The form, materials and design of this piece reflect the strong influence of Germanic traditions in Pennsylvania. The fall-front secretary, or secrétaire a abattant, was a form perfected in France in the second quarter of the eighteenth century but especially favored by journeymen working in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia in the early nineteenth century. In America, the form was most popular in Philadelphia, with prominent families such as the Girard, Gratz, Kuhn and Gilpin owning examples before 1830.
This example relates to a group of seven secretaires from an unidentified Philadelphia shop displaying features based on a German prototype. Such features include columns that stop half-way down the piece, changing to pilasters in the lower section. The piece is further bisected by the orientation of doors, with the central fall on the upper half being horizontal and those on the bottom half being vertical. The architectural structure placed at the top, on which a mantel clock was commonly placed above a sloping base is a particularly German aesthetic, as is evident from surviving pattern books and Continental examples. The use of light-colored contrasting veneers, such as bird's-eye maple in the present example, both on the exterior and interiors, was widely employed in northern Germany and Scandinavia. Finally, the almost identical construction of the drawers, carcass and back point to a single shop working with Germanic techniques (Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection (Austin, 1989), pp. 100-103).
In addition to the piece in the Bybee collection, one of the secretaries from this group is in the Kaufman collection (see J. Michael Flanigan, American Furniture in the Kaufman Collection (Washington, D.C., 1986), p. 222, no. 91); two were sold at auction (Christie's, New York, 23 May 1985, lot 183; and Sotheby's, New York, 26-28 January 1988, lot 1478) and two more remain in private hands.