The Thomas Robinson Walnut Veneered Dressing TableAs the provenance denotes, this lot descended from Newport merchant Thomas Robinson (1731-1817) into the Wharton, Wanton and Smith families of Newport and Philadelphia. RobinsonÕs, William (1793-1751), father was twice governor of Rhode Island. Other pieces from the Thomas Robinson that were passed to his descendants sold in 2005 at ChristieÕs Americana sale (lots 544-551). Headlining this group was a Queen Anne Mahogany Tray-Top Tea Table (lot 550), which has the same provenance as the lowboy offered here.
Boston, Massachusetts, 1735-1755
H. 31 _ in.; W. 33 in.; D. 21 _ in.
The rectangular overhanging two board white pine top veneered with four book-matched rectangular highly-figured veneered panels enclosed by light and dark wood stringing edging a double band of herringbone veneer, a border of cross-banded walnut veneer with a convex-molded walnut edge. The case below fitted with an arrangement of two short drawers above a pair of deep short drawers centered by a deep drawer with concave inlaid light wood fan motif. All drawers with a book-matched crotch walnut veneered panels enclosed by light and dark wood stringing and a double band of herringbone inlay and all fitted with original Queen Anne brasses. The veneered skirt with a pair of flat arches flanking a wider central flat arch that conforms to the concave drawer above. With turned acorn drop pendants, the sides of the case, each with book-matched walnut veneer, on cabriole legs ending in pad feet.
Secondary wood: (visual) white pine.
Condition and Construction Notes:
The piece has survived in an extraordinary state of preservation. The surface retains a warm mellow patina. The Queen Anne brasses and turned drop pendants appear to be original. The right drop pendant was missing the bead terminal. It was replaced by Robert Fileti Restoration in June, 2003. The left side front knee return appears to be an old replacement. A veneered patch measuring approximately 1Ó x 1_Ó has been replaced on the veneered skirt of the central arch. A single strip of veneered banding measuring 2 _Ó on the upper right of the central drawer has been re-glued. A small piece of veneer measuring 1Ó x _Ó at the lower left corner adjacent to the stringing has been re-glued.
The core of the top is constructed from two white pine boards measuring 16 _Ó and 5 1/8Ó in width respectively. The larger board has several small holes from hand-wrought nails. The smaller board has three larger holes from hand-wrought nails. It is clear from the nail patterns on these boards that the holes were made before the two boards were joined together (for instance the small nail holes on the larger board run off the edge but do not continue onto the conjoining smaller board Ð proof that the board was cut down from a larger previously-used board during the original construction of the dressing table from the mid 18th century). Interestingly, an almost identical veneered dressing table from the same shop, that descended in the Bartlett-Brown families and which has an accompanying high chest (see ÒnotesÓ and attached photograph), exhibits random holes on the underside of its two-board white pine top, suggesting that this reuse of material was a shop practice. Clearly, none of the holes on either piece had been used for attachment of the respective tops to other bases.
The top was originally attached to the case with seven nails. All nail attachment evidence corresponds between the top and the base. Four of the nails above each of the four corner posts have been removed and the resulting holes filled with a plug.
At some point the top was also glued and some glue evidence remains on both the top and the base. Also, eight dowels were used to re-secure the top to the case (eight corresponding holes were drilled into the substructure of the top to receive the dowels).
This previously unrecorded dressing table is among the best veneered examples known. The scale and proportion as well as the choice of crotch walnut veneers, light and dark fan inlay and fully veneered sides are rare. It exhibits classic mid 18th century Boston characteristics such as a veneered rectangular top, molded on all four sides, the concave fan-decorated central drawer above the stepped flat valences with typical acorn pendants.
A dressing table that descended in the Bartlett-Brown families of Newburyport, Massachusetts that is part of an en suite arrangement of dressing table and bonnet-top high chest (please see photo) is almost identical in design and proportion and is clearly from the same shop. For instance, the distinctive pattern in the veneer of the high chest on the skirt just below the fan-inlaid drawer matches the same as that found in the same area on the dressing table --- something the cabinetmaker consciously did. Both are masterpieces of early Boston cabinetwork. The inscription ÒJonathan MoultonÓ in chalk on the high chest of this en suite pair may refer to a former owner, possibly a member of the Moulton family of Newburyport, Massachusetts. The dressing table differs only in the dovetail construction. The two tables have very similar leg profiles and inlaid drawer fans, the herringbone and stringing on the tops of the two dressing tables are almost identical to each other and are clearly produced in the same shop. A Queen Anne walnut and walnut veneer lowboy that descended in the Robert Hooper family and illustrated in American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, Volume lX closely relates to the present example. It displays a similar form with similar characteristics such as a top with panels of crotch grain veneer, bordered by veneered bands in the same manner as the drawers, however the central drawer features a gilded shell in a gilt background, and the pendant drops have flame tips. A lowboy in the collection at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that relates to the present example features the five drawers bordered with herringbone bands, however the smaller central drawer above the ogival arch on the skirt lacks the concave inlaid seven-lobe fan motif.
A label attached to the inner front skirt reads ÒOld family piece which has always/ been in the house so far as we know/ Feet called Òcamel feetÓ/ AWS/ 1897Ó.
Recent research has confirmed family descent from the inventory of the personal estate of Thomas Robinson (1730 Ð 1817), Newport, RI. Probate dated December 6, 1817, vol.5, page 418.;
to his daughter Mary Robinson, who married John Morton;
to their daughter Esther Morton, who married Daniel B.Smith;
to their son Benjamin R. Smith, who married Esther Fisher Wharton (the daughter of William Wharton and Deborah Fisher from Philadelphia);
to their son Edward Wanton Smith (the Wantons were shipbuilders from Scituate, MA), who married Dorothea Atwater, and also the brother of Anna Wharton Smith;
to their daughter Deborah Lutman Paul;
to her children Richard, Edward and Mary Smith;
by the family to Gustav White Auction, Newport, RI, May 21, 2003, lot 155.
Estimate: $120,000 - $180,000
Condition: Retains a warm mellow patina with much of its original finish intact. The brasses appear to be original. the Acorn drop pendants appear to be original.