I was pleased to be asked to speak at the Foundation for Appraisal Education annual conference this weekend at Freeman’s. This years theme is fakes and forgeries in the art market. It’s an impressive line-up of speakers with at least three of us dealing with the furniture trade.


Recently scams have rocked the art world and the big money involved has has created a situation rare in the trade – complaints were brought and individuals went on trial.

The conference is only open to professional appraisers who gain credit for attending. I believe this seminar could sell out multiple times if open to the public. It’s rare for institutions to take on this topic though there have been museum exhibitions dedicated to fakes in the past. Bravo to Freeman’s for taking this on for for all of the speakers for agreeing to tell their stories and discuss the issues in public.


gentle art

Cescinsky’s The Gentle Art of Faking Furniture, 1931.


Armand LaMontange’s famous Great chair fake at the Henry Ford Museum.


The typical reaction of dealers and decorators when fakes and frauds are discovered in the marketplace – “I’m shocked, shocked, that there are fakes going on here.” Don’t let that be you!

The David  Rittenhouse astronomical and musical clock now in the collection of Drexel University in West Philadelphia has been called the “Most Important Clock in America”. It is a stunning achievement. The gearing calculations would have been difficult if Rittenhouse had access to modern computing technologies. That this work was done by hand calculation in 1770 is beyond belief to use mere mortals. The case commissioned to house it is an extraordinary achievement in design, woodworking, and carving as well. The Drexel Collection, free and open to the public, is well worth a visit. The clock and case can be seen in the Anthony J. Drexel Picture Gallery on the 3rd floor in the beautiful 3141 Chesnut Street main building. Recalling how similar the design and execution of the ornaments on the clock case are to the Batsto Furnace stove plate, I pulled out a set of photographs I made while attended the removal of the movement for cleaning and repair in 2005. If you can’t make it to Philadelphia or Drexel University, this can be the next best thing for now. All images will open in a new window when clicked. I will add images of the movement in a later post.

Go Dragons.






Foliate scroll.







Hood spandrel applique




Flower and ribbon carving on the lower moulding of the hood.


Complex gadrooning on the lower waist moulding.


Base with applique.


Base applique detail.


The case is over-size and the movement and weights are much heavier than a typical eight-day clock. Beefed-up glue blocks can be seen behind the foot facings.


Ken Finkel’s post on the “Rise and Fall of PhillyPalladian” on the PhillyHistoryBlog along with the upcoming Beer Mansion Mash at Mount Pleasant this Saturday encouraged a visit to the house this week to check on recent developments. There is a cleaned up and restored path on the back/river side of the house but most striking – the two tall trees which have obscured the view of the west façade since at least the early twentieth-century are gone!


Photographing the west side of the house that faces the Schuylkill River has been a challenge if you didn’t want two large trees masking the view.  You could work around them with wide-angle lens but couldn’t escape them in long views.

View of Mount Pleasant house from garden through railing of pagoda

View of Mount Pleasant through railing of a reproduction pagoda c. 1930.

leaves off

Even with the leaves off the trees the view of the Schuylkill River side of the house was marred.


Mark Reinberger in his recent book, “The Philadelphia Country House” was challenged photographing the less formal side of Mount Pleasant.


The setting sun lights up the west side of Mount Pleasant but the out of place trees distract.


Until at least the middle of the nineteenth-century the bluff leading down to the river was clear of trees. Even in the summer the river could be seen from the second story. It can still be viewed in the winter from the Venetian window as seen here in an image from five years ago, but today the river is completely obscured in summer.

During the eighteenth-century trees would never have been allowed to grow immediately behind the house as the views towards the house and to the river from inside the house would have been of fundamental importance to the owners and those they wished to impress.  Mount Pleasant’s Palladian or Venetian windows, constructed 10 years after the Venetian window on the State House stair tower which Thomas Nevell also worked on, are central to the history of domestic architecture in Philadelphia if not the American colonies. They are the earliest Venetian windows in Philadelphia for a private residence – and there are not one but two – designed using three Classical Orders –  creating the extraordinary architectural experience in second story hall.

I’m thrilled that I can now make the images I’ve always seen in my mind’s eye. Here are some of the first from this Wednesday.



3 quarters


In this blog I don’t write about my day-to-day work with the Dietrich American Foundation’s furniture collection that we are in the process of researching, photographing, and conserving. That will remain proprietary to the Foundation as we gear-up to go live with a website of the Foundation’s collection in the near future. Findings from the furniture survey will also hopefully find their way into publications in various formats. I have relied on my extra-curricular activities and earlier years involved in the conservation and restoration trade for material for posts. This post is a slight divergence.


Un-crating the D.A.F. Goddard family bureau at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Later this month the exhibition “Art and Industry in Early America, Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830” opens at the Yale University Art Gallery. The Dietrich American Foundation’s four-shell Goddard family bureau was loaned to the Art Gallery for the exhibition and I was in New Haven this week attending the bureau’s installation at the end of a line of four other three and four-shell bureaus made in Newport in the second half of the eighteenth century.


The line up of Newport three and four-shell bureaus.

“Daniel Goddard His Draugh” is written in white chalk on the back of the top long drawer.

chalk on top drawer

The back of the top shell drawer of the D.A.F. bureau.

Did Daniel participate in crafting the bureau, did he carve the shell drawer, or was he the owner? Was it made in Newport in the shops of the Goddards and Townsends or in Nova Scotia where Daniel appears to have moved sometime after 1779? The early provenance of the bureau is unclear, we can only go back to its discovery in London in 1968. It possibly left New England with Daniel Goddard when he moved from Newport to Nova Scotia. If that was the case, this is likely the first time the bureau has been in back New England in over two hundred and twenty-five years.


The D.A.F. bureau as you will see it in the exhibition.

You can read more about the bureau at the Rhode Island Furniture Archive here.

DAF Goddard

The D.A.F. Goddard family bureau.



Carving gouges with shoulders and the imprint of C. Maiers.

Responding recently to a question about the quality of carving gouges marked C. Maiers, I noticed that in the post I wrote two years ago about some of the C. Maiers tools I own and use I said I had never seen a C. Maiers tool with a shoulder. Since then I’ve acquired two Maiers carving gouges that do have bolsters and have seen images of several others. The first is one of the larger Maiers tools I’ve come across, a fishtail gouge with a 9/16″ cutting edge that is about a number 6 based on the Sheffield list of edge profiles. Second is a 1/4″ front bent gouge that corresponds to a number 29 on the list. What I still haven’t seen are C. Maiers carving gouges marked with numerals that link them to the Sheffield list.

bolster details

Detail of the shoulders.


The handle of the front bent C. Maiers gouge.


Two of the seven C. Maiers carving gouges in this lot for auction on ebay have shoulders.

198 uniform copy

On February 13, 1776 Thomas Nevell credited Thomas Proctor for a “Uniform Coat” and Edward Bonsall for a “pair of Lether breechs”. July was six months off but the Continental Congress had previously met in Philadelphia at Carpenters’ Hall, which Nevell had helped design and build, in 1774 and 1775. In December 1775, John and Margaret Macpherson’s son John had been killed in the Battle of Quebec, perhaps the first commissioned officer from Philadelphia to die during the Revolution. Nevell anticipated war and readily took up the patriots cause, serving for several years as an officer in the Continental Army. He ordered and paid for his own blue coat and leather pants, the uniform of the day. A uniform we have all been reacquainted with thanks to a extraordinary recent Broadway play.

198 uniform

There is a gap in the entries in Nevell’s daybook from November 9, 1777, less than two months after the British Army began their occupation of Philadelphia, until January 12, 1780, when there is one entry, then another gap until August 16, 1782.

After the war the scope of Nevell’s business changed. He was 62 years old in 1783 and now began spending more time measuring other tradesmen’s work than on arduous building projects.

411 Triumphal Arch

In 1784 Nevell was given a last, large project by the State of Pennsylvania, building Charles Wilson Peales Arch of Triumph across Market Street celebrating the end of the war. We will leave that story, and the story of its “miscariage” for another time.

411 Triumphal Arch copy


More information and photos of the carved mahogany stove plate pattern at the Burlington County Historical Society.

The size of the pattern is 26 inches high and 33 inches wide. The ground of the relief carving is on the shy side of 5/16 of an inch below the upper surface. I don’t believe a router was used to lower the background. It’s difficult to see in the photographs but the ground has an undulating surface, even with some areas of slight tear-out as the flat carving gouge used to produce the ground was worked across the grain, the carver knowing the tear-out would disappear in the iron casting.

At the HABS site I found photographic copies of older photographs of the carved pattern now at the Burlington County Historical Society and a six-plate stove that used the pattern for the sides. I had previously believed that no stoves made with this pattern survived, but one did, at least until sometime in the late 19th/early 20th century. It appears to be in an advanced state of deterioration and I do not know of its present whereabouts. We also now know that a side pattern for a 10-plate stove was at times adapted for use in a 6-plate stove. And we know the design of the front plate pattern that accompanied the sides, a large urn with trailing leaves and flowers.

Pattern. HABS photo

6-plate stove made with pattern in the Burlington Historical Society.

6-plate stove made with pattern in the Burlington Historical Society.

Thanks must go to Charles Cunningham who donated the pattern to the Burlington County Historical Society in 1934. I wonder if it could be found out how he came by it. Picked it from a pile of discarded wood patterns at Batsto?

Pattern label

Pattern label

No discussion of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stove plates can fail to mention the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a little over 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Among the tens of thousands of artifacts Henry Chapman Mercer collected for his museum were hundreds of stove plates. You can examine them in the “stove plate room” at the top of the museum.


A corner of the Stove plate room at the Mercer Museum.

It was over 30 years ago that I photographed the carved mahogany front plate pattern for a cast iron stove, seen below, when it was displayed in a Plexiglas vitrine in the center of that room.

I’ve just done what the HABS photographer did in the 1940s, made a photograph of a (my) photograph so the image in it could be freely shared and not lost to time.

Front plate pattern. Mercer Museum


Detail of BCHS pattern.


Detail of BCHS pattern.


Detail of BCHS pattern.