The inscription “G. Claypoole 175__” found on the Stockton chest-on-chest during the Sotheby’s exhibition identifies this group of chests as being made by the George Claypoole shop, a multigenerational family of cabinetmakers active in Philadelphia for most of the eighteenth century. This shop is the focus of the article by Andrew Brunk, “The Claypoole Family Joiners of Philadelphia: Their Legacy and the Context of Their Work,” published in American Furniture 2002.2 The progenitor of the Philadelphia branch of the family, James Claypoole (1634-1687), was a successful London merchant, Quaker and close friend of William Penn who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1683. His son, Joseph (1677-1744), was the first in the family to enter the joiner’s trade and may have apprenticed to Edward Evans before establishing his own business by 1710. He trained two of his sons in the trade – George Sr. (1706-1793) and Josiah (1716/17-1757).
George Claypoole Sr. appears to have reached a significant status in the Philadelphia cabinetmaking community for in 1783, he paid $200 in occupational tax, an amount surpassed only by Thomas Affleck at $250 and matched only by Benjamin Randolph and William Cox. Although no objects survive with his label, bills of sale indicate he made a wide range of forms of varying prices for clients from the Quaker community, as well as other local patrons including Samuel Meredith (1741-1817), husband of Margaret Cadwalader (sister of John), for whom he made a large quantity of furniture. He most likely trained his son, George Jr. (d. 1793), who completed his apprenticeship about 1754, as well as Jonathan Gostelowe (1744-1795), who served his term during the late 1750s and early 1760s.
With their broken pediments terminating in carved rosettes, elaborate cartouches flanked by flame finials, shell-and-acanthus carved drawers and fluted quarter columns, these chest-on-chests are the most fully developed case forms associated with the Claypoole shop tradition. The cornice moldings have the same pattern of ovolo and astragal elements as a high chest signed by Joseph Claypoole in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.3 The drawers are made of mahogany veneer with applied cockbeading like the aforementioned high chest. A high chest with this cornice molding and a history in the Penn family in a private collection is also thought to be the work of Joseph Claypoole or George Claypoole.4 The ogee bracket feet and shaped knee returns follow those of a chest-on-chest in a private collection that is also believed to be the work of Joseph or George Claypoole.5 Knee returns of the same shape are found on a desk-and-bookcase at Tryon Palace Historic Sites and Gardens linked to this family of craftsmen.6
The carver for the three chests has been identified as Nicholas Bernard, an accomplished carver who was influenced and perhaps trained by Samuel Harding. These chests retain their original cartouches, which are nearly identical and collectively represent Bernard’s most sculptural work. They follow the pattern of a cartouche found on a chest-on-chest in the collection of the Historical Society of Dauphin County with carving attributed to Bernard.7 Nicholas Bernard was executing similar shell-and-acanthus carving as that seen on the drawers by November 15, 1753, the date inscribed on a high chest of drawers at Colonial Williamsburg with his carving and the signature of the Philadelphia cabinetmaker Henry Clifton.8 The latter has been identified as Nicholas Bernard’s earliest dated work.9
Bernard apparently favored this drawer pattern for he articulated it on a group of surviving Philadelphia casework, including a dressing table at Colonial Williamsburg made en suite with the aforementioned high chest, the Van Pelt dressing table that sold in these rooms, Important Americana, September 26, 2008, sale 8448, lot 9, a high chest sold in these rooms, The Property of Dr. and Mrs. Henry C. Landon III, January 24, 2009, sale 8513, lot 92, a high chest illustrated by William M. Hornor in plate 182 of Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture as the property of Joseph Carson, Esq., a high chest with a history in the Biddle and Drinker families that sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries, March 29-30, 2008, lot 1122, the chest-on-chest mentioned above in the collection of the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a high chest and en suite dressing table in a private collection and a dressing table with a history in the Biddle family that sold in these rooms, Fine Americana, January 28-31, 1994, sale 6527, lot 1280.10 A dressing table sold at Skinner, a high chest illustrated in The Old Furniture Book, and a dressing table at Mount Pleasant also exhibit carving of the same pattern that appears to be by the same hand.11
1 See Joseph Downs, American Furniture at Winterthur (New York, 1952), no. 185.
2 See Andrew Brunk, “The Claypoole Family Joiners of Philadelphia: Their Legacy and the Context of Their Work,” American Furniture 2002, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, 2002), pp. 147-173.
3 Ibid, fig. 7, p. 155.
4 Ibid, fig. 25, p. 166.
5 Ibid, fig. 17, p. 162.
6 Ibid, fig. 11, p. 158.
7 See Luke Beckerdite and Alan Miller, “A Table’s Tale: Craft, Art, and Opportunity in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover and London, 2004), fig. 27, p. 15.
8 See Morrison Heckscher and Leslie Greene Bowman, American Rococo, New York, 1992, fig. 47, p. 199.
9 See Beckerdite and Miller, note 6, p. 42.
10 Ibid, fig. 27, p. 15, and figs. 30-31, pp. 17-8.
11 Skinner, June 2005, sale 2295, lot 81 and N. Hudson Moore, The Old Furniture Book, New York, 1936, fig. 64, p. 138. The dressing table at Mount Pleasant is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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