This is an excerpt from “Mouldings in Practice” by Matthew Sheldon Bickford.
A Chippendale apple secretary desk and bookcase featuring triple-cusp scrolled returns. Colchester School, possibly Hebron or Lebanon, Conn., 1785-1805.
Dimensions: height: 76-5/8″, width of lower case: 42-1/8″, depth of lower case: 19-3/4″, width of upper case: 40″, depth of upper case: 10″, width of cornice: 42-7/8″, depth of cornice: 11-1/4″.
This Chippendale apple secretary desk and bookcase features subtle decoration executed with fine quality and strong lines. The tall and stable straight bracket feet are adorned with triple scrolls, featuring a large lobe, a small pointed return and a second smaller lobe. The graduated asymmetrical returns are a simple but effective design showing awareness of more sophisticated New London County furniture made in the urban centers of Norwich and New London. However, this secretary was made in the Colchester area, likely in the successful farming community of either Hebron or Lebanon. Instead of complex serpentine forms or carved decoration, the cabinetmaker relied on the inherent beauty of native apple. He relied on his skill at creating quality lines and form to exploit the interesting patterns within the material. The irregular nature of the grain in apple makes it a challenge to use in furniture. The reward is the beautiful figuring and warm reddish-yellow tone. The large at panels used in the bookcase display apple at its nest. Two bookmatched sections of apple are used for the two door panels, each with the pattern of striped figuring is set at complementary angles. To accentuate the natural beauty of the panels, the cabinetmaker has created a bold projecting cornice moulding. The layering of narrow and wide sections meets in the front corners with flaring lines pointing back toward the panels. The original owner of this secretary may have lived in a rural farming community, but he was successful enough to own books. Displayed in an 18th-century home, the secretary was a statement that the owner could read and write. This was an important status symbol at the time and was a sign of education, knowledge and success.
1 thought on “Chippendale Apple Secretary”
What a majestic piece of furniture. Solid base, tall reach and sleek elegance in the top section. Also I love the way they many times feature little cubbies and drawers with minute accurate joints on the small scale stock in the interior. Elegantly finished on top by the carefully molded cornice. Although not an element of great function, I certainly think something would be missing on a piece like this without it.
Contrary to many other pieces created to show wealth, taste, fashion and style, I do think – in my very subjective humble opinion – that a secretary like this does in fact have its own right and place in a more common household as well. Not that it has had that place historically, but I find it to be practical and for good use, as well as decorative. Maybe a future project?
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