Adorned with fluted pilasters and ball-and-claw feet, this magnificent high chest-of-drawers stands as the pinnacle of the Boston form. Throughout, its craftsmanship is of the highest quality and, with its original finials, pendant drops and brasses, this example survives in a remarkable state of preservation.
Comparisons with furniture signed or labeled by Benjamin Frothingham, Jr. (1734-1809), the renowned craftsman of Charlestown, reveal close parallels in terms of design and execution. The leg and foot carving on the high chest is closely related to that on a card table labeled by Frothingham and now at Winterthur Museum (figs. 1,2). Though the card table's carving has received more wear and lost some of its original pronounced detailing, a comparison of the legs and feet reveal the same layout of design with a deep undercut to the raking side talons, double knuckled front talons and long tapering claws. Similarly the finials and drops, all with a pronounced ring-turning, are virtually identical to those on a high chest signed by Frothingham also now at Winterthur Museum (Nancy E. Richards and Nancy Goyne Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (Winterthur, DE, 1997), pp. 313-316, cat. 162). While these details indicate the work of specialized craftsmen, who may have been employed by competing master cabinetmakers, the similarities in drawer construction further support an attribution to Frothingham's shop. The drawers in both this example and the signed Frothingham high chest have rounded shaping to the tops of the drawer sides, drawer bottoms set with the grain running from front to back, fitted in rabbets in the front and sides and nailed to the backs, and similar chalk inscriptions (Richards and Evans, p. 315).
According to Israel Sack, Inc., the high chest was originally owned by "Governor John Allison Andrew of Salem" and descended in his family. This reference possibly conflates two related individuals, John Andrew (1747-1791) of Salem and his grandson, John Albion Andrew (1818-1867) of Maine and Boston and Governor of Massachusetts from 1860 to 1866. Colonial Salem's most prominent silversmith, John Andrew probably trained under Benjamin Burt in Boston before operating his own business on Salem's Long Wharf from 1769 to 1789. His clients included Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) and the town's First Church, for whom he made a celebrated copy of an English flagon. During the 1780s, he experienced financial difficulties and in 1789, he removed to Windham, Maine, where he died two years later (Patricia E. Kane, Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers (New Haven, CT, 1998), pp. 145-149). Upon his death, William Bentley gave the following description in his diary:
News of the death of John Andrew. He was son to a Deacon of our Parish, & brought up to the Goldsmith's trade. He came into possession of a handsome estate, & married the only daughter of Mr. Watson, a wealthy mechanic. Mr. A. never loved work, & by keeping a Shop of English Goods he soon reduced his estate to a humble maintenance, but was full of speculations in various ways, & having a large family, having left 10 children, he was obliged to think of putting his visionary schemes into execution, which his natural inclinations would otherwise have suffered to die in thought. He first planned a Tan yard ... he commenced another scheme of speculation in the paper Bills of credit.... To answer his ends, & his first great success, he changed all his old habit from the plain man became the Gentleman. For the first time he began to powder his hair, drink his glass of wine after dinner, receive his company, ride the country, & mix with the best company on change. Cited in William Bentley, The Diary of William Bentley (Salem, MA, 1905).
If made for John Andrew, the high chest descended to his son, Jonathan Andrew (1781-1849) and then to his son, Governor John Albion Andrew (1818-1867). After graduating from Bowdoin College, John Albion Andrew moved to Boston where he studied law. In the 1850s, he became one of the leading proponents of the Anti-Slavery movement and after serving in the state legislature, was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1860. See, "Gov. John Albion Andrew, the 'War Governor' of Massachusetts," The Bay State Monthly, vol. III, no. 111 (August 1885).