Masterfully designed and crafted, this bureau table is an outstanding example of Newport's celebrated block-and-shell furniture and with a provenance in the family of John Goddard (1724-1785), stands as a rare and critical document of the work of one of early America's most renowned cabinetmakers.
The bureau table was recorded as being made by John Goddard three generations after it was made, an assertion not only supported by its descent in the cabinetmaker's family but also by its similarity to other surviving pieces attributed to Goddard. The carved shells on this bureau share a number of details with those on a block-and-shell desk and bookcase that descended in the Lisle family and is now at the Rhode Island School of Design. Reading Made by John Goddard 1761 and repaired by Thomas Goddard his son 1813, an inscription on the desk written by John's son Thomas reveals that he "clearly took pride in his father's accomplishment and sought to perpetuate its record for posterity" (Brock Jobe, "The Lisle Desk-and-Bookcase: A Rhode Island Icon," American Furniture 2001 (Milwaukee, WI, 2001), p. 122). As noted by Michael Moses, the shells on the Lisle desk and the bureau offered here both feature shells with "flattened articulation," an odd number of lobes on both the convex and concave examples and cross-hatching under the petals of the shells' interiors on the convex shells. Furthermore, this bureau features construction practices seen on slant-front desks made by Goddard. These practices comprise drawer bottoms affixed to the undersides of the sides and backs and fitting into grooves in the fronts and two lipped backboards attached with rosehead nails to recesses in the case sides (Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, NJ, 1984), p. 212). For a bureau table attributed to Goddard on the basis of the example offered here, see Christie's New York, 18-19 January, 2007, lot 593.
The label on the bureau notes that John Goddard made the bureau for his daughter, Catherine (1757-1816). As the piece dates to circa 1765 and Catherine married Perry Weaver in 1778, the bureau was made prior to her marriage and either made expressly for her when she was just a child or given as a wedding present well after it was made. A tea table in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is also reputed to have been made by Goddard for his daughter Catherine. See Edwin J. Hipkiss, Eighteenth-Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection (Cambridge, MA, 1941), pp. 110-111, no. 59. The bureau descended in the Weaver family and though passing laterally a couple times, ended up with Mary Briggs (Weaver) Case (b. 1852), John Goddard's great-great granddaughter, the last family member to own the piece. She sold the bureau to George Vernon & Company, an antiques firm in Newport and while it was in his shop, his employee, Jonas Bergner drew a sketch of the piece, noted details and measurements of the component parts and recorded its family history. Discussing the brasses, Bergner reiterated the attribution to John Goddard by noting that the large size of the hardware "gave the solid and dignified touch that is so admired in Mr. Goddard's work" (Jonas Bergner, Day Book (unpublished, in the collection of the Redwood Library, Newport), pp. 46-47).