In Focus

Chest of drawers [1985.B.31], 18th century, Boston

The following essay is from the 1989 publication American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, by Charles L. Venable.

Although this type of chest of drawers was originally a costly piece of furniture due to the use of imported mahogany and a labor-intensive blocked facade, it was quite popular among Boston's upper class. Since large numbers of them survive which differ in construction and design details, it is likely that several Boston shops produced this form of blocked or "swelled" chest of drawers. At present two of these shops have been identified. One was the large Charlestown workshop of Benjamin Frothingham (1734-1809) across the river from Boston, the other that of George Bright (1726-1805).

Aspects of this chest relate to documented examples from both of these shops. For example, the overall proportions, straight bracket feet, and lack of a giant dovetail are seen in the work of Frothingham. The use of shaped rear foot braces which are inset from the back of the case, slotted into the rear legs, and cut to fit around the horizontal support blocks, are known on a documented chest by Bright. However, since both these shops trained numerous apprentices who undoubtedly worked in more than one Boston shop, all of these features were probably used in several shops simultaneously. Consequently, this chest cannot be attributed to any particular Boston shop at present.

Besides characteristic construction details, other aspects of this chest of drawers indicate a Boston origin. The mid-19th century Boston and Worcester newspapers which line the drawers suggest that the piece was owned in the Boston area. Furthermore, the back of the chest is branded "D. SCOTT." While the identity of D. Scott is not indisputable, it is likely that the brand is that of Daniel Scott, a wealthy Boston apothecary. When Scott died in 1782, an extensive inventory of his estate was taken. Listed among his household furnishings was "1 Beaureau £ 150" "1 Case Drawers £360," and "1 old Case Drawers [£]9." According to a 1770 bill for a similar chest of drawers, the word bureau was used to describe such pieces, along with the term bureau table, dressing table, low case of drawers, and low chest of drawers. Consequently, either the "Beaureau" or case of drawers listed in Scott's inventory could describe this chest.

Excerpted from:

Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, published in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 57.