In Focus

John Doggett, Looking glasses

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

In 1806, John Doggett established a "Looking Glass and Picture Frame Gilding Factory" near Boston in Roxbury, Massachusetts. During the next decade this enterprise grew into perhaps the largest firm of its kind in America. Probably trained as a cabinetmaker, Doggett undoubtedly did much of the framing, carving, and gilding of his products himself. However, he also employed a substantial number of apprentices and specialty craftsmen. The decorative painter John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), for example, probably painted the reverse paintings on glass in the tops of these looking glasses.

Large, rectangular looking glasses like these with inset painted scenes and gilt neoclassical ornament were patterned on English examples. The silvered glass they hold was often imported from Paris. The use of imported glass, gold leaf, and many hours of labor meant that such glasses were expensive. In 1807, for example, Doggett recorded in his account book that he sold a pair of looking glasses identical in size to these to the wealthy Boston merchant, Andrew Cunningham. Cunningham paid the enormous sum of $327 for his pair. Although expensive, looking glasses like those seen here and simpler versions of them were popular among America's wealthy elite. Numerous related examples have survived.

The demand for such glasses allowed Doggett to sell his products outside the Boston area. Doggett's account books reveal that he sent numerous looking glasses on consignment to merchants in cities as far afield as Montreal and New Orleans. He also supplied raw materials such as gilt balls, gold leaf, glue, and glass to other looking-glass makers from Portland, Maine, to New York City.

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), 93.