Split (two-part) domestic chests of drawers (figs. 1 – 4) were relatively common in the last quarter of the seventeenth-century and the eighteenth-century.
Fig. 1. Circa 1685 walnut frame-and-panel split chest.
Fig. 2. Side view.
Fig. 3. Back view.
Fig. 4. circa 1710 walnut frame-and-panel split chest.
Travelling dignitaries, government officials and wealthy house guests etc. often brought personal possessions along with them on their journeys and split chests made heaving them on-and-off carts and up-and-down narrow staircases or gangplanks more convenient.
Of course, all manner of demountable furniture was adopted by explorers, scientists and the militia to accompany them on expeditions and campaigns both on land and at sea during the eighteenth-century and beyond.
The majority of domestic split chests were intended to be that way, but occasionally one encounters an otherwise wholesome chest that has been hastily modified with a handsaw.
The split is normally situated mid second or third drawer opening (figs. 4 & 5), creating two more-or-less equal halves, but the parting can be between the first and second drawer (figs. 1, 2 & 3), thus creating an independent and more portable security box.
Fig. 5. Walnut split tall chest, circa 1730. (Sotheby’s)
To securely locate the upper section upon the lower, loose tenons were inserted into the lower carcase sides which engage mortises in the upper section (figs. 6 & 7).
Fig. 6. Locating tenons on walnut flat panel split chest, circa 1690.
Fig. 7. Locating tenons on walnut frame-and-panel split chest, circa 1710.