lot 24

Tomorrow Freeman’s will be selling the Estate of Andre and Nancy Brewster of Maryland, a small collection of 33 lots. Lot 24 is a rare spice box made in Philadelphia that can be attributed to an anonymous joiner’s shop that produced some of the most opulent furniture made in Philadelphia during the 1720s. The appearance of an object heretofore unknown that we can be reasonably sure was made in Philadelphia in the first three decades of the eighteenth century is a rare occurrence and I was happy to be able to examine and photograph the spice box before it disappears again.


With the drawers removed.

bottom case

The deep base moulding with shaped lower edges was cut to fit around the top element of the turned feet.


A big surprise was the single piece backboard of yellow poplar, an early use of this wood species in Philadelphia County although it is used sparingly on another object from this shop.

bottom drawer

The front of the bottom drawer, probably with the original escutcheon.

Although it is not noted in the catalogue, the original door that swung on pintle hinges is missing. The brass pulls are modern but the escutcheon on the bottom drawer is likely original. Otherwise the spice box is in good condition for an object that is almost three hundred years old.


One side of the middle drawer. Riven oak drawer sides and backs are seen on a number of the other objects made in this shop.


Rear dovetails on the middle drawer. This shop consistently saws steep angled dovetail joints and wedges the pins.


Another construction practice of this shop seen on both large and small drawers is fitting the Atlantic white cedar drawer bottoms to rabbets on all four sides.


Sides of the small drawers. Steep, wedged dovetails and rabbeted bottoms.


There is little to no kerfing of the lap dovetails at the front corners.


Another refinement seen on all drawers attributed to this shop are mitered rear drawer corners.

A note taped to the bottom of a drawer, probably written by the Brewster’s, describes it as a “Diminutive size Georgian Burl Walnut spice chest, England circa late 18th century, Gift of N. B. White 1974″. But we know better, although it is unclear if Freeman’s does as the spice box is catalogued as a “William and Mary Spice Chest 18th century with no location of manufacture.



Base moulding and feet.


The bottom and cleats supporting the base moulding to which the feet are attached to are made of sawn oak.

Two other objects that can be attributed to this shop are the large oval table made for James and Elizabeth Bartram inlaid with the date of their marriage, 1725, and a dressing table in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made for Elizabeth Maris Bartram before her marriage to James inlaid with her initials EM and the date 1724.


The James and Elizabeth Bartram Oval table, inlaid with the date 1725.


Elizabeth Maris Bartram’s dressing table, inlaid with the date 1724. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1940-16-28. The stretchers along with the center foot and finial are replaced.


The dressing table’s inlaid top. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1940-16-28


Comparison of a foot from the dressing table, left, and the spice box, right.


The green cast of the un-oxidized yellow poplar backboard.

The auction begins tomorrow at 10 am. I am not bidding and have not been contacted by anyone with an interest in the box. It remains to be seen how collectors and dealers will react to the loss of the door, certainly there will be those will can’t abide it. But it is a rare thing. Plain, but I like it. If the spirit of N. B. White moves any of you, I’d be happy to receive it as a gift in this holiday season. I’d even paste a note with your name on it inside.

You can’t say you never got a scoop here.


Waiting for a new home after 42 years in the Brewster’s collection.