IMPORTANT PHILADELPHIA FURNITURE FROM DESCENDANTS OF THE WHEELER FAMILY
James Reynolds was regularly contracted for his work by Thomas Affleck, the Philadelphia cabinetmaker who likely made this dressing table. A dressing table and two high chests are known with similar construction and carving, All exhibit the unusual and distinctive detail of fluted quarter columns that start at the same height as the lower drawer bottoms, rather than close to the knees. The related dressing table in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art once belonged to James Read of Delaware.2 It displays a nearly identical shell carved drawer and a similarly shaped top. A high chest donated by Henry Francis du Pont to the American Museum in Bath, England also exhibits the same shell-carved drawer, but offers a more elaborate skirt profile and lacks the V-shaped dart with a flower head.3 Another related high chest with a very similar shell carved drawer and skirt profile has a history of descent in the Eckard family from the Signer George Read (1733-1798). It sold at Sotheby Parke Bernet and is currently in the collection of the Sewall C. Biggs Museum of American Art.4
This dressing table was owned in the 19th century by Colonel Thomas Alexander Scott (1823-1881), Assistant Secretary of War to President Abraham Lincoln, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and founder of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. He was born on December 28, 1823, in Fort Loudon, Pennsylvania, the 7th child of Thomas Scott and his wife, Rebecca (Douglas). His father ran a stagecoach line and Thom’s Scott’s Tavern on the Franklin County turnpike between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Though his formal education was limited, Scott was well read and educated himself through books.
In 1840, he began working as a clerk in the State of Pennsylvania's office in Columbia, Pennsylvania. In 1850, he began his long career at the Pennsylvania Railroad as a station agent in Duncansville. After receiving numerous promotions, Scott became general superintendent of the railroad in the 1850s. In 1859, he became first vice president in charge of all operations and was a close advisor to J. Edgar Thomson, the company’s president. As he ascended the corporate ladder, Scott discovered and personally mentored a young Andrew Carnegie, who also rose quickly through the ranks of the railroad.
During the Civil War, Scott served as Assistant Secretary of War in charge of supervising all government railways and transportation lines.
Scott returned to the Pennsylvania Railroad as president of the western division. In 1874, he became president after the death of J. Edgar Thomson and was at the helm of the world’s largest railroad under one management. He went on to found the Texas and Pacific Railroad before retiring in 1880. He died on May 21, 1881, at Woodburne, his home near Darby, Pennsylvania. In 1992, he was inducted into the Railroad Hall of Fame.
1 Luke Beckerdite, “Pattern Carving in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover: Chipstone Foundation, 2014): fig. 42, p. 107.
2 Morrison Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Random House, 1985): pp. 252-3, no. 64.
3 Joseph Downs, American Furniture: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York: MacMillan Company, 1952): no. 196; Michael Podmaniczky, “Downs, no. 196: A Philadelphia Rococo High Chest,” American Museum in Britain, col. 41, pp. 15-19.
4 Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, Auction of American, November 8, 1975, sale 3804, lot 1258; Philip D. Zimmerman, The Sewell C. Biggs Collection of American Art, Volume I Decorative Arts (Dover, DE: Biggs Museum of American Art, 2002), pp. 100-1, no. 78.
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