crevices in the carving, and on much of the surviving leg. Other issues were a split in the lower front rail, an oval escutcheon plate nailed to the carved drawer (why?), and wood losses to the drawer edges and lower front rail.

Dressing table, Philadelphia c. 1770 Carved drawer before treatment

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Carved drawer before treatment

Dressing table, Philadelphia c. 1770 Before treatment

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Carved before treatment

There are losses on the carved drawer front that have left no witness mark. Glue residue and a color shift at the upper proper left corner marks a recent loss. The immigrant London trained carver who decorated this dressing table was prepared to produce carved work like that on the chest seen below, but in Philadelphia he was put to work carving shell drawers on high chests and dressing tables, forms passé in London by the mid-18th century. The full applique on this drawer front updates the baroque form of a Philadelphia dressing table with a bit of London rococo.

Chest of Drawers. London, England, c.1755 Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Chest of Drawers
London, England, c.1755
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The original rear leg was broken and previously repaired just above the knee. Is this a clue as to why the three other legs were lost? Was there a catastrophic event that caused damage to all the legs at the same time, with three so badly damaged that were considered beyond repair or were broken off, becoming disassociated with the table before it was ultimately was deemed worthy of restoration?

rear leg

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Rear leg detail. Before treatment.

A dark, accumulated finish survives on discontinuous areas of the dressing table, seen here in a detail of the carving on the original leg.

Leg detail

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Rear leg detail. Before treatment.

The original brass escutcheon has a small metal loss at the bottom. This complex, pierced design from a British foundry is rarely seen on American colonial furniture. The diamond and oval design in the center of the escutcheon echoes blind fret patterns seen on high chests and chests on chests made in Philadelphia from the mid-1760’s. This brass pattern may have been purposely selected to mirror the fret on the dressing table’s matching high chest.

Escutcheon

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Escutcheon. Before treatment.

The witness marks from the pull plates confirm the resolution of the design at the bottom of the escutcheon.

pull plate witness

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Pull plate witness

Pull plate witness

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775.
Pull plate witness

This would be multifaceted project. After the initial examination, research, joinery, and carving skills would be required. An ornate brass pattern would need to be reproduced if originals could not be located. Given the rarity of the pattern, even if found it was unlikely they could be pried loose at any price. We would want to preserve the accumulated coatings and create a similar effect on areas where it was missing and the on new wood. A formidable challenge, but the experience of the process and the knowledge acquired would be a considerable reward for the trouble.

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