Desk and bookcase

Attributed to

Nathaniel Gould ( American, 1714 - 1782 )

c. 1770–1776
more object details

General Description

Column-like pilasters flanking the arch-paneled doors, massive scale, bold carving, and gleaming brass hardware combine to create an object that approaches architecture in its solidity and scale. As the exterior suggests the complexity of a building, the interior, with its drawers, shelves, and compartments, served as the organizational center for a powerful merchant. Bills, accounts, shipping receipts, orders, and inventories were easily organized in its shelves and niches, while private documents, maps, rolled charts, and books fit neatly into its lower drawers.

Colonel Joseph Sprague, the first owner of this desk, was among the richest and most powerful men of Colonial Salem. An import-export businessman, stock owner, and investor, he must have made good use of this luxurious piece of architectural furniture in organizing his business affairs.

While scholarly essays published by Dr. Charles Venable in his 1989 catalog American Furniture in the Bybee Collection attribute this object to Henry Rust, further investigation and extensive research conducted beginning in March 2006 by Kemble Widner and Joyce King reattribute this work to the workshop of well-known cabinetmaker Nathaniel Gould. This groundbreaking scholarship attributed and reattributed objects to Gould in collections all over the U.S., including the Metropolitan in New York, and culminated in the exhibition "In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould" at The Peabody-Essex Museum in 2015.

Adapted from

  • Kevin W. Tucker, DMA unpublished material, Label text (1985.B.27.A-B), 2006.

  • Attribution note (1985.B.27.A-B), July 2016.

Fun Facts

This complex piece was constructed by fitting several hundred pieces of shaped wood together into one grand architectonic design.

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