Long celebrated as early America's crowning achievement in furniture design, the block-and-shell carved furniture of Newport demonstrates the sophistication of its makers and the financial success of their patrons. With exuberant shells, rich mahogany grain and elaborate molding, the chest-of-drawers offered here stands as one of the boldest interpretations of the famous style. Also bearing the signature of its maker, the chest is an important document to the ongoing study of Newport's finest craftsmen, members of the Townsend and Goddards famililes.
The primary makers of Newport's block-and-shell carved furniture, the Townsend and Goddard cabinetmakers can be divided into two schools of craftsmanship defined by training rather than surname. Christopher Townsend (1701-1773 or 1787) established his shop on Bridge and Second Streets by 1732 and presumably trained his son, John (1733-1809), whose surviving labelled examples provide a well-defined paradigm for one school. The other school, founded by Christopher's brother, Job Townsend I (1699-1762) is not well represented by surviving documented examples. In fact, the surviving signed or labelled block-and-shell forms from this school are limited to the work of only two individuals, Edmund Townsend (1736-1811) and Daniel Goddard (1747-after 1779).
JOB TOWNSEND II (1726-1778)
Job Townsend was responsible for training a number of craftsmen from both the Townsend and Goddard families, including his eldest son, Job Townsend II. A faint signature on the chest's bottom boards, composed of a large scooped "J," vertical lettering possibly representing a "T" and an "s" and ending in a "d," appears to read "Job Townsend" (see fig. 4). Account books kept by three generations of Job Townsends and now in the collection of the Newport Historical Society contain the handwriting of Job I, Job II and his son, Job E. Townsend; distinguished by the scooped "J," the writing of Job II bears a strong resemblance to that on the chest. Futhermore, a similar "J" appears on a signed Job Townsend plain slant-front desk attributed to Job I, but, diverging from the elder Job's signature, very possibly the work of Job II (see Moses, figs. 3.70, 6.3, 7.2).
Job Townsend II presumably trained under his father and upon the latter's death, inherited his house on Bridge and Third Streets (fig. 5). Aside from the possibility of this chest and the slant-front desk mentioned above bearing his signatures, there are no documented survivals of his work. However, the account book demonstrates that he was a prolific cabinetmaker and capable of making the most fashionable and expensive furnishings of the era (for a full discussion of the account books, see Moses, pp. 249-251). An entry dated February 28, 1766 details "a large mahogany desk" made by "Job and Edmund Townsend" for Nicholas Andersle for L330, indicating that members of the Job Townsend I school sometimes worked together. With selective similarities to the work of Edmund Townsend and Daniel Goddard detailed below, the chest offered here may represent the work of Job II in collaboration with another member of the same school.
THE SCHOOL OF JOB TOWNSEND I
Featuring a number of distinctive details of ornament and construction found on other examples signed or labelled by Edmund Townsend and Daniel Goddard, the chest illustrates the work of the shop tradition founded by Job Townsend I. The son of Job I, Edmund Townsend trained in his father's shop, possibly as early as 1750 and, by 1757, was working on his own. Daniel Goddard trained under his father, John Goddard (1723-1785), who in turn had apprenticed under Job I, his father-in-law (fig. 3).
The chest features a top that slides on dovetails extending from the case sides, a feature identified primarily with Boston craftsmanship and only occasionally found on Newport furniture. The only known Newport signed example with this manner of joining is the kneehole bureau signed by Daniel Goddard (figs. 1, 1a). Though the kneehole exhibits decorative additions not seen on this chest, such as the cross-hatched writing facade, stop-fluted quarter columns and leaf-carved feet, the extra large fillet and cove molding under the top is reminiscent of the large fillet and ogee molding seen on the chest offered here and, with all other known Newport examples lacking this type of molding, provides another distinctive link between this chest and the work of Daniel Goddard. Other examples of Newport case forms with tops that slide on the dovetails of the case sides include a kneehole bureau attributed to the collaboration of Daniel Goddard and Edmund Townsend (fig. 6) and a kneehole in the collection of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design which also bears identical brasses (Moses, fig. 1.11).
The shell carving on the chest is most closely related to the work of Edmund Townsend. Comprising thirteen convex lobes with a profile of gentle arcs, the convex shells are closely related to those on two kneehole bureaus signed and labelled by Edmund Townsend (figs. 2, 2a and Moses, fig. 6.11). The use of an odd number of convex lobes ensures that the central lobe is convex, a practice that contrasts with the convex shells of John Townsend, whose documented shells all have an even number of convex lobes that form a concave central lobe. Furthermore, the continuance of the lowest lobes to form the interior scrolls diverges from the work of John Townsend, whose interior scrolls emanate from the interior arch defining the petal-work center.
THE BARTLETT FAMILY
In the early twentieth century and probably earlier, the chest was owned by the Bartlett family of New York City. The chest is illustrated in the 1921 sale catalogue of the property of Mrs. Franklin Bartlett and interestingly, the cataloguing states that it was made for the family by Thomas Goddard. Thomas, however, was born in 1785 and therefore a highly improbable maker for this chest, which appears to date to before his birth. A possible scenario is that Thomas did some minor work on the chest at a later stage, as is documented for other pieces, and his name became linked to its production by the chest's subsequent owners.
It is unclear if the chest was made for the family of Franklin Bartlett or his wife, Bertha King Post. Franklin Bartlett was born in Worcester County, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard in 1869. By 1873, he was working as a lawyer in New York City. Residing at 26 W. 20th Street, he belonged to the most prominent social clubs, including the University Club and the Union Club. Though no direct genealogical link to Franklin can be made, there were numerous members of the Bartlett family living in Kingston, Rhode Island (twenty miles from Newport) in the eighteenth century. Another possible connection is the ownership of a four-shell kneehole attributed to Edmund Townsend by William Holmes Chambers Bartlett in the nineteenth century (see Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henry Meyer, January 20, 1996, lot 48). William had married Harriet Whitehorne, the granddaughter of the chest's original owner; however, the relationship between Franklin and William Bartlett remains undetermined. Franklin's wife, Bertha King Post, hailed from Newport families. She was the great-granddaughter of William Minturn (1738-1799) and Penelope Greene (1746-1821) who married in Newport in 1766 (Marie Post, The Post Family (New York, 1905) and Greene Genealogy, p. 376). Other furniture sold at the 1921 sale includes a Newport chest-on-chest now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985), cat. 145).
ALFRED B. MACLAY (1871-1944)
The chest was purchased at the 1921 Bartlett sale for $550 by Alfred Barmore Maclay. Born in New York City in 1871, Maclay was a prominent show horse exhibitor, judge, breeder and collector. President of the American Horse Show Association from 1926 to 1936, he served as a vice-president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals under whose auspicies he established the Maclay Horsemanship Trophy for riders eighteen years and under. First awarded in 1933, the prize continues to be given to the winner of the annual Maclay Regional and National Championships for the ASPCA Horsemanship Classes held each fall at Madison Square Garden. Maclay bred horses and rare dogs at his farm in Milbrook, New York; he also cultivated dahlias and camellias in his vast gardens in Tallahassee, Florida, which are now the site of the Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens (Obituary, New York Times, May 28, 1944). His collecting interests ran the gamut from books and glass to American furniture. He loaned several items from his collection to the pioneering Girl Scout's Loan Exhibition in 1929, including another three-shell and three-drawer Newport chest-of-drawers (American Art Galleries, Loan Exhibition of Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Furniture and Glass (New York, 1929), no. 602). The chest offered here stood in his New York townhouse on East 84th Street and, after his death, moved by his widow to a Park Avenue apartment where it remained for the past fifty years.