Picture This CXXX

This walnut secretaire chest-on-chest caught my eye recently; described by its vendor as circa 1740 and with original brasses.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01aFig. 1. Mid eighteenth-century walnut secretaire chest-on-chest…

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01bFig. 2. … and with secretaire drawer open.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01cFig. 3. Interior of secretaire drawer.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01dFig. 4. Close-up of interior.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01eFig. 5. Close-up of interior drawers.

What say the sleuths?

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.

24 Responses to Picture This CXXX

  1. Joe M says:

    Here’s my try…….
    Replaced/wrong Legs. I say legs instead of feet because they are so tall….unless made for giants.
    The drawer bottoms in the photo are going in different directions in the two drawers, Oak secondary drawer fronts…looks like red oak is used? Finish/stain line can be seen in the same photos on the top edge of drawer fronts. Hinting a newer finish is applied.
    More modern style/design crown molding?
    No cross banding around the drawer fronts. The “stringing is cut into the front face veneer of the drawer fronts.
    Brass screws in hinges….
    So…….My guess….I think a Victorian interpretation of an earlier style.
    Glad to see you posting Jack. hope all is well.


    • Jack Plane says:

      Tall bracket feet were fairly common at this period, but granted; these are quite tall. They were likely created this height to better position the secretaire drawer at a convenient height for writing at.

      The differing grain direction of the interior drawer bottoms is a concern. As is the new/newly-planed interior drawer fronts.

      “Crown molding”?

      The single, diagonal banding is unusual and sloppy in execution, but is otherwise sound.

      The hinge screws are rusty/patinated steel, not brass.



  2. Mark Cass says:

    Looks a bit too clean to me, and those oak drawer bottoms are extremely light in colour, almost new looking…


  3. Eric R says:

    It’s a truly beautiful piece in anyone’s view.


  4. potomacker says:

    Wow, what bad photographs. I can say that it’s not walnut. The high gloss finish applied after 1740 along with glare make identifying the show wood (at least in the pics that you reveal) a real challenge. The interior work, however, is European red beech given the distinctive meduallry ray patterning on display in the partitions. So does that give a terminus post quem? Or is it a universal sign of high end construction? The feet look remarkably well preserved given the early date. You don’t show the sides which are solid wood construction; whereas, the drawer fronts are veneered with likely the same wood. Is this another example of elm?


    • Jack Plane says:

      The show wood is English walnut and the interior compartments are of English oak.

      Indeed, the feet are remarkably well preserved for the date.

      The vendor states the carcase sides are of solid wood – a strange and unnecessary claim. They may be, though I’m not convinced. I don’t have any images of the sides.



  5. Matthew Pease says:

    We’ll, at first glance it looks okay, but then the paleness of the oak linings of the small drawers screams “I’m new”; the salvaged pilasters stand out like a beacon; and the un-veneered oak surfaces inside the drawer look like “I don’t care any more”. With suspicions planted I look again at the whole thing and see it’s altogether too slick. The aged screws in the hinges tell me I’m being led up the garden path, and I did take a step or two.


  6. Warwick says:

    Hi Jack
    I’m sure since you’ve posted this for the sleuths there must be something wrong with the description.
    However, the wood on the drawer fronts looks to be walnut to me, with the lovely smokey figure that walnut can have (albeit faded), though the wood (veneer) inside the secretaire drawer and fall is not the same (figure, or even species), and could easily be padauk or some such?

    The lateral internal drawer has a sideways directed drawer bottom, whereas the more central one has a front-to-back oriented bottom. I’m not sure how much can be read into this given how long and skinny the drawers are. I guess you’d need to know the direction of the grain on the full sized draws to use this as an aging feature?

    There are cross grain mouldings present, which were more fashionable prior to 1740, such as around the turn of the century, but they evidently crop up at least as late as the G III era, as per your previous posts. The mouldings are in remarkably good condition with little shrinkage for nearly 300 year old cross-grain wood.

    I see no witness marks for previous handles, and the brasses to my untrained eye look to be consistent with an early to mid 18thC date. Though there seems to be remarkably little buildup of gunk around the brasses for a chest of this age.

    There seems to be remarkably little patina, wear, damage/repair or shrinkage to the entire piece, but if this is a fake then it must be a fairly elaborate one, as there are many features consistent with a genuine 18thC piece, such as: the internal drawers have sawn-thickness veneers on their fronts, and the fall hinges and screws look consistent with Georgian ones. Possibly it has been stored in a dark room and not used, or rather heavily restored?

    The bracket ‘legs’ are remarkably long, presumably to elevate the fall of the secretaire above knee height, but maybe these are replacements?

    The scalloped recess in the bottom drawer with the half compass marquetry (patera?) is probably some sort of give-away, but I do not know how to place it age wise.

    The drawer fronts look to have moulded lipped edges, which were popular around 1735 I think I remember, which would place it pretty close to 1740.

    That’s my thoughts

    Cheers, Warwick


  7. Ken says:

    I’m not sure how the picture translates, but there doesn’t appear to be much (if any) patina on the drawers


  8. kevin joy says:

    Has the secretaire been added latter, it looks newer and the veneer seems very thin for the period.


  9. Jack Plane says:

    Any opinions of the secretaire drawer sides and the brass secretaire catches?



    • Alex A. says:

      The brass and sides seem like replacements. I can’t put my finger on it but the inside if the secretary seems off. Was it a later addition to an existing dresser?


    • Joe M says:

      The drawer sides seem to be grooved for the drawer bottoms……cant see to much of the catches but they do seem to be very polished/smooth…”newish” not tarnished as the hinges.


      • Jack Plane says:

        There is evidence that the edges of the drawer bottoms (which are old material) have been sanded to fit their new locations.

        The secretaire catches are polished and clear-lacquered late eighteenth-century items.


        Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew Pease says:

      No quadrants! The first elbow to rest on the flap would wrench the hinges off.


      • Jack Plane says:

        One would hope the front edge of the secretaire drawer bottom and bottom edge of the drawer front are deeply rebated so they form a decent half-lap when in the open position, but even so, it still places significant strain on the hinges and screws.



  10. Tim Talma says:

    I find the whole secretaire questionable. There is no evidence of stays for the front that I can see. I would expect some damage to the front/writing surface and to the wood around the hinges, as well as the bottom of the lip from some heavy handed gorilla. At this point I would expect significant tilting of the surface due to shrinkage of the wood combined with use. Even if it was well treated and never used

    Also the bolts/nuts for the pulls are below the veneer, unless that veneer was extremely thick (which it doesn’t appear to be) I would expect to see some sort of crater or bubbling of the veneer, but from the pictures the surface seems perfectly flat.

    Also for legs that long it seems like one must have been damaged at some point, but all of them pictured look perfect. I can respect a well done repair or restoration, as long as it’s presented as what it is.


  11. Well this has been through the mill.
    The Sec drawer is a total mess and the extension in the bracket foot would be to lift it so that drawer would be the correct hight of 29.75 to 30.5 ins of the ground.
    The Sec drawers sides are wrong and would not taper down to the drawer front. They would be full hight like all the other drawers sides but yes thicker to take any brass furniture in the correct position Eg nearer the top. This would help prevent the drawer front from cupping.
    It all looks so very clean.

    Sad really


  12. Warwick says:

    I had completely missed the lack of stays on the secretaire drawer fall. There’s about a 0% chance that the fall arangement would last over 200 years of normal use. This means one of 3 things: either 1) the internals of the secretaire drawer are later alterations, which would explain the disproportionately tall feet as later revisions to lift the fall to a usable height but would not explain the lack of wear and patina over the whole chest; or 2) the whole chest is a reproduction, but why then not make the sectretaire drawer deeper, and put 3 drawers under it, which seems to be a more common arrangement, is more useable, and wouldn’t need storky tall feet; or 3) the whole thing is old, but has been poorly designed and never really been used (which seems very improbable).

    How do you tell which it is without examining the rest of the chest?



  13. I wonder if it is a conversion of a chest on chest? The floor of the secretary drawer should show scuff marks under the drawers, apart from the freshly sanded drawer tops, the drawer floor repairs, etc. That with the longer feet to raise the drawer height, and the lack of quadrants…


  14. Jack Plane says:

    Thank you for all the responses.

    As I see it, this is a circa 1745 English walnut chest-on-chest, of which, the lower chest’s top drawer has been converted into a secretaire drawer.

    The secretaire drawer carcase is of new English oak (the shaped sides show absolutely no wear, nor any attempt to age them). If original, I would have expected the sides to be of walnut, and at this date, most likely square-fronted and not the fanciful shape of these sides.
    The compartments are constructed from old thin salvaged stuff (tell-tale ink stains and general surface condition), but if original to this chest, would have had English walnut grafted onto their front edges and the shaped divisions would have been of walnut too.
    At this period, the interior drawer bottoms can be of either front-to-back or side-to-side orientation, but would at least be consistent.
    The red (black) walnut columns hint at the source of the remainder of the interior and also the hinges.
    The secretaire drawer catches are late eighteenth-century items. Early secretaire drawer fronts were commonly secured with simple iron hooks and eyes.

    As no attempt has been made to age the modifications, I imagine the conversion was bespoke by a prior owner who simply wanted to adapt the chest-on-chest to their needs with no requirement to blend the new with the old. The work appears to have been carried out by a restorer (who would have had access to a [red walnut?] breaker from which he scrounged some secretaire interior components).

    Just why the vendor failed to mention the transformation eludes me.



  15. Paul@bcfnc says:

    I’ve enjoyed this conversation and analysis. More and more pieces like this must be entering the marketplace here and in the UK as this generation dispose of family furniture and collections. In my time working for high-end dealers we had chairs made to match sets of six , creating more saleable sets of eight . There was no intent to deceive but they have 40-50 years age now and current auction rooms are coy about any attribution. I myself have six beautiful Regency chairs with two carvers added in 1948 when they were purchased in the UK.( I have the receipt) . I have some good pieces in my opinion , bought over a near 50 year period, but no-one in my family wants them. They will possibly end up at auction with poor descriptions , if any description .

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Picture This CXXXVI | Pegs and 'Tails

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