I found the Bartram Family joiner chest over drawers in a corner on the balcony at Pook & Pook, Inc. It did not rate the main gallery on the ground floor, but then, it is not a complex furniture form, it’s not made of walnut , and while its primary wood species is a softwood, it is not paint decorated.
There is a surprise waiting when you open the lid and drawers – all of the interior surfaces, except for the till, have newspapers affixed to them. The pages of newsprint are from various papers published in Philadelphia and West Chester (not far the auction house) and range in date from the late 1830s to the mid-1850s.
There is a till is on the right side of the chest compartment (proper left) that is made from riven white oak. Two small drawers that sit below the till are also made of riven oak but with riven white cedar bottoms. These dovetails are not wedged but the dovetails of the hard pine chest and the drawers below it are. The front, sides, and back are rebated and the drawers run on their bottoms.
True to this turners design sense, there are multiple score lines on the small knobs of the till drawers.
The dovetails of the chest and the two bottom drawers are wedged, hard pine wedges for the pine chest and oak for the oak drawer sides.
The brass hardware is original, the chest compartment lock is replaced. The drops are attached with iron cotter pins.
Adam Bowett describes this type of drawer as “second-phase construction”. The bottom fits in a groove in the front, it is nailed to the sides and back, then runners are added at the sides, raising the bottom so that it doesn’t bind or rub on dustboards, or in this case, the frame supporting the drawers at bottom of the chest. The drawer side, the bottom, and the runner are visible at the sides of the drawer.
The back board is yellow-poplar, the only use of this species in the chest. This is also the case for the spice box attributed to this joiner.
The oak feet are turned in the idiosyncratic design of other turnings attributed to this shop. There is local wear to the largest element of the feet but otherwise they are in very crisp condition and turning gouge marks are visible on the more protected areas such as the tall reel or neck.
A chest over drawers was a less expensive option than a four-tier chest of drawers. It also may have been easier to maneuver up winder stairs – in some cases, cost may not have been the main influence towards purchase. John Head charged Christopher Topham 1 pound, 5 shillings for a “pin (pine) chest with 2 drawers”, less than half the cost of a many of his four-tier chests of drawers. As we don’t know what Head’s chest looked like, we cannot directly compare it with the chest at Pook & Pook, Inc. Did Head provide a till – with the addition of a pair of drawers below? Were there locks on the lower drawers?
All in all, the Bartram family joiners chest over drawers appears to be the finest and costliest version of the form available at the time. There is the same level of workmanship seen in the more complex and expensive furniture from this shop, good quality, old growth wood is used throughout, all three storage areas are fit with iron locks, brass hardware is present (iron, instead of brass, cotter pins were used, either a slight downgrade or brass cotters were not available at the time the chest was made), and there is a till with additional drawers below. All standing on those superb, skillfully made feet.