PROPERTY OF A NEW ENGLAND FAMILY
Edward Allen (1737-1803) of Salem, Massachusetts;
Thence by descent to Teresa Lovering Merriam (b. May 11, 1880) of Nahant, Massachusetts. She was the only child of Frank (1850-1924) and Teresa Beatrice Lovering Merriam (1854-1877) and likely inherited this chest from them;
At her death, to the family of the present owner.
Representing a sophisticated regional case form made in eastern Massachusetts during the eighteenth century, this bombé chest-on-chest has recently emerged from obscurity to stand as an important example of North Shore craftsmanship as well as an extremely rare survival of its form. Made of thick boldly figured mahogany and meticulously constructed, it displays a dramatic design heightened by the sculptural modeling of the lower case drawer fronts and carved elements of the upper case, all enhanced by the placement of its Rococo batwing brasses. This chest has survived in remarkable condition, with its original finials and brasses as well as an old and possibly original finish and most of its original glue blocks under the feet. It retains many of its original chalk shop markings all by the same hand, such as "Back Hood" on the upper backboard, drawer numbering system and the name of its original owner. In addition, it has remained on the North Shore since it was made and has never been exhibited or published.
Inscribed "Edward Allen" on its backboards, this chest-on-chest appears to have been originally owned by the prosperous Salem merchant and shipmaster, Edward Allen (1737-1803), who came to America from Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1757, working first as a mariner before entering into the mercantile trade. Captain Allen commanded the schooner Baltick and Industry, the ship Antelope, the brig Neptune, and others engaged in coastwise and foreign trade. On January 18, 1759, he married Ruth (1728-1774), the widow of Israel Gardner and daughter of Gamaliel Hodges, and sister of the wife of Richard Derby. After her death in 1774, he married Margaret Lockart (d. 1808) of North Carolina in 1778. He and his family lived in Salem at a house located at 125 Derby Street, at the corner of Hardy Street, which still stands today. His shop, located next door, also still stands. He died on July 27, 1803 at age 68 and this chest is likely the "high case drawers" listed in his estate inventory, dated January 16, 1805, at the value of $18.1 He had ten children: Edward (1763-1845), who married Anna Fisk (1770-1826) in 1798; Sarah, who married Stephen Webb in Salem in 1779; Ruth Hodges (1759-1849), who married Thomas Porter of Topsfield in 1785; Alice (b. 1765), who married Captain Josiah Orne (d. 1825) of Salem in 1786; Alexander (1778-1804); John (1779-1814); Sally (d. age 7); Jordan (1781-1797); Nancy (1784-1806); and Betsy (1787-1827). This chest descended to Teresa Lovering Merriam (b. 1880) of Nahant, Massachusetts, who never married and died without issue in the mid-20th century. At her death, she gifted her house and its contents to ancestors of the present owner. As one of the children of Frank Merriam (1850-1924) and Teresa Beatrice Lovering Merriam (1854-1877) (Her sister Mary did not remain in the state), she presumably inherited the Nahant house and its content from her parents.
With its swan's neck pediment, urn and flame finials, fan-carved central drawer flanked by drawers paralleling the shape of the cornice, fluted pilasters, and shaped lower case, this chest-on-chest follows a classic eastern Massachusetts chest-on-chest design although it exhibits a bombé lower case rather than the more commonly found blockfront treatment. While its ogee feet, horizontal graining, shaped skirt pendant, and rear foot brackets are typical of Boston work, this chest displays many characteristics associated with the craft traditions of the North Shore and was probably commissioned there from a local maker. The extremely fine finishing, circles articulated within the interior of the projecting pediment molding and swelled brackets with modified astragal profiles are of a type associated with cabinetwork originating from the Salem/Marblehead area while the base rail and drawer supports nailed to the case bottom typify local craftsmanship as well. The maker utilized bombé construction techniques dating to the middle to later period of the development of the bombé form. These include the inner surfaces of the lower case sides that are planed in a continuous curve that parallels the outer case side surfaces with drawer sides of conforming shape. The refinement of design and craftsmanship attest to the extensive craft background, excellent bench skills and thorough knowledge of materials of this chest's maker, who was undoubtedly one of the finest artisans working in the area.
Several details found on this chest are distinctive, such as the holes cut into the backboards of the upper and lower case with oxidation evidence suggesting that they were cut at a very early date, possibly when this chest was made or soon after. The chest also displays an unusual inverted swelled molding above the capitals of its pilasters. This same molding appears on several other North Shore chest-on-chests including one with a blockfront lower case at Yale University stamped by Nathaniel Treadwell of Beverly.2 The Treadwell chest displays additional similarities to the present chest in its drawer arrangement of the upper case, fan carving, and identical brass hardware. Another example with an oxbow lower case at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is signed by the Marblehead cabinetmakers Nathan Bowen and Ebenezer Martin and dated February 26, 1780.3 A third chest-on-chest at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with a blockfront lower case displays a fan-carved skirt pendant similar to that associated with Salem work.4
Only six bombé chest-on-chests are known today. One made by John Cogswell of Boston in 1782 is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.5 Leigh Keno, Inc. sold a very similar example attributed to John Cogswell to a private collector. A fourth chest-on-chest is in the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.6 A near mate to the Colonial Williamsburg example with a history in the Hooper family of Marblehead was sold at Skinner on November 1, 2003. Another example attributed to Boston sold at Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., The Lansdell K. Christie Collection of Notable American Furniture, October 21, 1972, lot 63 is currently in the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art. Of the extant chests in this group, the present chest-on-chest and the three aforementioned examples share many similarities and perhaps reflect a common shop tradition.
Three Salem case pieces associated with the cabinetmaker Henry Rust (1737-1812) display hardware of an identical pattern: a bombé chest of drawers at Winterthur Museum, a fall front blockfront desk incised "H x Rust" and a desk-and-bookcase signed "Nath Gould not his work."7 Comparable brackets are featured on an oxbow chest of drawers at the State Department attributed to the Salem cabinetmaker, John Chipman (1746-1819), and originally owned by Samuel Gray (1760-1819), the Salem merchant.8
1 Massachusetts Archives, Essex County Probate, Docket 394. Will, Volume 371, p. 129. Inventory, Volume 372, p. 321.
2 See Gerald Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University, New Haven, 1988, no. 79, pp. 167-8.
3 See Richard Randall, American Furniture in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1965, no. 41, pp. 50-2.
4 See ibid, no. 40, pp. 48-9.
5 See Walter Muir Whitehill, Boston Furniture of the Eighteenth Century, Boston, 1974, fig. 125.
6 See Barry Greenlaw, New England Furniture at Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, 1974, no. 81.
7 See Nancy Richards and Nancy Evans, New England Furniture at Winterthur, 1997, no. 185, pp. 377-8; The Magazine Antiques (May 1977): 845 and Morrison Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, no. 181.
8 See Alexandra Rollins and Clement Conger, Treasures of State, New York, 1991, no. 63, pp. 146-7.
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