Picture This XLV

A reader commented in Picture This XXV regarding the Elizabeth Carter bureau bookcase in Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square, London.

The location and design of the lopers in Carter’s bureau is unusual (fig.1).

Elizabeth Carter bookcase_01aFig. 1. Elizabeth Carter’s bureau bookcase.

The ends of the top drawer dividers of the chests in figures 2 and 3 are checked to allow the front edges of the lopers to extend up to support the top drawers by their runners.

Geo_III_mahogany_dressing_chest_c1755_01a_William_WordFig. 2. George III mahogany chest with tall lopers. (William Word)

ANTIQUESFig. 3. George III mahogany chest with tall lopers. (Summers Davis)

However, the subjacent divider of Carter’s top drawer appears unbroken at its ends and the normal height lopers suggest they would be incapable of supporting the top drawer.

Had the bureau bookcase been in the form of a bookcase- or cabinet-on-chest, then I would surmise the chest’s top drawer was a secretaire drawer with the fold-down drawer front being supported by 90° hinges installed in the sides of the drawer front (fig. 4) – as opposed to the more usual and robust self-supporting arrangement of flap hinges and quadrant stays (fig. 5).

19C_mahogany_secretaire_bookcase_01b_FiresideFig. 4. Stop hinges support open drawer front without the need for stays.

Regency_mahogany_secretaire_bookcase_c1815_01aFig. 5. Secretaire drawer with brass flap hinges and quadrant stays.

But why would Carter’s furniture be both a bureau and a secretaire? It wouldn’t. In the absence of any concrete evidence though, I have to imagine the top drawer of the bureau is a fitted dressing drawer, where the front of the drawer folds down similar to a secretaire drawer to expose, possibly, a baize-lined brushing slide and compartments or pigeonholes for wig powder, perfumes and lotions etc. If the drawer front is hinged such that, when open, it occupies the space that is the height of the subjacent drawer divider, then the standard height lopers would support the drawer front, allowing for the added pressure whilst brushing and pressing clothes.

The top drawers of gentlemen’s dressing chests often incorporate a brushing slide that retracts to reveal a fitted interior (figs. 6 & 7).

Geo_III_mahogany_dressing_chest_c1755_01b_William_WordFig. 6. George III mahogany chest with dressing drawer fitted with a brushing slide. (William Word)

Geo_III_mahogany_dressing_chest_c1755_01c_William_WordFig. 7. George III mahogany chest with brushing slide retracted. (William Word)

Dressing chests of this format conveniently offer both writing and brushing surfaces for apartment living.

Geo_III_mahogany_caddy-top_COD_c1765_02a_BonhamsFig. 8. George III mahogany caddy-top dressing chest, circa 1765. (Bonhams)

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Antiques, Picture This and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Picture This XLV

  1. Eric R says:

    Splendid example.
    Thank you Jack Plane.


  2. Brian Lowery says:

    In figures 6 & 7, it looks like the lopers aren’t supporting the top drawer at all.


    • Jack Plane says:

      Indeed, the lopers have presumably shrunk in height, allowing them to tip down at the front. It’s a simple fix, only requiring the addition of a thin strip of wood to the rearmost top edge of the lopers.



  3. Pingback: Picture This XLV Redux | Pegs and 'Tails

  4. Kevin Joy says:

    Are the handles replacements on Dr. Johnson’s bureau, they seem a little late seeing that Johnson died in 1784. I must say I enjoy your blog very much.
    Regards Kevin Joy.


  5. Vincent Nobel says:

    Thank you for following up on my query from late last year. I since e-mailed dr. Johnson’s house to see the bookcase opened, but have not had a response. Unfortunately I have not had time to go back and ask in person.
    I had not thought of a baize covered drawer, and I am now more intrigued to see the actual book case in dr. Johnson’s house. When I am next in the area I’ll pop in.


I welcome your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s