A bold and an accomplished rendition of the bombé form, this chest-of-drawers is one of four known that appear to have been made in the same Boston shop. These comprise those in the collections of Historic Deerfield, Inc. and the Henry Ford Museum, and a third in a private collection (figs. 1, 2; Sotheby's, New York, 17 January 1997, lot 734). All examples are distinguished by the pronounced swell of the case sides below the level of the second drawer, a design that is well balanced by the prominent overhang of the top. Furthermore, the carved feet are particularly well executed and fully carved in the back, suggesting a high level of workmanship. The feet relate to those seen on two bombé chests attributed to Thomas Needham, Sr. of Boston and two serpentine-front chests signed by or attributed to his son, Thomas Needham, Jr. of Salem. As described by Kemble Widmer, the feet on the Needham chests are notable for their flattened balls, the positioning of the ankle at the rear of the ball, a center talon that proceeds along the top surface of the ball before descending and relatively fat claws that rake back in the Boston manner (Kemble Widmer, online essay for Sotheby's, New York, 30 September 2010, lot 72; Christie's, New York, 23 January 2009, lot 214; Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture (New York, 1993), pp. 98-99). For the most part, these features are seen on the feet of the chest offered here, but key differences, notably the more compressed proportions and more slender talons, indicate a different hand, perhaps one familiar with furniture made by the Needham family. While the chest in fig. 2 has been attributed to Salem, details in design and construction of the chest offered here strongly indicates that it was made in Boston. Drawer bottoms that are placed with the grain running from front to back, drawer sides with rounded top edges, severely raking side talons and the presence of a drop on the skirt are, as confirmed by Kemble Widmer, highly indicative of Boston practices (for the Salem attribution of the chest in fig. 2, see Historic Deerfield's online collections database, available at museums.fivecolleges.edu). The chest offered here is further enhanced by the survival of its original brass hardware. The bail handles are lighter in design than the stylistically earlier Rococo brasses seen on the other chests from the same group, of which those in fig. 2 and in a private collection have been specifically noted to be original. Their use on a Chippendale style chest suggests a post-1780 date of production as well as perhaps the fashion-conscious sensibilities of its first owner.
Descending until recently in the family for which it was made, this chest was first owned by the Jarvis family of Boston and appears to have spent most of its life in the coastal towns of Surry and Ellsworth, situated on the mainland across from Maine's Mount Desert Island. Given the chest's bail handles and a mid-1780s date of production, the likely first owner was Philip Jarvis (1762-1831), son and brother to prominent Boston merchants, Col. Leonard Jarvis I and II. Philip Jarvis married Ann Head (1764-1848) in Boston in 1786, an event that may have occasioned the commission of the chest offered here, and along with his brother, purchased vast tracts of land in Maine. In 1797, he moved with his family to Castine, Maine and subsequently to Surry, Maine. There, the chest may have furnished the house in fig. 3, described as "the old Jarvis house" and owned by a grandson of Philip's in 1903. Philip and Ann Jarvis outlived their son, Henry (1792-1829), so the chest probably passed directly to their granddaughter, Mary Jane Jarvis (1818-1874). Mary Jane married Charles William Joy (1811-1896), a blacksmith, and the couple lived in Surry before moving to the neighboring town of Ellsworth prior to 1870. The chest descended to their granddaughter, Bessie Mason Joy (b. 1883), probably the same individual as Bessie Joy Lake (1883-1955), whose death certificate records her birth in Ellsworth and death in McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border. The chest was later discovered in an estate sale in Texas and sold at auction in Dallas in 2005. See "The Jarvis Family of Hancock County," The Maine Historical Magazine, vol. VIII (1893), p. 229; ancestry.com, Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [database on-line] (Provo, Utah, 2013).