Details & Cataloguing

Important Americana

New York

Very Fine and Rare Federal Gilt and Églomisé Paneled Looking Glass, Possibly by Stillman Lothrop; Retailed by George Dean, New York, Circa 1805


Seaboard Gallery, Portsmouth, New Hampshire;
Benjamin Attmore Hewitt (1921-2006), New Haven, Connecticut;
Northeast Auctions, Manchester, New Hampshire, October 29, 2006, lot 716;
Leigh Keno American Antiques, New York.


Clement E. Conger, [et al], Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), p. 238.

Catalogue Note

During the Federal period, looking glasses such as the present example were known as "pillar" looking glasses, a term probably coined to refer to the pilasters that flank the glasses. Such glasses typically feature a glass plate framed at the top by a painted panel with a projecting cornice, on the sides by pilasters with classical capitals, and on the bottom by a narrow molding with projecting corners beneath the pilasters. Pillar glasses first appeared in England in the last decade of the eighteenth century and London furniture designers, such as Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite, illustrated designs for them in their pattern books. The overall arrangement, such as the present one, derives - or may have been influenced by - a pier glass design by George Hepplewhite, which incorporates a phoenix flanked by festoons of bellflowers.2 The Hepplewhite design lacks an eglomise panel. From the earliest years of the nineteenth century, this pattern of looking glass received broad popularity throughout New York State and beyond. Contemporary advertisements indicate that examples such as the present looking glass were manufactured both in Albany, and New York City. The Albany Gazette, June 23, 1808, published an advertisement for Fonney and White of Albany that read:

"on hand of their own manufacturing, an extensive assortment of twisted, single and double pillared Gilt Looking Glasses of the newest and most approved pattern, with or without tops ..”3

Richly conceived and beautifully executed, the present looking glass offers exceptional carved surface decoration, refined reverse-painted panels, and an elaborate crest composed of a sculptural eagle, triangular end plinths, garlands of balls, and composition foliage, characteristics associated with New York products. Constructed of white pine and embellished with opulent painted, gilded, and carved decoration, it is further distinguished by its vertical proportions and remarkable state of preservation.

The backboard of the present example has affixed to it the label of Salem retailer George Dean (1778-1831), who states in his label that he is agent for "S. Lothrop Looking Glass Manufactory".4 Stillman Lothrop (Boston, d.1853) came from Boston in 1804 to open a gilding shop in Salem, Massachusetts before establishing a looking-glass manufactory at 7 Court Street, Boston in 1806.5 It appears that Lothrop was importing these glasses from New York. Stillman, along with his brother Edward Lothrop, trained under the long-established cabinetmaker Stephen Badlam, who also trained with the carver John Doggett.6

Other documented examples of looking glasses with George Dean's paper label affixed to their backboard acting as agent for Stillman Lathrop's Looking-Glass Manufactory, appears on four Sheraton looking glasses: one in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum, one with a panel depicting a fishing scene in an octagonal border, and one with a panel depicting an American eagle and shield with floral drapery. Advertisements by Dean in the Salem Gazette for 1804, illustrate looking glasses that are similar to the one depicted on the label. 7

The motif of the American bald eagle provided a patriotic symbol of the American spirit. Reaching back to European heraldry, the eagle was first introduced by the Continental Congress in 1782 as the officially sanctioned emblem of the United States. It was applied as a decorative element on a great many objects used in the young nation.8 A looking glass in the New York collection of "Eric Noah" and described by Albert Sack as a "masterpiece," features an eagle, a scenic eglomise panel (apparently depicting New York from Brooklyn Heights,) drapery, triangular end plinths, and pilasters.9 Another related example once owned by Israel Sack, Inc., with a similar vocabulary features an eglomise panel depicting a landscape with a watermill and gilt crosshatching on a white background. 10 Both the "Eric Noah" and Sack carved eagles are of the same upright format with very similar wings, and perched on a ball surmounting a plinth of the same aesthetic. Importantly, the leading Massachusetts clockmakers, such as Aaron Willard Jr.,11 Lemuel Curtis,12 Jabez Baldwin 13 and William Cummens 14 surmounted their timepieces with an upright form of wingspread eagle that appear to have come from the same carving shop as that on the eagle on the present glass. This similarity between the carved and gilded eagles found on eastern Massachusetts clocks and those found on several New York looking glasses makes one consider the possibility that Lothrop's shop was occasionally importing New York glasses, without an eagle, and adding the eagle to the glass in his shop.

Other looking glasses of this distinct New York type are known. A closely related example at the State Department features the same cornice moldings, eagle on a plinth, festoons of gilt balls, triangular end plinths with eglomise panels, and pilasters with classical capitals, and appears to be from the same shop.15 The State Department example, however, features a large eglomise panel with a figural subject. The same form and decoration as that of the State Department looking glass are found on an example once in the collection of Mrs. Annie B. Swan of Providence, Rhode Island. 16 The eglomise panel in the upper section depicts a landscape that includes a building surrounded by trees by a river with boats.

Two other related examples include one now in a private Westchester, New York collection that offers a large eglomise panel depicting a view of Mount Vernon. 17 The second was once owned by Mrs. A. G. Robinson, and is now in a private Massachusetts collection. 18 The Massachusetts private collection looking-glass features a white and gold eglomise panel decorated with a landscape scene including two houses, a fence and some trees. A label attached to its backboard reads: "loaned to cousin/Jennie R. Perkins/by Mrs. A. G. Robinson/ to be kept until called for/M.P.R."

Other closely related New York glasses exhibit a variation of a more horizontally positioned bird, with down-turned head and drooping wings - and which is generally not mounted on a ball, like the "Eric Noah" collection eagle and the present example. Given the fact that no Massachusetts case pieces or clocks exhibit this type of eagle, glasses with this "downward-looking" type of eagle may have been assembled entirely in New York. Among other related examples, there is a looking glass in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York with a history of descent in the family of Joseph Yates (1768-1837) of New York City.19 Another related example in the Kaufman Collection was also owned by Governor and Mrs. Joseph C. Yates of Albany, New York.20 An overmantle looking glass in the collection at Winterthur exhibits similar Federal emblems such as an eagle, festoons of small gilt balls, eglomise panels, and engaged colonnettes.21 It is made principally of white pine and also descended in the family of Governor and Mrs. Joseph Yates.

Two looking-glasses in the collection at Winterthur feature a similar architectural design and neoclassical decorative vocabulary.22 A fourth example at Winterthur, also of white pine, similarly offers a rectangular frame with a large eglomise panel and double colonnettes.23 A pair of looking-glasses in the collection at Boscobel display a simpler variant of the theme.24

2 George Hepplewhite, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide (3rd ed.: London: I. and J. Taylor, 1794), p1.117.
3 Clement E. Conger et ai, Treasures of State Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), p.238, no.147.
4 For other examples of looking glasses with Dean's label, as agent for S. Lothrop, please see Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from the Israel Sack Collection, (Alexandria, VA: Highland House, 1981), vol. 2, p.S66, no.1320; Sack, vol. 7, p.1904, PS070;
5 Helen Comstock, The Looking Glass in America 1700-1825, (New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1964), p.92; The Magazine Antiques, October, 1942, p.216.
6 Robert D. Mussey Jr., The Furniture Masterworks of John & Thomas Seymour, (Salem, Massachusetts, the Peabody Essex Museum, 2003), p.2S1. Edward Lothrop is listed as a gilder and looking glass and frame maker in Boston from 1813 through 1836. The Edward Lothrop label also has the 28 Court Street address, which he used in advertisements from 1820 until 1823. See Herbert F. Schiffer, The Mirror Book, (Exton, PA: Shiffer Publishing Limited, 1983), no.429. Interestingly, a Chinese export eglomise painting (collection of Leigh Keno) in its original frame, depicts the historic landing on December 20, 1620, surmounting an invitation dated December 18,1801 that reads: "to Admit Isaac Lothrop, Esq., to the/ Anniversary Dinner in memory of the landing of the FATHERS at Plymouth/ Dinner on Tuesday the 22nd instant/at Concert Hall/ Half past 20 o'clock." The eglomise painting, apparently commissioned by a Chinese artist to commemorate a cherished Thanksgiving invitation, also bears a paper label on the verso of the backboard of the frame that reads: "Looking Glasses'/E. Lothrop, Gilder, /No.28, Court-Street. .. Near Concert-Hall, /opposite the new Stone Stores, - Boston. Please see images marked "A" and "B".
7 Comstock, p.11S, fig.76 -77; Illustrated in The Magazine Antiques, October, 1942, p.216; Sack, vol. 2, p.S66, no.1320; Sack, vol. 7, p.1904, PS070. The label in the entry for the present looking glass and the 1804 Salem Gazette Advertisement are noted by Winterthur's Decorative Arts Photographic Collection (DAPC Accession no. 73.600).
8 Philip M. Isaacson, The American Eagle, p.v.
9 Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993), p.230.
10 Sack, vol. VII, p.704, P3243.
11 Sack, vol. 7, p.1930, P5276 also William H. Distin and Robert Bishop, The American Clock, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.), p.227, no. 529;
12 Sotheby's Fine Americana, June 19, 1992, sale 6319, lot 409.
13 Distin, no. 517.
14 Ibid, p.227, no. 532.
15 Conger, p.238, no. 147.
16 Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), p.320, fig.378.
17 Wendell Garrett, Classic America: The Federal Style & Beyond (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1992), p.67.
18 Formerly owned by Keno Inc. Image and write-up attached - (see Keno Inc. file for more information).
19 David Barquist, American Tables and Looking Glasses (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992, p. 325, fig. 74.
20 J. Michael Flanigan, American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection (Washington, DC: National Gallery, 1986), p. 232-3, no. 96.
21 Charles Montgomery, American Furniture, The Federal Period (New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1966), p. 276-7, no. 235.
22 Ibid, p. 278-9, no. 237-8.
23 Ibid, p. 277, no. 236.
24 Berry Tracy, Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts at Boscobel (New York: Boscobel Restoration, Inc., and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1981), no. 76.

Important Americana

New York