Displaying excellence in design, workmanship and condition, this bureau table stands as a rare and important survival of colonial Newport's celebrated block-and-shell aesthetic. Furthermore, with decorative details closely related to the work of John Goddard (1723-1785) and his brother-in-law Edmund Townsend (1736-1811), the bureau provides key evidence of the woodworking practices of these renowned cabinetmakers.
The bureau shares a number of unusual details with a bureau attributed to Goddard that descended in the family of his daughter, Catherine (Sotheby's New York, January 23, 2005, lot 1203). These features include seemingly identical arched cupboard doors with relatively broad raised panels and framed with the sides enclosed by the top and bottom members. From available evidence, all other arched doors on Newport bureau tables from this era are framed in the opposite manner, with the top and bottom members fitting between the sides. In addition, these two bureaus are the only two known with a deep, continuous skirt molding that is integral to the blocked foot facings. The blocking on the facings of both bureaus has an upright profile and terminates in similar, solid volutes. And, while the interior of the Goddard family convex shells are cross-hatched, the shells are identical in all other aspects. As the most idiosyncratic details are shared by this bureau, an attribution to Goddard is the most convincing.
However, the shells are immediately recognizable as the type favored by Edmund Townsend and, while Goddard may have made similar shells, it is possible that Edmund contributed to the production of this bureau. Carved in a full semi-circle with a bar across the petal interior, the shells are like those on the two known forms labeled or signed by Edmund Townsend (1736-1811), the bureau made for John Deshon and now privately owned (fig. 1) and another now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport (Tenafly, NJ, 1984), fig. 6.10). Despite being marked by the same cabinetmaker, the Deshon and MFA bureaus vary in a number of decorative and construction details and in most points of disparity, the practices seen on the Dehson example are also seen on the bureau table offered here. Both have top moldings with an extra cove under the bead, arched panel doors in the recess, beading applied to the drawer divider above the recesses, and, as seen on the Goddard bureau discussed above, upright blocking on the knee brackets that terminate in solid, circular volutes. Related, but not as closely as that on the attributed Goddard bureau discussed above, arched panel doors are seen on at least three other bureau tables attributed to Edmund Townsend (fig. 2; Michael Moses, figs. 7.12-7.14). These practices contrast with those seen in the MFA bureau.
As both Edmund and Goddard trained in the shop of Edmund's father, Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1762), it is not surprising that their products are closely related. It is also possible that this bureau illustrates a the work of both men working in partnership as Townsend-Goddard family cabinetmakers are known to have collaborated on single pieces. The accounts of Edmund's brother, Job Townsend, Jr. (1726-1778), include a "Large Mahogony [sic] Desk" credited to both Job, Jr. and Edmund (Moses, p. 268; Martha H. Willoughby, "The Accounts of Job Townsend, Jr.," American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (The Chipstone Foundation, 1999), p. 144).
Such a partnership might also explain the unusual construction of the door, which, in its framework discussed above varies from the Newport norm as practiced by Edmund. Other notable features of the door include the joining of the framing members with slip-joints, instead of tenons, and evidence indicating that the door was originally fitted with small, prospect door hinges (see a bureau table signed by Daniel Goddard, Edmund's nephew, for another instance of the use of prospect door hinges on a cupboard door, Moses, fig. 6.13). These features may well point to the craftsmanship of John Goddard, who rarely identified his work and as such, whose practices are little understood today.
THE TIBBITS FAMILY OF RHODE ISLAND AND NEW YORK
Along with the portraits in the previous lot and the Philadelphia dressing table in lot 556, the bureau table descended to the present owner from Sarah (Sally) Bleecker Tibbits (1866-1947). Research into her ancestry reveals only one line from eighteenth-century Rhode Island and a likely first owner of the table was Sarah's great-great-grandfather, Captain John Tibbits (1737-1817) of Warwick, located just thirty miles from Newport across the Narragansett Bay. In 1760, he married Waite Brown (1741-1809), the widow of Sylvester Sweet and daughter of Elisha and Patience (Edmunds). By 1768, John Tibbits had moved to New Providence (now Cheshire), Massachusetts, where he was among the town's first settlers (Ellen M. Raynor, History of the Town of Cheshire (Holyoke, MA, 1885), pp. 26, 203). He served in the Revolutionary War and, by 1780, was in New York, where he resided in several locations in the Troy-Albany area. In 1800, he, along with his wife, two grown children and their spouses, traveled a treacherous route in an open boat via various waterways to Lisbon, St. Lawrence County, New York where he spent the rest of his life. As the account of his voyage to Lisbon noted that the party took only what they could carry and as the bureau table was later owned by his descendants in Troy, John Tibbits probably left the bureau table with his son, George Tibbits (1763-1849; fig. 3) before he set out for Lisbon (Samuel W. Durant, History of St. Lawrence Co., New York (Philadelphia, 1878), p. 269).
George Tibbits began his prominent career at the age of 21, when he established what would become an immensely successful mercantile business in Lansingburgh and later Troy, New York. In 1787, he married Sarah Noyes (1767-1846) of Charleston, South Carolina. Retiring from the private sector in 1804, he focused on political pursuits and served in both the US House of Representatives and New York State Senate. Later, he was instrumental in the key civic ventures concerning Troy, including prison reform, the passing of protective tariffs and the building of the Erie Canal in 1824. In the latter capacity, he personally greeted the Marquis de Lafayette upon his visit to Troy during his 1824-1825 tour. From 1830 to 1836, George Tibbits served as the Mayor of Troy and is buried in the City's Oakwood Cemetery (Cuyler Reynolds, ed., Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, vol. I (New York, 1911), pp. 329-340; George Baker Anderson, Landmarks of Rensselaer County, New York (Syracuse, NY, 1897), p. 253).
During his lifetime, George Tibbits acquired vast landholdings, including a country estate, "White House Manor," in Hoosick, New York. His son, George Mortimer Tibbits (1798-1878) inherited the manor and presumably the bureau table. George M. Tibbits added to the family's real estate, which now includes the 850-acre Tibbits State Forest, and in 1860 built a Gothic-Revival mansion, which today serves as the administrative offices of the Hoosac School (Grace Greylock Niles, The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History (New York, 1912), p. 248-249; for images of the Gothic-Revival mansion, including a painted scene by Will Moses, the grandson of Grandma Moses, see www.hoosickfalls.com/community/hoosacfrm.htm). From George M., the bureau table appears to have descended to his son, Charles Edward Dudley Tibbits (1834-1924) and then to his daughter, Sarah Bleecker Tibbits (fig. 4), a prominent figure in Troy society and from whose estate it descended to the present consignor.