One of only a handful of known American japanned Queen Anne bonnet top high-chests, this example ranks among the great rarities in American furniture. While much of the original japanned surface has been abraded or lost due to being stored beside a chimney flue, the dramatic black and red tortoiseshell ground color is still apparent under the extant original brasses (see detail, previous page). The Boston japanner William Randle first mentioned this surface treatment in 1734, when he charged the cabinetmaker Nathaniel Holmes for "Japanning a Piddement Chest & Table Tortoiseshell and Gold" (see Rhoades and Jobe, "Recent discoveries in Boston japanned furniture," Antiques (May 1972), pp. 1082-1091). It is among only a few examples of 18th-century American japanning that survive without any apparent subsequent treatment or restoration.
Of the documented Boston japanned furniture known, the decoration on the present example relates most closely to the Pickman family high chest and dressing table in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Heckscher, American Furniture (New York, 1985), cat. numbers 155 and 156). The sketching of the gilt floral sprays is similar in the Pickman examples, and is apparent on the present example with the aid of ultraviolet light (see above). Both high chests have fluted columns flanking the shell drawers and winged angels flanking the upper center drawer. The ultraviolet light also reveals on the present example the presence of elaborate decoration extending down the legs, a detail also present on the Pickman high chest.
As with the Pickman family examples, the present high chest was probably originally made en suite with a dressing table. The probate inventory of Peleg Brown, taken in 1796, records both "1 Jappan'd Case of draws L 6" as well as "1 dressing table do. L 2" (District of Stonington Probate Records, No. 562, as cited in Rhoades and Jobe, footnote 13). The suite was probably purchased by Brown's father-in-law, Captain John Denison, on a visit to the busy port of Boston, circa 1735-1745. It appears that the present high chest descended directly through the female line of his family, and was perhaps a wedding gift to his daughter Mercy Denison upon the occasion of her marriage to Peleg Brown. Captain Denison's will stipulated that his daughters were to receive all the household goods "which came to [him] by their mother" (Rhoades and Jobe, p. 1087).