Surviving with its original carved cartouche, finials, rosettes, brasses, an early surface and remarkably intact applied carving, this fully developed masterpiece of Philadelphia craftsmanship stands as among the most pristine and important examples of the form. Further, it retains its history of descent through an important Philadelphia family, and relates to a small group of casework from the 1750s and early 1760s.
This magnificent high chest descended in the Marshall family of Philadelphia, and was likely made for Benjamin Marshall (d. 1778). Marshall married Sarah Linn in Philadelphia in 1761, though that may have been his second marriage (a Benjamin Marshall married Hannah Underwood in 1744, but it is not known whether this is the same Marshall or not). Among their children, Esther Marshall Garrigues (m. 1795) likely inherited the highchest, and from her it passed down through the Garrigues family to Charles Henry Garrigues (1832-1907). Charles wrote a brief history of the high chest, perhaps at the time it was sold to the collector/dealer Harry Wetherstein. This document survives and accompanies the highchest:
"This "Highboy" or chest of drawers was the property of my Great Grandfather, Benjamin Marshall, a merchant of Philadelphia in Revolutionary times. At the time of the occupancy of the city by the British troops, it was left in his house while he retired to Germantown, where he and his family lived at the time of the battle. The piece knocked off one of the drawers is said to have been done by the sword of a drunken officer, who with others, occupied the house. Benjamin Marshall died Jan. 29, 1778, of fever contracted while nursing the sick at Valley Forge. These facts I have learned from my grandmother, his daughter, who died in 1856, and from other members of the family. C.H. Garrigues"
While the family lore regarding the sword-wielding British soldier cannot be confirmed, the basic history and dates outlined by Charles Garrigues is supported by documentary evidence. His grandmother was Esther Marshall, daughter of Benjamin Marshall, who died in 1856. The Marshall's were Quakers (Esther Marshall was married at the High Street Meeting House in Philadelphia in 1795), and while there is a Benjamin Marshall who appears as a Captain in the records of the Revolutionary War, as a Quaker this Benjamin Marshall may well have been caring for the sick soldiers, as the Garrigues history suggests. The chest was purchased from the Garrigues family by the dealer/collector Harry Wetherstein, probably in about 1905, and descended to his granddaughter. From her it was brokered to the collector Eddy Nicholson, and sold privately to The Chipstone Foundation in 1995.
While the exact timing and the maker of this highchest are not known, it has many structural affinities to a highchest in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg that is signed by the craftsmen Henry Clifton and Thomas Carteret and dated 1753 (see fig.4). While Carteret is largely unknown, Henry Clifton seems to have been an important figure in mid-eighteenth century Philadelphia cabinetmaking, as there are several references to him in period documents. Clifton appears in documents by 1748, when he purchased medicine from Dr. Samuel Preston Moore, and paid with a fire screen made for Moore's wife. He is known to have made cases for the clockmaker John Wood, and made a set of chairs for Dr. Richard Hill in 1759. Clifton was in partnership with James Gillingham in the 1760s, and Gillingham advertised the end of that partnership in 1768. In 1770, Clifton advertised himself as a joiner and chairmaker, and indicated that he had moved to Arch Street.
The Clifton and Carteret high chest is among a very few documented examples from Philadelphia's busy shops of the 1750s. A number of details of this example correspond closely to the much more fully realized Marshall high chest. As detail 1 and 2 and figures 1 and 2 illustrate, the distinctive construction of the drawer blades and drawer supports are almost identical. Each has a three part bottom board held in place with meticulously cut glue blocks, and two vertical drawer blades in the lower section of the case. In both cases, the tops of the leg posts have been slightly chamfered. Furthermore, a comparison of the dovetails in the drawers reveals a compelling similarity. The drawers in both cases also have similar construction markings, with each inside corner of some drawers numbered on both facings in chalk. While these marks are relatively common to case-pieces of this period and are quite crude, they appear in the same place and are possibly by the same hand. For more on the structural affinities of these two high chests, see Eleanore P. Gadsden, "When Good Cabinetmakers Made Bad Furniture: The Career and Work of David Evans", American Furniture, Luke Beckerdite, ed., (Chipstone, 2001), pp. 65-87.
One other fully developed example from this shop bears very close associations to the Marshall high chest. The Benjamin Hartley high chest in the collections of the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco (fig. 3) is strikingly similar in its overall design, as well as in details such as the unusually bold quarter columns, the design of the applied shell and leaf carving as well as the knee carving. While it is currently not available for a structural examination, the apparent affinities between the designs of the Hartley high chest and that of the Marshall high chest indicate that the same shop made both examples.
The family history of the Hartley high chest is related to that of the Marshall high chest, and suggests a slightly later dating for both examples. The Quaker Benjamin Hartley married first in 1745, but then married a second time, to Mary Bates in 1762, a date closely in keeping with the 1761 marriage date of Benjamin Marshall and Sarah Linn. While both men might have owned these high chests earlier, such expensive and opulent chests were often purchased at the time of a marriage when a new home was being furnished, and the mid 1740s date of their first marriages is seemingly too early, suggesting that the 1761 and 1762 could be the dates of manufacture for these two examples.
The Benjamin Marshall high chest stands among the most exceptional examples of the form, and the most intact and magnificent example to come on the market in decades. The Wetherstein family lore recounts that the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered to buy the Marshall high chest for $32,000 in 1929, a sum in keeping with the price of the famous Van Pelt family high chest, now at Winterthur, that sold in the famous Reifsnyder sale in 1929 for $44,000.