Original Plans for an 18th-century Spice Box. Starting at $15,000

Early price sheets, notes on shop practice and shop drawings from the early 18th century are quite rare. So it’s a bit amazing to see that Swann Galleries in New York City will be selling documents from joiner John Widdifield (1673-1720), who was one of the first Philadelphia furniture makers to offer pieces in the William & Mary style.

The documents include stuff we’d all like to see. I mean, good God, man. This is stuff that is only 25 years after Joseph Moxon (the first English-language book on woodworking). Here is a bit from the auction description:

The first 26 pages are devoted to sets of measurements and prices for furniture forms ranging from clock cases to stools, cradles to coffins. He also includes sketches of three pieces: a spice box, a scrutoire (writing desk), and a “chest of wallnutt drawers upon a fraime.”

Also intriguing:

On the verso of page 2 he records detailed instructions for keeping his tools at optimal sharpness.

And for the finishing nerds:

The second section is titled “The Arte of Coloring, Staining & Varnishing According to My Owne Experience.” It includes recipes for numerous types of varnishes; pages 65 and 72 include directions for the japanned lacquers which were becoming popular in that era. Page 71 gives directions for a finish “to put on maps on fraimes or boards.”

The auction is Sept. 17. Previews of the auction items are listed on Swann’s web site here. The pre-sale estimate is $15,000 to $25,000. No I won’t be there, and no, I won’t be bidding. But if any of you pick this up I know a publishing company that would be happy to consider republishing it.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Hat tip to Suzanne Ellison for sending me the auction listing.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to Original Plans for an 18th-century Spice Box. Starting at $15,000

  1. frpaulas says:

    I’m willing to contribute so LAP can purchase the book as an asset.

  2. turnerjf says:

    I’d gladly make a contribution also! 15-20k is a bit out of my reach 😉

  3. luce32 says:

    If you re-publish the book I’ll buy a copy from you.

  4. azezo1 says:

    I would definitely contribute funds so LAP can acquire these documents.

  5. ctregan says:


  6. waltamb says:

    OH my… I hope it is not too late…

    Some in our craft needs to nab this then share.

    What if we all chip in, you know start a Go Fund me or a Quick Starter for like $50K and make sure we win it???

    “The second section is titled “The Arte of Coloring, Staining & Varnishing According to My Owne Experience.” It includes recipes for numerous types of varnishes; “.

  7. I’d also be willing to do the crowdsource purchase and then pay for a reprint.

  8. Paul Sidener says:

    That would be a wonderful book for you to get a hold of. I hope you can find out who buys it. I would love a copy of it. Best of luck.

  9. abtuser says:

    I’d crowdsource contribute. But….it would be a little tight at this time.

  10. Ed Clarke says:

    We might not be able to compete with collectors to get the original, but someone owns it right now. Are there any professional photographers in NYC reading this? Perhaps we could pay the owner for the right to take photographs of the pages.

    After all, LAP doesn’t need the original rare manuscript, it only needs the information in it.

    • waltamb says:

      Chris, how many copies do you think you could sell?
      100? 1000. 10,000?
      Especially once the entire contents are revealed, it sounds like it is not just about making a Spice Box.

  11. Justin Tyson says:

    I would contribute to a crowdfunding effort. This manuscript looks worthy of seeing the light of day.

  12. Bob says:

    I would kick in too! That would be an amazing book for you to publish Chris!

  13. avhb says:

    This sounds like something rare enough that the Smithsonian or Winterthur would be interested — although who knows what state their acquisition budgets are in these days. Perhaps it might be worth writing to Swann and asking them to advise the purchaser that the premier historical woodworking publisher is interested in publishing an annotated facsimile of the MS, and would they kindly get in touch with C. Schwarz.

  14. Frank says:

    Thanks for yet another intriguing post, Chris!
    Just one thing bothered me, to be honest, and I must mention it. You never bring religion into your articles, so could we then also keep the blaspheming out, kindly? It’s like cold water in ones’ face, perhaps more so because we very, very seldom encounter it in your blog entries.
    Thanks otherwise for a wonderful educational blog!
    Cape Town

    • Frank, I am afraid you are going to be disappointed in me again on this point.

      What you call blasphemy, I consider gentle idiom in our society. This blog will continue to run with this form of idiom, I’m afraid. So you might want to remove us from your feed if it upsets you.


      • Frank says:

        If you call using God Almighty’s name in vain a “gentle idiom in our society”, let it be on your consciousness, I’ve done my bit. And please, Chris, its not me calling it blasphemy, He is very clear on the definition.
        Chris, I love this blog and will keep following it. As I mentioned, these occurrences are very, very seldom, once perhaps every two, three years. Just feel its out of place and uncalled for in this wonderful blog. We are a global woodworking family after all!

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