The monumental size, precise cabinetry, and expertly carved cartouche on this chest-on-chest attest to the collaboration between cabinetmakers and carvers working in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Philadelphia. Its history of ownership illustrates one way in which the designs and forms of Philadelphia's finest craftsmen were disseminated throughout the outerlying regions of eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, Maryland, and in this case, Delaware.
Born in Aberdeen Scotland, Thomas Affleck trained as a cabinetmaker in Edinburgh and London where he was exposed to works of the most accomplished cabinetmakers such as Alexander Peter and Giles Grendey. Equipped with an enormous talent, skills gleaned, and probably a copy of Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director, (London, 1754), he immigrated to Philadelphia in 1763. His abilities were immediately recognized by Joshua Fisher and subsequently, sought after by other members of prominent society including James Pemberton, Levi Hollingsworth, Meirs Fisher, General John Cadwalader, David Deshler, Thomas Hockley and John Dickinson. This chest-on-chest, with its overall proportions, generous use of figured mahogany, and details of design and joinery, is related to a small number of cases attributed or known to have been made by Affleck. One, currently in the Collection of Colonial Williamsburg (fig.3), was made for David Deshler (for more on Deshler, see note accompanying lot 592). These cases have similar dimensions, aspects of molding, execution of feet and employ identical frets and brasses. Other related Chest-on-Chests are in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (illustrated in Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne Period: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles (New York, 1985, p.227, fig.147) and The Philadelphia Museum of Art (illustrated in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), p.96, fig.76).
Attributed to Hercules Courtenay (1744?-1784) the elaborate urn-and-foliate carved finial is a tour-de-force of carving and provides the ultimate flourish to the piece. Courtenay, who apprenticed with the London designer and carver Thomas Johnson, was in Philadelphia in 1765. By 1766, he was working with the English-born Benjamin Reynolds and advertised independently as a carver and gilder in 1769. Considered amongst the best of the small group of immigrant carvers Courtenay, like Affleck, was patronized by many of the most prominent citizens of Philadelphia. One of the greatest examples of his extant work is the architectural carving on the mantlepiece made for the drawing room of Samuel Powel (1738-1793), detailed below, and a carved mahogany tea table (see fig. 2 accompanying lot 592).
Resting within a cocoon of overlapping petals, the finial's central carved rose head is immediately apparent. More laden at the top than the bottom, Courtenay has given visual justification for its downward-looking position, and adresses the viewer who must gaze up from the ground. This rose and the surrounding rosettes, fruit, and leafage issue in an asymmetrical naturalistic manner from an urn which is molded into sections of alternating concave and convex segments that twist and gather towards one side, with a second support whose molded edge gathers towards the other. Courtenay's dynamic arrangement is clearly influenced by the English Rococo as exemplified by Thomas Johnson's designs (see Johnson,A New Book of Ornaments, London, 1760). Many of his carved details are closely related to the ornament on the Powel mantlepiece; both works feature deeply veined leaves with angular, almost jagged edges that overlap one another and bear fruit and rosette-carved accents (see figures 2 and 4); the attribution of these works is discussed in Beckerdite, "Philadelphia Carving Shops: Hercules Courtenay and his Shop," Antiques (May, 1987), p.1052. For more on the Powel House Drawing Room carving see Wainwright, Colonial Grandeur in Philadelphia: The House and Furniture of General John Cadwalader (Philadelphia, 1964), p.96-99.
It is not difficult to imagine the space for which this chest-on-chest appears to have been created. Vincent Loockerman's 1785 inventory, lists this piece in his Parlour Chamber, the primary bedroom located on the second floor above the Parlour. This chest is listed as "a large Mahogany Chest of drawers (Chest upon Chest)" and is valued at L10:10 (see fig. 1). The chest's placement in the Parlour Chamber would be expected as these pieces were traditionally used as receptacles for bed and other linens. In the same room were two beds fully fitted with curtains and "all of the furniture appertaining and belonging," a pair of andirons and fire tools, 6 walnut chairs with damask bottoms, 1 arm chair, one large walnut dressing table, two window curtains and one large looking glass. The Parlour Chamber contains the most costly possessions of any interior room, even more so than the the Parlour which includes the contents of two "Beaufets."
The chest's first owner, Vincent Emerson Loockerman resided in Dover but was well known to Philadelphia's craftsmen. Benjamin Randolph's receipt and account books document purchases by Loockerman (Phildelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), p.127) and a pair of brass andirons in his inventory are attributed to Daniel King (see Sack, American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, vol.3, p.626, fig.1414). Other known furnishings from the Loockerman house include a pembroke table from the "Parlour," a pair of drop-leaf dining tables also from the "Parlour," a dressing table from the same "Parlour Chamber," an arm chair Signed by B. Randolph from the "Blue Room upStairs," and a Secretary Bookcase from the "Back Room" (these pieces were sold at Sotheby's New York, "The Contents of Langdon," February 2, 1985, lots 1139, 1145, 1150, 1156, 1163, the dining tables were subsequently sold in these Rooms, October 18, 1996, lot 144). Another chair listed in Loockerman's inventory from the "Blue Room," attributed to Benjamin Randolph, was illustrated in Sack, American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, January 1970, p.617-8, fig.1400.
THE LOOCKERMAN FAMILY
Govert Loockermans came to New York from Holland in 1633. His only son Jacob became a doctor and moved to Delaware in 1681, leaving a farm that is thought to have encompassed the land on the current site of the New York Stock Exchange. It was Jacob's son Nicholas, who built the Loockermans Manor house that still stands in Dover, and who became one of the largest landowners in Kent County.
Vincent Loockerman, Nicholas' only child, was a prominent merchant and landowner, an important civic figure and an ardent Whig in the Revolution. Between 1752 and 1785, he was a member of the General Assembly of the three lower counties of Delaware, the Committee of Correspondence, and the Governor's Council of Delaware State. His numerous contributions to his state and country included lending L750 on December 16, 1777 to the State to purchase clothing for the Delaware Regiment at Valley Forge and donating land to the town of Dover in 1778 for the first Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of North and Queen Streets.
This chest-on-chest was inherited by Elizabeth Loockerman Bradford, Vincent's daughter from his second wife Elizabeth Pryor. Elizabeth, who married Dr. Thomas Bradford in 1805 and their son Thomas B. Bradford, a Presbyterian Minister who inherited the piece. Thomas was known to later generations as the man who in 1852, laid out "Bradford City," the land contiguous to the old town directly north of Loockerman Street, into residential building lots. He also built houses on State Street and cottages on Bradford Street (Scharf's History, p.1049 and Cannon, "The Loockermans Manor House Near Dover," in Delaware History, vol.III (Wilmington, 1948-9), p.27-104). The chest-on-chest descended in the Bradford family until the twentieth century, when it was bought from the widow of Gene Bradford by the owner of "Langdon," and subsequently sold at auction in 1985.