Rare in form and surviving in remarkable condition, this dressing glass is one of only a few block-front examples known made in eighteenth-century Boston. A luxury item placed on top of a chest or table in a bed chamber, the form was available in Boston as early as 1711, but until mid-century, most referenced in period documents were undoubtedly imported. The earliest Boston-made examples featured bombé or, as seen here, block-front cases, designs that were later superceded by bow- and serpentine-front forms. Only two other Boston dressing glasses with block-front cases have been found: An example with a fall-front (or simulated fall-front) lacking its glass at Gore Place and another in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago (Peter A. Wick, "Gore Place, Federal Mansion in Waltham, Massachusetts," The Magazine Antiques (December 1976), p. 1257, fig. 8; The Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library, no. 84.498); see also Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: The Colonial Era (Boston, 1984), p. 448; Nancy E. Richards and Nancy Goyne Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods (Winterthur, Delaware, 1997), pp. 467-470).
With a history of descent in the Russell family, an incised date of 1772 and its probable later ownership by Henry R. Dalton, this dressing mirror may have been made for Rebecca Russell (1747-1816) of Charlestown, who married James Tyng (1731-1775) in 1772. After his death three years later, she married secondly the Honorable John Lowell (1743-1802), the noted jurist and patriarch of the Boston Lowell family. Their children included Elizabeth Cutts (Lowell) Dutton (1783-1864), whose son, James Russell Dutton (b. 1810) changed his name to James Dutton Russell and the handwritten inscription on tape, Russell Henry R. Dalton probably refers to his son-in-law, Henry Rogers Dalton (1838-1914), a Second Lieutenant in the Civil War, or his grandson Henry Rogers Dalton, Jr. (1866-after 1940) and its original ownership in the Russell family (L. Vernon Briggs, History and Genealogy of the Cabot Family (Boston, 1927), pp. 63-65; Charles Henry Pope and Thomas Hooper, comp., Hooper Genealogy (Boston, 1908), pp. 128-129; ancestry.com., U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 [database on-line] (Provo, Utah, 2011); US Federal Census Records).
Rebecca inherited portraits of her mother, Katherine (Graves) Russell (1717-1778) by John Singleton Copley, and her aunt, Abigail (Russell) Curwen (1725-1793) by Joseph Blackburn, and both of these descended to the twentieth century along the same lines as this dressing glass. The Copley portrait, formerly in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is now in the collections of the North Carolina Museum of Art and for the Blackburn portrait, see Northeast Auctions, 28 March 2010, lot 644.