This dynamic chest of drawers, with its broad proportions and canted corners, bears the tiny label of William King (1754-after 1806) of Salem and is one of three surviving pieces that bear his name. The others are an oval-top mahogany candlestand with pad feet branded "W. King" on the underside of the urn pedestal, sold Sotheby's, New York, November 18-20, 1976, lot 960 and is illustrated in Israel Sack, American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, vol. II, no. 744, and a demilune card table with fluted straight legs and bearing what appears to be a label identical to that on the chest offered here, sold at Skinner, Inc., Bolton, August 12, 2000, lot 131. A chest-of-drawers in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum features similarly canted corners and a gadrooned base and is attributed to King (Decorative Arts Photographic Collection (DAPC), Winterthur Library, no. 65.4151).
Born on February 24, 1754, William King married Rebecca Phippen, the daughter of Salem Deacon Nathaniel Phippen, and first advertised on July 21, 1789 in the Salem Mercury. From surviving accounts, he appears to have been quite a character. Soon after 1789, he stole a horse and buggy with the intention of deserting his family but was apprehended in New Haven. In 1793, he abandoned his family again. The diary of the Reverend William Bentley, dated July 3, 1796, notes: News from Philadelphia that William King belonging to a good family in this Town after having dragged his family from Town to Town, left a note that he was going to drown himself and disappeared. It is supposed that he means to ramble unencumbered. The family are to return to Salem. King reappeared again in Hanover, New Hampshire when he advertised in 1806. He is not known to have returned to Salem, thus indicating that this chest was made prior to 1796 (Ethel Hall Bjerkoe, The Cabinetmakers of America (Garden City, New York, 1957), p. 138).
This chest was part of the renowned collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, née Natalie Knowlton (1883-1951) of Tuxedo Park, New York. Considered one of the greatest collectors of American decorative arts, Mrs. Blair donated much of her collection to New York institutions, most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For more on Mrs. Blair, see Christie's, New York, Property from the Collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, 21 January 2006, pp. 11-23.