Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830

For my North American reader: Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 – an exhibition, August 19, 2016–January 8, 2017.

mahogany_desk_&_bookcase_by_Christopher_Townsend_c1745–50_01aMahogany ‘desk and bookcase’ by Christopher Townsend, circa 1745–50. (Yale University)

This groundbreaking exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of Rhode Island furniture from the colonial and early Federal periods, including elaborately carved chairs, high chests, bureau tables, and clocks. Drawing together more than 130 exceptional objects from museums, historical societies, and private collections, the show highlights major aesthetic innovations developed in the region. In addition to iconic, stylish pieces from important centers of production like Providence and Newport, the exhibition showcases simpler examples made in smaller towns and for export. The exhibition also addresses the surprisingly broad reach of Rhode Island’s furniture production, from the boom of the export trade at the turn of the 17th century and its steady growth throughout the 18th century to the gradual decline of the handcraft tradition in the 19th century. Reflecting on one of New England’s most important artistic traditions, Art and Industry in Early America encourages a newfound appreciation for this dynamic school of American furniture making.

Source: Yale University

Jack Plane

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Picture This XCIV

Geo_III_cherry_&_laburnum_COD_c1770_01aA George III cherry chest of drawers, circa 1770. (Bonham’s)

Proportionally and stylistically, this chest of drawers could almost pass for a provincial English cherry chest – but for the unusual cornice-like top moulding with its central laburnum tablet (the base moulding and feet appear original, and with the drawers’ proportions, I am certain this chest was not formerly the top chest of a chest-on-chest or chest-on-stand). The cockbeading is also of laburnum.

The chest is also split mid-height, but curiously, there are no lifting handles.

I am unsure of what to make of this chest, though with the inclusion of laburnum, it could well be Scottish.

Jack Plane

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Art sleuths, have a go at Fake!

Jack Plane

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First Day on the Job?

Christie’s have just published The A-Z of furniture: Terminology to know when buying at auction which I suspect was penned by one of their porters a freshman intern.

Their definition of caning certainly differs from that which I frequently experienced at school.


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Picture This XCIII

BADA (The British Antique Dealers’ Association) have partnered with art market specialists, The Curator’s Eye to launch the inaugural on-line BADA Auction on Thursday the 14th of July 2016.

Some of BADA’s finest dealers have put up 413 lots that include silverware, jewellery, fine art, sculpture, clocks, rugs, porcelain and furniture.

Of the furniture on offer, lot 244 is a George III chest of drawers with horizontally stacked corner blocks (figs. 1 & 2).

Geo_III_burr_ash_&_mahogany_chest_c1765_01aFig. 1. George III mahogany and burr ash chest of drawers, circa 1765. (Curator’s Eye)

Geo_III_burr_ash_&_mahogany_chest_c1765_01fFig. 2. Horizontally stacked corner blocks. (Curator’s Eye)

Jack Plane

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On and off the Wagon for the Past Year

I no longer drive and I now live alone, and whilst I have the kindest and most generous neighbours imaginable, I just can’t call on them every single time I need some little thing. This necessitates me telephoning for a taxi once or twice a week to take me into town to collect the mail and purchase any essentials. I know all the taxi drivers by name – and they too are terrific – but for the most part, it just plain irks me waiting for and getting around in taxis.

I have horses and I have an old jinker (the two-wheeled horse-drawn equivalent of an open-top sports car), but you can’t stuff many bags of feed or eight-foot fence posts into the back of a jinker – well not without the horse sacrificing critical traction.

I also have workshops in which I can shape wood and forge metal, so last year I decided to build myself a three-spring wagon (the four-wheeled horse-drawn equivalent of a ute or pickup truck). Progress was predictably slow though inevitably thoroughly enjoyable.

I gleaned the primary dimensions of the wagon from nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicle manufacturers’ brochures and managed to fill in the blanks by scouring the internet for old wagon images. The major components such as rubber-tyred wooden wheels, springs, brakes and turntable were purchased new.

I began by setting up the two axles on trestles, the appropriate distance apart, square and parallel with each other, and then measured up the lengths of the reaches (the two slim, flexible diagonals that connect the front axle/turntable with the rear axle). The axle caps and turntable block are made from hickory whilst the reaches are made of ash with 1/8″ thick steel straps bolted to their undersides (fig.1).

setting_up_fifth_wheel_02aFig. 1. Axles, turntable and reaches (the ‘gear’).

The reaches are bolted to the turntable at the front and clipped to the rear axle using ‘reach ends’ (figs. 2 & 3). The reaches are also braced to the outer ends of the rear axle with 5/8″ round iron ‘wings’ which I forged the ends of to suit their junctures with the reaches (fig. 4) and the rear spring chair mounting bolts (figs. 5 & 15).

reach_end_01aFig. 2. Embryotic reach ends.

reach_end_05aFig. 3. Ash reach and reach end clipped to rear axle.

forged_reach_wing_01aFig. 4. Forward end of nearside wing bolted to reach.

The gear and wheels were fitted up to check the fit (fig. 5) before stripping it all down for painting.

rolling_gear_01aFig. 5. Completed gear.

Some hex head bolts and hex nuts were used for ease and speed of fitting things up, but during final assembly, any hex fasteners were replaced with square nuts and either coach bolts or traditional square head bolts as appropriate.

The wagon body and seat are made of acetylated pine for lightness, stability and longevity. I tongued and grooved the floorboards and screwed the side and front boards to them. The raves (the angled side extensions), dashboard, tailboard, transoms and seat are also of acetylated pine (fig. 6).

waggon_body_01aFig. 6. Acetylated pine body and seat.

I have arc, MIG and TIG welding capability; however I didn’t want telltale electric welds spoiling the otherwise authentic looking ironwork, so any welds were forge-welded. To that end, I also made a couple of simple dies so I could forge authentic tapered round bar to flat bar transitions from various diameters of bar (figs. 7, 8 & 9).

waggon_seat_04aFig. 7. Forged 3/8″ round to 1/2″ wide flat end on armrest.

waggon_seat_05bFig. 8. Traditional style armrest.

waggon_body_03aFig. 9. Traditionally forged and draw-filed ironwork.

wing_nuts_02aFig. 10. Pair of traditional 5/16″ wing nuts forged from 1/2″ round bar.

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century bolt heads typically bear manufacturers’ identification and tensile markings which are absent from nineteenth-century fasteners, so along with employing square nuts throughout, all bolt head markings were linished off (fig. 11).

bolted_hub_with_square_nuts_03aFig. 11. Smooth-headed coach bolts.

bolted_hub_with_square_nuts_01aFig. 12. Square nuts ‘on point’.

I spent many hours researching three-spring wagons before embarking on this project and one aspect that consumed a disproportionate amount of time was identifying traditional colour schemes. Heavier delivery wagons seem to have been painted virtually any colour the individual or company chose. British agricultural wagons (along with all manner of threshing machines and other implements) were traditionally painted in red lead and blue lead, whilst in Australia and North America, agricultural and light delivery wagons were painted in black and various shades of blue, green, red and yellow.

I found a number of images of locally built three-spring wagons in what appeared to be their original colours, and in particular, three wagons with a common livery of primrose yellow wheels, black gears and red/maroon bodies.

The gear and shafts received four coats of black whilst the wheels got six coats of yellow due to its annoyingly not-totally-opaque properties (fig. 13).

painted_wheel_01aFig. 13. Black painted gear and yellow wheels.

Brakes are a necessity on a wagon for holding the vehicle steady and taking the load off the horse on long hill descents, but traditional mechanical brakes are bulky, heavy and not incredibly efficient. Braking is the one area where I conceded to twentieth-century technology and installed hydraulic brakes on the rear axle (figs. 14 & 15).

brake_back_plate_01aFig. 14. Rear hydraulic drum brake.

brake_drum_&_back_plate_01aFig. 15. Drum brake, spring chair and wing.

The body received six coats of red paint, again, due to its somewhat translucent character. When dry, the body was attached to the gear via a forged 3/4″ diameter body hanger that is in turn clipped to the front transverse spring (fig. 16), and at the rear, to a pair of forged 1-1/2″ x 5/8″ body hangers that are clipped to the rear side springs (fig. 17).

waggon_17bFig. 16. Front body hanger.

waggon_11bFig. 17. Nearside rear body hanger.

Where possible, I employed salvaged parts in the wagon build including the malleable iron steps (fig. 18) and the swingletree clevis and coupling (fig. 19).

waggon_20aFig. 18. Nineteenth-century side step.

waggon_18aFig. 19. Old swingletree clevis and coupling.

waggon_07aFig. 20. Sprung seat with integral glove box beneath.

waggon_16aFig. 21. Dashboard and foot rail.

waggon_13aFig. 22. Raves and tailboard.

waggon_14aFig. 23. Shafts, step, rub iron, rope hook, body strap and staff.

waggon_17aFig. 24. Braced shafts and swingletree.

waggon_03aFig. 25. At last, I can purchase a few of those 96-roll bulk packs of lavatory paper.

waggon_02aFig. 26.

Jack Plane

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Picture This XCII

An extremely rare brass-studded, leather-covered pine chest of drawers made for Queen Anne.

Queen_Anne's_leather_chest_c1702-14_01aFig. 1. Queen Anne’s leather chest, circa 1702-14. (Thomas Coulborn)

The chest most recently came to light on the Antiques Roadshow at Cawdor Castle in January 2013 since when it has caused quite the commotion. In 2015 the chest’s owner loaned it to Historic Royal Palaces where it was exhibited at Hampton Court alongside Queen Anne’s state bed. The chest is now being offered for sale by antiques dealer, Thomas Coulborn, for £185,000 ($317,733) which he describes thusly:

A pine chest covered with a thin layer of Russia leather, less than a millimetre thick, demonstrating the skill of the tanner. Originally, this leather would have been scarlet in colour, as noted in the documentation below. Decorated with two different sizes of brass studs which are used to form rosettes, tulips and scrolls; and with the monogram initials ‘AR’ studded to the top, surmounted by a crown. The chest has four drawers which can be locked, each with a pierced brass lock plate. The chest has two later replacement lion head handles on each drawer and there are handles on both sides and runners on the base. The runners which would have enabled the chest to be towed along cobbled floors or up the stairs. The drawers are lined with marbled paper which, during the 17th and 18th Centuries, was frequently used as a lining material and was originally used to cover the nailed edge of the leather. The survival of the original quilted crimson silk lining in one of the drawers is extraordinary. Chests with a silk lining were reserved for the royal bedchamber. The use of leather made such chests both lightweight and water resistant. The prominent, decorative studding made the chest identifiable, and indicated the rank of the chest’s owner. The initials ‘AR’ on this chest identify the owner as Queen Anne, or ‘Anne Regina’, and a Queen’s crown is marked out on the lid.

This chest was made for use by Queen Anne and would have only been used by the inner circle of women who worked in the sovereign’s sleeping chamber, in order to store her precious silks, linens and clothing. The five members of Queen Anne’s inner circle of women were: Abigail Masham, the Queen’s Bedchamber Woman; Elizabeth Atkinson, the Queen’s Laundress of the Body; Anne Rainsford, the Queen’s Seamstress; Agneta Cooper, the Queen’s chief bedchamber woman; and Elizabeth Abrahall, the Queen’s Starcher. Of these women, Abigail Masham, grew increasingly close to the Queen and her influence grew accordingly. In 1711 her husband, Samuel Masham, was raised to the peerage and in the same year Abigail herself became Keeper of the Privy Purse. Family tradition amongst the descendants of Abigail Masham maintains that on Anne’s death a number of items of furniture and effects from the Royal Bedchamber were removed by Abigail Masham to her private home. The family still retain a leather studded coffer that had been made for Queen Anne, but it is not known if that is how this chest left the Royal Household.

History of Ownership
Margaret (1853-1918) and Gulielma (1856-1942) Binyon: Margaret and Gulielma Binyon – known to their family as ‘Margie and Gulie’ – lived at Henwick Grove in Worcester. Thomas Binyon (1795-1865), Margaret and Gulielma’s father, bought the house in 1861. The Binyons were a leading Quaker family and the two sisters were spinsters. Having moved to Henwick House as young girls, both the sisters continued to live together until they died: Margaret died in 1918, aged 65; and Gulielma in 1942, at the age of 86.

The sisters probably bought the chest during the 1870s and it is documented in two sets of notes and one inventory following Gulielma’s death in 1942. The sets of notes record the items which were at Henwick Grove in 1937, and then at Hoe Court in 1942, following the move of items after Gulielma’s death. The inventory documents the items which were included in the inventory for the valuation of Henwick Grove for estate duty purposes in 1942, after Gulielma’s death.

In the ‘Notes on Henwick Grove, Furniture etc’, a document begun in 1937 which was written by Elizabeth Muriel Binyon (the younger daughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother) and compiled from details given by Gulielma Binyon, the chest appears in the list of items from the hall: ‘Queen Anne Travelling Chest bought by M&G. Binyon through George Goodrick. Colour of leather originally scarlet. Owned by socialistically inclined people who offered it for sale to Lord ( ? Houghton) as he had one wh. was similar to it. He doubted its being genuine & offered to send down an expert to see it, which so enraged its owner – friends of George Goodrick – that they swore he sha. have the chance to buy it, so thro. G.G. it was offered to M&G.B.’

In the ‘Notes on Furniture, glass, silver, china etc at Hoe Court, Colwall, Malvern & articles brought over there from Henwick Grove Worcester in March-April 1942’, a document started in October 1942 which was written by Cicely Margaret Wilson (the elder daughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother), the chest appears in the list of items: ‘Queen Anne travelling chest. Left by G.B. to E.M. Colman – covered in leather (scarlet originally) – Bought by M&G. Binyon on the recommendation of George Goodrick – an old quaker friend of the family who lived at Birmingham. It was owned by socialistically inclined people who offered it for sale to Lord Houghton (?) as he had one which was very similar to it. He doubted whether it was genuine and offered to send down an expert to inspect & report on it, which so enraged its owner (friends of G. Goodrick) that they swore he sha???? have it & so thro. him M&G. Binyon were offered it & bought it. We found its key in one of the drawers when turning over the contents of Henwick.’ This indicates that the chest was passed down from Gulielma to Elizabeth Martha Colman, the daughter of Cicely Margaret Wilson, and the granddaughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother.

The chest appears in ‘The Estate of Miss Gulielma Binyon, deceased: Inventory of Furniture and Effects, Garden and Farm tools, Dairy Cattle, Horse etc. at Henwick Grove, Worcester’, dated 14 February 1942. It is listed as: ‘An Old English leather covered chest of 3 drawers with pierced key plates, studded with designs in brass nails and royal cypher and crown of Queen Anne, 30” high 39” wide.’

The workshops of Richard Pigg, Junior and William Johnson: This chest was made by the workshops of Richard Pigg, Junior or William Johnson. Johnson was Pigg’s cousin and also one of the beneficiaries of his will, hence he took on Pigg’s business. Richard Pigg, Junior was ‘trunk maker to the Great Wardrobe’ from the reign of Charles II until his death in c.1706, at which time he was succeeded by William Johnson, who is referred to on the bills of the Great Wardrobe as a ‘Coffermaker’ (‘Index: P’, in ‘Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 17’, 1702, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1939), pp. 1395-1417). The accounts of the Great Wardrobe are held at the National Archives. These records reveal that, in the bills of Richard Pigg and William Johnson, similar studded, leather covered, silk lined and perfumed trunks were supplied and appear regularly in the accounts. In 1705-7, Richard Pigg appears in the Great Wardrobe accounts alongside William Johnson: ‘William Johnson, ‘capsario’ [coffermaker], for a coffer, etc. £98 9s 0d’ and ‘Richard Pigg, ‘capsario’ [coffermaker], for leather work, £7 3s 6d’ (‘Declared Accounts 1707: Civil List’, in ‘Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 22, 1708’, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1952), pp. ccxciv-cccvii. British History Online:

In 1704-5, Richard Pigg supplied the Great Wardrobe with: ‘one large trunk with drawers covered with Russia leather lined wth silke quilted and perfumed garnished with yellow nailes the lockes, handles & hinges of the very best with brasse plates and scutcheons’, for which he charged £6.00. In 1713, William Johnson’s bill included: ‘two large Cabinets covered with Russia leather with Drawers lined with silke quilted and perfumed and garnished with guilt bras nails brase worke Locks and hinges with two painted frames and leather cases to them’ for £30.00. The Wardrobe bills do not include a description of the chest of drawers which matches this chest. However, generic descriptions appear in the accounts as many of the chests supplied are described using very similar terms and it is likely that variations in design would not have been recorded in the bills.

A Bill of William Johnson Coffermaker, dated 5th September 1711 from the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Department. Great Wardrobe’ describes: ‘A Large Trunk Cover’d with Russia Leather garnished with yellow Nails Lock handles & plates of ???. Best laid with Silk quilted & perfumed’ for £5, and then ‘For one Ditto with Drawers’ for £6 (The National Archives, ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Department. Great Wardrobe. Bill of William Johnson Coffermaker 5th, September 1711’.)

Comparators: There are a number of examples of royal travelling trunks covered with leather with a royal connection. However, the configuration of four graduated drawers which feature in our example is apparently unique. A softwood trunk covered with leather, with metal fittings and studs, is housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. This chest has the monogram of William III and Mary II and is dated 1689-1702 (Museum number: 497-1894). This example also has drawers – but only two – which sit below a flat lid with a compartment, all of which are fitted with locks as in our example, covered with leather, and studded with brass round-headed studs forming patterns of scrolls and rosettes (

A large leather trunk, decorated all over with brass studs, decorated with tulips, the lid with a ‘GR’ cipher and the date 1745, which was made for George II, is in the Royal Collection and is housed in the Great Gallery, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It stands on a japanned wooden stand with bracket feet. (RCIN 636; The lock on this trunk is surrounded by the same brass plate as on our chest.

Supplied to Queen Anne.
Purchased by Margaret and Gulielma Binyon, Henwick Grove, Oldbury Road, Worcester in c.1870.
Thence by descent.

‘Coffer makers to the Stuart Court, 1660-1714’, Olivia Fryman, ‘Furniture History’ volume 52, forthcoming October 2016.

‘The Dictionary of English Furniture: Volume Two: CHE-MUT’, Ralph Edwards, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1983, see ‘Chests’, pages 17-20.
‘Historic Worcester Streets: Their History and the People Who Lived and Worked in Them’, Terry Wardle, MTC, October 2014.
‘Worcester’s Memory Lane’, Michael Grundy, Newsquest, Worcester.

Exhibition History
Exhibited in the Historical Section at the Worcestershire Exhibition, 1882. The exhibition label stated: ‘Old Chest of Drawers’.
On loan to Historic Royal Palaces and exhibited at Hampton Court in the Prince of Wales’ apartments alongside Queen Anne’s state bed, February – November 2015.

Queen_Anne's_leather_chest_c1702-14_01bFig. 2. Queen Anne’s cypher. (Thomas Coulborn)

Queen_Anne's_leather_chest_c1702-14_01cFig. 3. Quilted silk-lined drawer. (Thomas Coulborn)

Queen_Anne's_leather_chest_c1702-14_01dFig. 3. Marbled paper-covered drawer. (Thomas Coulborn)

Jack Plane

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The Book

The book is no longer. It was coming along nicely – albeit slowly – when a few months ago I stupidly allowed a ransomware virus into my computer. I say stupidly, but in my defence, the virus came ingeniously disguised in an authentic-looking email from Australia Post – with whom I had been corresponding that very morning.

The moment I opened the email, every single document and image on my computer (going back over thirty years); both password-protected external hard drives and two on-line back-up facilities were encrypted. The next instant a message popped up on the screen advising me of the lock-down and that if I paid six hundred and something dollars in Bitcoin within twenty-four hours, I would receive a password to unlock my files. After that period, the ransom would increase to thousands of dollars.

A quick Google search returned one key piece of advice: Do not pay! Apparently few, if any individuals have ever received the requisite password to restore their files. I contacted the local Spotty Youth who said he’d have a look at my computer and drives, but in his experience, all was lost.

All was lost. The typescript is gone – even from the so-called protected drives and on-line storage. The only images I have retrieved are the few “in-the-white” and “polished” pictures I posted on this blog to accompany the completion of the first four chests. A friend had the bright idea that my camera’s memory card might contain the missing book images. Ironically, the card had reached capacity days earlier and consequently, the images had been uploaded to on-line storage for safekeeping.

I’ve been mulling over the options since the event and short of remaking the first four chests – which I’m not in the least inclined to do – the book, as intended, is a complete dud I’m afraid. I may still put a book together solely on what was to be the fifth chest in the original book. It’s a very fine mahogany chest and if I brush up on my descriptive writing, it should be possible to address many of the historical developments and techniques I no longer have detailed images of.

Every Sunday morning I now back everything up to a couple of 512GB flash drives and put them in a drawer when I’m done. Technology!

Jack Plane

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Picture This LXXXI Redux

The mahogany chest of drawers, lot 313, featured in Picture This LXXXI was passed in at Bonham’s The Scottish Sale in Edinburgh on the 13th of April 2016. However, it reappeared in their Homes & Interiors sale on the 22nd of June 2016 in Edinburgh as lot 374 and sold for £937 ($1,835) including premium.

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1765_09aFig. 1. George III six-drawer chest, circa 1765. (Bonhams)

Jack Plane

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Picture This XCI

Geo_III_marquetry_tea_caddy_c1766_01aFig. 1. George III marquetry tea chest, circa 1766. (Mark Goodger)

This stunning tea chest is veneered in harewood (and other colours of stained sycamore), crossbanded with tulipwood and kingwood, and strung with boxwood. Penwork leaf decoration runs round the satinwood moulding on the lid. The marquetry on each face of the chest comprises flowers and foliage enhanced with penwork.

Each of the four sides contains a satinwood medallion characterising a god of Greek mythology: The front with a lyre and floyera alludes to Apollo, god of music and poetry. The medallion on the right side contains a cannon, flag, spear and shield, alluding to Athena, goddess of arts and literature. The back medallion contains a quiver and arrow, symbolising Artemis, goddess of chastity, hunting and nature. The left side medallion comprises a book, callipers and a straight edge, representing Hermes, god of commerce and protector of travellers, thieves and athletes.

Geo_III_marquetry_tea_caddy_c1766_01cFig. 2. Right and back faces. (Mark Goodger)

Geo_III_marquetry_tea_caddy_c1766_01dFig. 3. The lid bears the initials ‘EW’ beneath a silver handle. (Mark Goodger)

The handle and hinges are marked with the initials ‘GB’ – for London silversmith George Baskerville for the years 1762-1768. The escutcheon is also silver.

The chest contains a set of three Georgian silver containers, each of plain oblong design with gadrooned borders and moulded plinths.

Geo_III_marquetry_tea_caddy_c1766_01fFig. 4. Fitted interior with silver containers. (Mark Goodger)

The two tea caddies have domed covers with finials and sliding bases. The larger sugar container has a hinged lid and all three are engraved with a family crest and marked for London Silversmiths John Langford II & John Sebille and the letter ‘L’ for the year 1766.
(Edited from Mark Goodger’s description.)

An absolutely cracking tea chest!

Jack Plane

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