The John Widdifield Manuscript – Some Good News

imageAt the end of August we learned about the auction of the manuscript of John Widdifield (1673-1720) an early joiner in Philadelphia. The manuscript includes measurements and prices for furniture, sketches for a spice box (above), a writing desk and a chest-on frame. There are also instructions for sharpening tools and recipes and tips for staining and varnishing. Some of Widdifield’s descendants added to the manuscripts.

The sales estimate for the September 17 auction was $15,000-$25,000 and after very brisk bidding sold for $75,000, including the buyer’s premium. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and Winterthur Museum partnered in bidding in an effort to keep the manuscript in the Philadelphia area, but they were outbid by a private collector.

The good news: Widdifield’s manucript will be published in the Chipstone Foundation journal American Furniture and will also be posted online. Chipstone will work with the digital content group at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to put the entire manuscript online, searchable by keyword and available to researchers at no cost.

As Chris has written several times in this blog these kinds of manuscripts are rare. It is even rarer to have this type of document published in a relatively short period of time after acquisition.

So, a great big thank you to the private collector who chose to share this important document. I could kiss you!

Suzanne Ellison

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10 Responses to The John Widdifield Manuscript – Some Good News

  1. waltamb says:

    Wonderful news, I’m sure you will keep us posted once it is available on line.

  2. Jamie says:

    Excellent! Thank you for keeping us up to date.

  3. hughjengine says:


  4. Richard O. Byrne says:

    Go Badgers…Byrne ’66. Chipstone does great things as does LAP.

  5. tsstahl says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but would anyone care to comment on the relevance of American Furniture to the average hobbyist woodworker?


    • John Vernier says:

      Honestly, I’m not sure who the “average hobbyist woodworker” is, but if a few pages of obscure scrawlings by an 18th-century cabinetmaker make your ears prick up, then American Furniture is well worth your checking out. It is a thick annual volume devoted to the study of early American furniture, its makers, and the context of its surrounding culture. No plans or how-tos, but studies of stylistic groups, documents, etc. The quality of the photography is outstanding, often with a lot of attention paid to details of construction. It’s not a casual read, but it can draw you in to serious study if you are willing to give it some attention.

    • Richard O. Byrne says:

      The gift of a master’s skills and experience that went before us is perhaps the most important gift one can receive. There is way too much total ignorance in the hobbyist woodworking clan. You can hardly grow tall trees with shallow roots, nor look like a master when you are a bastard without a father to guide you.
      Richard O. Byrne

  6. Glad to hear this manuscript will see the light of day. I would build some W&M furniture if it were up to me, but it would have to stay in the shop, because my wife wouldn’t allow it in the house!

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