Craft


I want to thank my colleagues at The Magazine Antiques for highlighting this blog when featuring the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December in their #antiqueoftheday Instagram feed!

I also want to make one correction – I am not the one treating the spice box, that project is being carried out by another, very experienced, conservator. The tantalizing questions concerning the form of the original door, given the questions raised by the construction evidence presented by the box, got the furniture sleuth in me going and I was fascinated by the unusual twist that the door might have been panel-less.

To be clear, this image is a composite image produced in Photoshop where a door frame from another spice box was selected, manipulated in size and color, and layered over an image of the Freeman’s box, made to illustrate I believe the original door may have appeared. This is not, to my knowledge, what the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December looks like today.

Nice to see this spice box being appreciated. It makes a wonderful antique for any day.

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The Brewster Collection spice box. Freeman’s, 15 December 2016, lot 24.

I noted the spice box that sold at Freeman’s last December was missing its door. The contents of most spice boxes were protected by doors having iron locks that could only be opened by someone in possession of the key. (Two surviving spice boxes are made in the form of a chest of drawers on stand but with the drawers arranged in typical spice box fashion. Though lacking doors, metal locks in the central drawers, spring locks on the drawers above, and hidden drawers, protect the contents of five of the eleven drawers of these boxes.)

There is no way to know exactly what the lost door looked like. Witness marks from the missing hinges show that the door was hung on the right (proper left) side and was flush to the outside of the case – the door closed on top of both sides, it did not fit into rabbets created on the front edges of either side.  But the construction and design of the spice box offers several clues that support a theory that the original door was something out of the ordinary.

First, the single arch drawer dividers are flush with the double arch moulding worked on the front edges of the sides. The drawer fronts sit just slightly behind the plane of the front of the single arch moulding. As a result, there is a clearance problem for the brass pulls and their cotter pin attachment on the drawer fronts.

The Brewster Collection spice box with the drawers removed. The drawer dividers are flush with front edges of the sides.

Next, a spring lock secures the central square drawer, accessed through the long drawer below. The long drawer has a large, stamped brass escutcheon but there is not now, nor ever has been, an iron lock present. Once the door was opened, the spring lock would be superfluous. It would not protect the contents of the drawer as the long drawer would be easily accessible. Additionally, the expensive stamped brass escutcheon is pointless, especially if hidden from view much of the time.

Bottom board of the central square drawer with the cavity that contained the wood spring lock. The thin, wood lock is missing.

Finally, the boring for the pulls on the bottom drawer appears inexplicably high.

Two extant spice boxes suggest the plan of the missing door. The doors of both these boxes lack panels in their mortise and tenoned frames. The drawers of the boxes are secured by the stiles and rails of the frames and cannot be accessed without first unlocking the door.

Lee Ellen Griffith. The Pennsylvania Spice Box, Paneled Doors and Secret Drawers, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1986, p. 63, no. 15.

Sotheby’s. New York, New York, The Highly Important Americana Collection of George S. Parker II from the Caxambas Foundation, 19 January 2017, lot 2019.

A panel-less door for the Brewster collection spice box clarifies all the construction and design features described above. The box would not need to be designed with clearance for the brass pulls when there is no panel to get in their way. The central drawer would not be secured by a frame without a panel, so a spring lock would necessary on that drawer. Access from the drawer below was prohibited by the door frame and its showy brass escutcheon would be permanently on display, never hidden behind the panel of a door. The high boring placement for the pulls on the bottom drawer would be necessary for the frame to clear the drops.

With liberties taken in Photoshop, perhaps this composite image gives some clue to how the Brewster Collection spice box may have appeared originally.

A composite image of the Brewster Collection spice box with a panel-less door frame and brass pulls manipulated in Photoshop.

Humor can be hard to detect in furniture from this time and place. It is not the first characteristic attributed to members of the Religious Society of Friends – Quakers – during the first decades of the eighteenth century. But it’s not hard to imagine the original owners of the spice box enjoying watching and waiting for others to discover all may not be what it seems.

Lightening has struck twice. At least it has at Freeman’s in Philadelphia. Another object that can be attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner is scheduled to be sold in their auction American Furniture, Folk, and Decorative Arts, 15 November 2017. In December 2016, less than a year ago, Freeman’s sold a spice box attributed to this same anonymous shop, the first of that form to be recorded. Freeman’s now has the privilege of presenting a second previously unrecorded form from this shop, a chest of drawers. It is somewhat of a surprise that a chest of drawers from a shop that may have been an important competitor of John Head’s (Suffolk, England 1688-Philadelphia 1754) has not been seen before as it is a form that was a sought out by Head’s customers and is commonly present in contemporary household inventories. Without the benefit of a surviving account book for this shop, we have no insight into the type and number of objects it produced. There is not presently documentation as to where this shop was located or whether the principal joiner was an immigrant who received his training in Britain as John Head was, or had either been born or immigrated to America at an early age and received his training here. There has been speculation that James Bartram (October 6, 1701-August 5, 1771) made two objects attributed to this joiner, a dressing table, inlaid with the initials of his future wife, Elizabeth Maris (1704-April 23, 1771) and the date 1724, and an oval table, which is inlaid with both James and Elizabeth’s initials and the year of their marriage, 1725. But much is known and has been written about James Bartram, the younger brother of the famous botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) whose first wife, Mary Maris (about 1703-1727), was the sister of Elizabeth. To date there is no indication that James apprenticed with a joiner or pursued a trade other than farming, an occupation he, like his brother, prepared for. An attribution of these objects to James Bartram would beg the question who would he have apprenticed with during the years 1716-1723 and what would the objects from that shop look like? And how, a year after the end of his apprenticeship, he could have produced the most opulent object made in the Delaware River Valley that survives from the first quarter of the eighteenth century? The sophisticated joinery and inlay techniques and the imaginative and individual turning of this group of objects, which include the two Bartram family objects, oval (gate-leg) tables, square tables with and without drawers, a spice box, and now a chest of drawers, suggests that the master of the shop immigrated to Philadelphia fully trained, perhaps after also having spent time working as a journeyman in Britain after his apprenticeship. If this is the case, his career would have closely resembled John Head’s though for unknown reasons, fewer surviving objects can be attributed to this presently anonymous shop. There are numerous points of interest to be found during an examination of the chest of drawers that I have not covered here. It will be on view on the third story of Freeman’s through 5 o’clock Tuesday, November 14. While you’re there, you might imagine the spice box sold last December perched on top of the chest. I know I did.

Chest of drawers. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1725. Attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner. Black walnut, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar, sweet-gum, iron.

The tops of the dovetailed backs and sides are mitered on all the drawers of objects attributed to this shop.

The two short drawers run on their bottom boards and the bottoms are fit to rabbets on the front, back and sides. Runners were later added to compensate for wear. Spring-locks prevented access to the two short drawers without unlocking the iron lock of the drawer below.

In this shop dovetails are routinely wedged.

The brass on the drawers is replaced. Evidence for original single drop pulls can be seen of the exterior and interior surfaces of the drawer fronts.

Various chalk shop marks, including numbers, squiggles and here, “X”‘s can be seen at the interior corners of the drawers.

There are currently no dust-boards in the case but grooves plowed in the back edge the drawer blades indicate they were present originally.

Several of the long drawers have dramatic grain. The base moulding is identical to that on the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December.

Dowels fit to holes bored in the turned feet secure the feet to the bottom of the chest.

The distinctive turning style produced in this shop can be seen in the idiosyncratic design of the feet. The turner employed flattened ball shapes that are closer to discs than spheres and pronounced scoring lines are added to small rings that other turners left unadorned. On the largest spherical shape of every turning from this shop, a deep score line is flanked by two thin scored lines.

The strip of wood supporting the front base moulding is oak and the bottom is made of two boards of yellow poplar.

There is a clear witness mark from the original escutcheons on the drawer fronts.

 

The original escutcheon from a square table with drawer attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner confirms the appearance of the missing escutcheons on the chest of drawers.

The original locks are present on the three long drawers.

The wood species red-gum is used for the vertical divider between the two drawers in the top tier.

The two board sides of the case are flitch-cut. The boards on the other side of the chest are identical and in the same orientation.

 

 

 

“The history of the John Grass Wood Turning Company points out the great

changes that have taken place in the manufacturing process over the past century and a

half. The fact that the structure and machinery are in essentially the same place and

condition as when the firm was founded is remarkable. Both the skill and the work-ethic

of the men involved are also a part of the story. We are stronger in going ahead if we

know where we have been.

The challenge to preserve the John Grass site with all its components is a serious

one and is not to be taken lightly. Today’s method of computer-controlled mass

production of wood turned objects is a far cry from what was the norm at the time when

the John Grass Wood Turning Company was a flourishing industry in the Old City

District of Philadelphia. Without action at this time, this part of our industrial history will

more or less disappear, only to be read about in books.”

Jane Mork Gibson, John Grass Wood Turning Company Historical Background

The quote above are the concluding remarks of an essay written c. 2008 by Jane Gibson which appears on a website of the John Grass Task Force, a group connected with the Center for Art in Wood that sought to preserve the building and contents of the John Grass Wood Turning Company, located at 146 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, which had ceased business operations in 2003. A timeline of the John Grass Turning Company on the same site ended with this:

“2010 – The Philadelphia Chapter of the United Carpenters and Joiners of America, one of the earliest supporters of the Center’s John Grass efforts, purchased the building and all of its equipment from the descendants of John Grass who owned the facility. This purchase ensures that the Center’s efforts to both preserve and raise awareness about the Grass building have contributed to its future rehabilitation and use. Stay tuned for future update.”

There have been no further updates to the site but the final chapter of the history of the John Grass Wood Turning Company can now be written. Earlier this year the Philadelphia Chapter of the United Carpenters and Joiners of America sold the building at 146 North 2nd Street and last Friday September 15, 2017, the contents of the building was sold at auction to a single bidder. Unfortunately, this is another disgrace for the cause for preservation in Philadelphia where the pressure from developers has been assuring the rapid destruction of the historic fabric of the city. The John Grass Wood Turning Company building is now next in line and only waits for the removal of the contents to be razed. What happened between 2006 when the John Grass Task Force was created and today? And why did the sale of the building and the dispersal of its contents receive zero press when it was one of the most remarkable survivors of the city’s industrial past, a city at one time known as The Workshop of the World? At the auction preview the Thursday before the sale, it appeared I was the only one who showed up for one last look.

The history of the John Grass Company can be found on several sites listed below so I won’t go into detail of the company’s history here except to say John Grass immigrated from Bavaria in 1853 at age 15 and first appears in the city directories as a wood turner in 1872. The company moved the North 2nd Street address in 1916.

Click to go to the link.

https://centerforartinwood.org/johngrass/history.html

Historical Background by Jane Mork Gibson

Hidden City Philadelphia

Save John Grass on Youtube

Below are a selection of my photos of the exterior of the John Grass Wood Turning Co. made in 2009 and interior images made September 15, 2017.

Daniel Kemper Jackson, Unicorn Rocker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1974. Pine, oak, maple. Moderne Gallery, Philadelphia.

There is presently a rare opportunity to see the work of Daniel Kemper Jackson (October 18, 1938- August 3, 1995) in person.  Dan’s Rocking Unicorn is on currently on display at the Moderne Gallery, 111 North Third Street, Philadelphia. A public viewing has not been possible since its creation in 1974. It was a private commission and was not included in the 2003 exhibition “Daniel Jackson: Dovetailing History” at the University of the Arts, the present name of what had been the Philadelphia College of Art when Dan taught there from 1964 to 1976. Dan made two previous carved rocking animals, in 1971 a rocking horse for his daughter Sophia and a rocking peacock in 1973. In scale and volume, the Unicorn rocker is the largest work Dan produced – it is 73 inches high, 76 inches long, and 15 inches deep – as well one of his last.

His career was tragically cut short by illness not long after he completed the Unicorn Rocker and few people outside of his contemporaries in the craft scene, his students, and craft historians would recognize his name today. Yet his influence was great, both through his inspirational teaching – many of his students became teachers themselves, his influence now felt by several generations of woodworkers – and by his guidance at setting up two of the preeminent woodworking programs in the country – in 1964 Dan established the woodworking department at the Philadelphia College of Art, and in 1975 he was asked by Jere Osgood to create the woodworking shop for the Program in Artisanry at Boston University.

Dan had a deep interest and knowledge of historical furniture and worked restoring and refinishing furniture for antique dealers while in his teens. This familiarity and appreciation of the history of woodworking is present in much of his work. It is overwhelmingly so in the case of the Unicorn Rocker.

The Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, where Dan had his studio on Tulpehocken Street, has a history of intense activity in the woodworking trades, especially from the last quarter of the nineteenth century into the middle of the twentieth. The Dentzel Carousel Company, established in 1867 – at several locations on Germantown Avenue – and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, established in 1904, later purchasing the Dentzel Company in 1928 – at 130 East Duvall Street – left a legacy of excellence in the creation of carved carousel animals. Dentzel had been absorbed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company by the time of Dan’s arrival in the early 1960’s but the Philadelphia Toboggan Company would not leave Germantown for Lansdale, Pennsylvania until 1971 and there were still several carving and turning shops producing traditional work throughout the neighborhood during Dan’s time here though they are gone today. (Today Germantown has a thriving arts scene that includes contemporary furniture makers.)

Dan must have come to know this history and was moved to create a carousel animal in his own terms. It does not move up and down on a pole or revolve on a pedestal but it is given movement through its rockers. Like the Dentzel carousel animal carvings it is both sculptural and functional. It is unpainted and the exceptional knowledge of material and lamination and joinery technique is on full display. Now 43 years old, it remains in perfect condition. There is not one split in the numerous laminations. It is worth the effort to see it in person – and make sure you watch it rock.

Dan Jackson in his studio during the making of the Unicorn Rocker. From “Daniel Jackson: Dovetailing History”, The University of the Arts, 2003. No photo credit given.

Daniel Jackson’s Unicorn Rocker in his studio on Tulpehocken Street, Germantown, Philadelphia, 1974. From “Daniel Jackson: Dovetailing History”, The University of the Arts, 2003. No photo credit given.

Dentzel Carousel Company master carver Salvatore Chernigliaro, Germantown, Philadelphia, c. 1920.

The catalogue of the 2003 exhibition “Daniel Jackson: Dovetailing History”, with a forward by Steven Tarantal and essays by Helen W. Drutt English and Edward S. Cooke, Jr. is an invaluable resource for information of Daniel Jackson’s life and work.

Dan Jackson’s Unicorn Rocker at The Moderne Gallery, 111 North Third Street, Philadelphia. September 14, 2017. Still rocking, but get permission from the gallery first!

In the previous post I characterized and illustrated the species that comprise the majority of the secondary woods encountered in Delaware River Valley furniture made before 1740 – white oak, Atlantic white cedar, and the hard pines. Another hardwood can be found used as a secondary wood in eighteenth century Delaware River Valley furniture more often than most realize – sweetgum or redgum (Liquidambar styraciflua).  Sweetgum was used for drawer sides and backs, glue blocks, and other interior elements of furniture. Widely used as a primary wood in East Jersey, New York, and Long Island, no furniture with sweetgum as a primary wood has yet been attributed to the Delaware River Valley. (I’d be happy to hear of any you know of or I’ve forgotten.)

Sweetgum is regularly misidentified, which has lead to a misunderstanding of the percentage of this species used in the region. It is most often mistaken for yellow or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera).  Both are diffuse-porous hardwoods of similar density and the green cast of yellow poplar and red cast of sweetgum tend to oxidize to a similar brownish color. There are technical differences between the species, off course, and it is easy to identify the species microscopically. Experience over time handling countless examples of each species in historic furniture as well as working with newly sawn boards aids in visually distinguishing the species. Even in oxidized wood, sweetgum has an orange/reddish tinge that is different than the consistently brown tones of yellow poplar.

Chest on stand. Made in the Delaware River Valley, probably Philadelphia, c. 1715. Black walnut, sweetgum, Atlantic white cedar, hard pine, light and dark wood inlay. (Before restoration.) When this chest was advertised for auction the drawer linings were said to be yellow poplar.

Chest on stand. Made in the Delaware River Valley, probably Philadelphia, c. 1715. Black walnut, sweetgum, Atlantic white cedar, hard pine, light and dark wood inlay. Rear corner of a drawer. The sweetgum drawer side has oxidized to a brown color but also a reddish tinge that is not not seen in yellow poplar.

Chest on stand. Made in the Delaware River Valley, probably Philadelphia, c. 1715. Black walnut, sweetgum, Atlantic white cedar, hard pine, light and dark wood inlay. The Atlantic white cedar drawer bottoms are nailed to the front, back, and sides and there are no runners.

Dressing table. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1725. Attributed to John Head. Black walnut, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar, sweetgum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The glue blocks in the corners of the frame are sweetgum.

Desk and bookcase. Made in the Delaware River Valley, probably Philadelphia, c. 1745. Black walnut, black cherry, hard pine, white oak, Atlantic white cedar, sweetgum. All but one of the drawers of the desk interior have white oak sides and backs. The bottom drawer of the three behind the prospect door, seen in this image, is made with sweetgum sides, the only pieces of sweetgum used in the entire desk.

Desk and bookcase. Made in the Delaware River Valley, probably Philadelphia, c. 1745. Black walnut, black cherry, hard pine, white oak, Atlantic white cedar, sweetgum. The interior surfaces of the sides of the drawer have scribe lines for dadoes with wood starting to be removed from one. These appear to have been prepared for another project and later adapted for the sides of this drawer.

Chest on chest. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1770. Mahogany, sweetgum, Atlantic white cedar, hard pine. Sweetgum continued to be used through the Revolution by several shops in Philadelphia for drawer sides and backs. The sweetgum side and back at the rear corner of a drawer from the chest on chest has a reddish tinge with no trace of the green or greenish/brown heartwood of oxidized yellow poplar.

Joiner’s inventories bear out the use of the species found in the surviving furniture. One of the most extensive is that of the Philadelphia joiner Charles Plumley’s from 1708. Plumley was born in England, immigrated with his family in 1674 at age 6, and settled along the Neshaminy Creek in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1682. He would have apprenticed with a joiner, probably in Philadelphia, during the 1680s and likely began working as a journeyman in the last years of seventeenth century. (An alternate version of Plumley’s life dates has him born in 1766. This would put him in Philadelphia at age 15 or 16, he would still have served his apprenticeship in America.) He had likely become master of his own shop by the time he married the mellifluously named Rose Budd shortly before 1704. The inventory taken in his home and shop shows a joiner at the height of his career with a vast array of tools, a great wheel and lathe, copious brass hardware, 3 best and 2 ordinary benches, 2 apprentices with time left to serve, and over 7,000 feet of wood in stock including:

2859 feet Pine and oak boards @ 8s

311 Large Walnutt scantling @ 12s

457 foot small Walnutt Scantling @ 8s 4p

2738 foot Walnutt boards @ 15s per hundred

734 foot Walnut Plank @ 17s per 100

2 Mohogany Planks 36 ½ feet @ 16d

3 inch board Ditto 48 feet @ 6d

1 Walnut table frame

1 pine table

7 sett Gum bedstead pillows @ 2s 4d

15 Sett Sydes and Ends @ 2s 4d

160 foot pine scantling

8 parcels of Walnutt and Pine Ends*

There is no cedar mentioned as such but cedar may have been included in the large amount of pine and oak boards lumped together in the first line by the inventory takers. For Plumley, sweetgum seems to have been the wood of choice for making beds, having 7 sets of pillars and 15 sets of sides and ends prepared in his shop at the time of his death. Only one non-native wood is listed in the inventory – Plumley had a relatively small amount of mahogany on hand.

Plumley’s contemporary, William Till, trained as a joiner in England and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1700. At his death in 1711, two years after Plumley, an inventory was taken of his shop contents. Here, cedar has its own line item – “16 Seder Bou @  15p.” Till had bolts of cedar on hand to be riven for drawer bottoms. While the total board feet in Till’s inventory is substantially smaller than Plumley’s, Till had a more diverse selection of wood species for use as primary wood including “Red sedar,” “Cherry Tree Board,” and “Pear Tree Board.”

The Chester County joiner Joseph Hibberd’s inventory of 1737 unambiguously describes how white cedar was processed and used, “Some split cedar for drayor bottomes @ 8p.”

For anyone who has a basic working knowledge of furniture making in Southeastern Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century one wood species is notably absent from the discussion so far – yellow or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera).  It is perhaps not widely known that it is rare to find yellow poplar used in furniture attributed to the Delaware River Valley that can be reasonably dated before 1740. It also unusual for it to appear in inventories of Delaware River joiners before that time and it does not appear in John Heads account book before 1743. After 1740, yellow poplar increasingly becomes the dominant species used for drawer linings and the use of hard pine declines to the point of it being just as rare to find it used in the Philadelphia area by the 1760s as it was to find yellow poplar used before 1740. Why should this be and what was happening in the timber trade 60 years after the British settlement of Philadelphia?

*The inventory of Charles Plumley in its entirety can be found in Benno M. Forman.  American Seating Furniture 1630-1730, W. W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 1988, Appendix 1, pp. 371-372

The joiners who immigrated to the Delaware River Valley in the last quarter of the seventeenth and the first quarter of the eighteenth centuries, and the American-born joiners they trained, had a choice of timbers to use for secondary elements in their furniture. In Britain, the hardwood white oak (Quercus alba) and two softwoods, Red or Scots Pine, (Pinus sylvestris), and Norway spruce, (Picea abies), both referred to in the trade as deal, were the principal wood species used as secondary woods.

The slow-growing, finest grain oak, known as wainscot, and the two softwoods had to be imported into Britain. In the Delaware River Valley, there was an abundant supply of old-growth, slow-growing white oak, which was used primarily as drawer linings in the earliest joiner’s shops.

Table with drawer. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1725. Black walnut, white oak, Atlantic white cedar. (photo shows the back of the table.) This table is attributed to the Bartram Family joiner. The drawer has riven white oak sides and back and is constructed similarly to the drawers in Brewster Spice box.

Table with drawer. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1725. Black walnut, white oak, Atlantic white cedar. Attributed to the Bartram Family joiner. Rear corner of the drawer showing the mitered top and wedged dovetails.

Chest on chest. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1738. Black walnut, white oak, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar. Split grain is sometimes seen on outer surfaces of riven white oak drawer sides and backs. In this case, the riven board weathered to gray before it was planed during construction of the drawer.

Chest on chest. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1738. Black walnut, white oak, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar. The drawer is made with unusual and meticulous dovetails. Two other chests on chests by this anonymous joiner are dated 1738.

Interior drawers from a Delaware River Valley desk and bookcase c. 1740. The thin sides and backs of all the small drawers of the desk and bookcase interiors are riven white oak. The sides and backs of the long drawers of the desk are hard pine.

Several species of hard pine grew on both sides of the Delaware River that resembled Scots Pine and Norway spruce in strength, working properties, and appearance. The North American relative of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is red pine (Pinus resinosa). Species of the yellow or hard pine group found in the Delaware River Valley include long leaf pine (Pinus palustris), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinate), loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and pitch pine (Pinus rigida). The several species of hard pine cannot be differentiated from one another microscopically and it follows that we are unable to visually identify distinct species of hard pine when examining furniture. The gross characteristics of red pine corresponds to the various species of hard pines but is microscopically unique and can be separated from all other North American hard pines. Hard pine was used primarily for drawer sides, backs, and, infrequently, bottoms; tops, bottoms, and backs of dovetailed carcasses, and backs and bottoms of framed forms. Hard pine was also occasionally used as a primary wood for forms more typically made of walnut and was often used for plain storage chests and tables for secondary rooms such as kitchens.

The various hard pine species can be distinguished in the forests from bark, needle, and cone samples. In South Jersey they know their pines and want to make sure you do too!

Table with drawer. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1710. Black walnut, hard pine. The only secondary wood of this early Philadelphia table is hard pine used for the drawer sides, back, and bottom.

Table with drawer. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1710. Black walnut, hard pine. The bottom of the drawer is a single board sawn near the center of the tree so it is effectively quartered on each side of a narrow section of flat sawn wood at the center. After more than 300 years there is left than one quarter inch shrinkage of an eighteen inch wide board.

Chest of drawers. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1720. The drawers of this framed chest are side hung, a relatively rare drawer construction in Delaware River Valley furniture. All three local secondary wood species are used in one drawer, white oak for the sides, hard pine for the back, and Atlantic white cedar for the bottom.

Chest of drawers. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1735. The fine quality of hard pine available in the early eighteenth century is seen in this drawer side. It is cut from a tree that grew very slowly and perfectly straight.

By at least the early eighteenth century, joiners had added another wood species to their furniture making, Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides). Carpenters favored the woods light weight, rot resistant properties, and its ease of working, especially when riven, employing white cedar for siding on frame buildings and for roof shingles of frame, brick, and stone buildings. Joiners adopted the practice of carpenters, riving bolts of white cedar and edge joining the edges to produce three-foot-wide drawer bottoms of quartered wood that eliminated shrinkage problems encountered when using single wide, flat sawn boards. White cedar bottoms produced a lighter drawer than an oak or hard pine bottom and the aromatic, sweet scent was pleasant and may have acted as an insect repellent when drawers were filled with costly woolens. White cedar was also used for elements where strength was not necessary such as backboards, dustboards, and glue blocks.

High chest of drawers. Made in Philadelphia, 1738. Maple, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar. At least seven thin riven cedar boards edge joined together make up the bottom of this drawer. A large patch of split grain is visible.

Chest of drawers, made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1720. Another drawer from the framed chest with side hung drawers showing split grain that was not planed because of the changing grain direction.

Spice box. Made in Southeastern Pennsylvania, c. 1760. Black walnut, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar. The linings of small drawers were sometimes made entirely of riven white cedar. The demand today – from customers, collectors, gallery owners, and furniture makers themselves – to produce highly finished surfaces inside and out means we are unlikely to see this type of surface topography coming out of contemporary makers shops.

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