Loan Exhibition, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, circa 1950
Carpenter, Ralph E., Jr. The Arts and Crafts of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1820. Newport: The Preservation Society of Newport County, 1954, no. 77, p. 105.
Snow, Barbara. “Living with Antiques: The Providence Home of Mrs. R. H. Ives Goddard.” The Magazine Antiques (May 1965): 582. The table is illustrated in the drawing room of the house beneath a portrait of Charlotte and Moses Brown Ives, children of Thomas and Hope Brown Ives.
The table was originally owned by Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), a wealthy Providence merchant, member of the prominent Brown family of Rhode Island, and Goddard client. It was probably part of the wedding furniture ordered from Goddard after Nicholas and Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown (d. 1783) married on May 2, 1762. This furniture order is referenced in an October 10, 1763 letter written by Moses Brown, Nicholas’ brother, to John Goddard, in which Brown reprimands Goddard for putting other orders ahead of “my Brothers Wifes furniture”, which was apparently finally delivered in September of 1763.[i] This table probably cost approximately £90 Rhode Island currency at the time it was made, the same amount that John Goddard charged John Brown for his “Mahogony Scollop’d Tea Table” in 1760.[ii] Valued at near the same price in the estate inventory taken upon Nicholas Brown’s death in 1791, this table most likely corresponds to the “1 Tea Table Set China Compleat” listed in the parlour at £4-10-0 Lawful Money – the currency in use in Rhode Island after the American Revolution and approximately £82 Rhode Island currency (see fig. 3).[iii]
Aside from money left to his second wife, Avis (Binney), and property she brought to their marriage, Nicholas Brown left the remainder and bulk of his estate to his three children, Nicholas II, Moses (1771-1791) and Hope (1773-1855), stipulating that it remain “undivided till my daughter Hope arrives at the age of twenty one years or her day of marriage which shall first happen” (see fig. 4).[iv] Moses died on February 28, 1791, prior to the division of the estate. Nicholas II inherited the “Bookcase with Books,” which resided from 1814 to 1989 at the Nightingale-Brown house in Providence (see fig. 5).[v] This table descended to Hope Brown, who married in 1792 Thomas Poynton Ives (1769-1835), a successful Providence merchant and partner in the Brown family firm, and was among the original furnishings of their home, the Thomas Poynton Ives house (completed 1805), in Providence.[vi] It has stood in the drawing room of the house ever since except for when it was exhibited at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1950s and later included the landmark exhibition of Newport furniture, The Arts and Crafts of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1820, in 1954 (see fig. 6).[vii]
After Thomas Poynton Ives’s death in 1835 and Hope Brown’s subsequent death in 1855, their house and its contents descended to their son Moses Brown Ives (1794-1857), a Harvard graduate and merchant at Brown and Ives, and his wife Anne Allen Dorr (1810-1884).[viii] An inscription and label on the underside of the top date to this period of the table’s history. The inscription in ink reads “M. Brown Ives.” A label in Anne’s handwriting inscribed “Belonged to Mrs. Hope Ives” records her mother-in-law Hope Brown Ives’s ownership of the table. Moses and Anne’s daughter, Hope Brown Ives (1839-1909), inherited the Thomas Poynton Ives house at their death.[ix] She married Henry Grinnell Russel on January 20, 1864 and they continued to live in the house, without issue, until his death in circa 1905 and her death in 1909.[x] The house and contents descended to her cousin, Robert H.I. Goddard, who took residence in 1910/11.[xi] The house remains in his family today.
The table at the John Brown House was originally owned by John Brown (1736-1803), Nicholas Brown’s brother, and descended directly in his family to Grace Herreshoff Sperry, who gifted it to the Rhode Island Historical Society (see fig. 1).[xii] Ordered in 1760 probably around the time John and Sarah (Smith) Brown married, that table can now be documented to John Goddard on the basis of a statement of account recently discovered in the Brown Family papers at the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University (see fig. 7).[xiii] After December of 1760, Goddard sent John Brown a statement of account listing “a Mahogony Scollop’d Tea Table” at the price of £90, “2 Mahogony Roundabout Chairs @ £60/” for £120, and “2 Square Leaf & Claw foot Tables” at £140, all itemized under the date October 19th. In addition, one “Mahogony Tea Table” for £45 and one “Mahogony Compas Front Dressing Table” for £125 are itemized under the date December 19th, for a total of £520 Rhode Island currency. In a letter dated August 29, 1760, Goddard informed Brown that he “completed the Tea Table, and have the other Tables and Chairs in good Forwardness.” [xiv] An extant Goddard receipt indicates John Brown left a deposit of £150 on the order “for Sundry Houshold Furniture not yet Delivered” on September 23, 1760.[xv] He paid for the remainder of the order in cash and a “Firkin of Butter."
The table at Winterthur was originally owned by Jabez Bowen (1739-1815) of Providence, a deputy governor of Rhode Island, chancellor of Brown University, and husband of Sarah (Brown), Nicholas Brown’s cousin (see fig. 2). The Bowen table is documented by a June 30, 1763 letter written to Moses Brown, in which Goddard states “I send herewith The Tea Table … I recd. A few lines from Jabez Bowen whom I suppose this furniture is for”.[xvi] The Moses Brown Ledger for 1763-1836 notes for the date July 23, 1763 the debit to the account of Jabez Bowen for £452 Rhode Island currency, “to cash sent Jn Goddard for half Doz. chairs & 1 table.”[xvii]
The execution of the Brown table, the Bowen table and this one, all made around the same time, is virtually identical. Made of a dense figured mahogany, the three tables are elegantly defined by the counterpulsing rhythms of the sculptural serpentine skirt and the horizontal placement of the striations in the wood graining. The beautifully-figured top is shaped from the solid in a pattern that echoes the skirt, and finished with a carved molded rim. The skirt was constructed with an applied mahogany veneer, to conceal the juncture of the upper leg stock with the skirt. The four delicate cabriole legs with symmetrical palmette-and-leaf carved knees and the animalistic claw feet with open talons reveal this master’s hand and are typical of his work. The opening above the ball is an additional opulent feature displayed on all three tables. The magnificence of this table’s execution is matched by its remarkable condition. It retains all of its original parts, including its chestnut glue blocks. The underside of the top displays a large circular scribe mark in its center with a line struck through it while the interior of the skirt exhibits a series of small chalk circles and numbers, original shop line-up markings executed when the table was made. The maple cleats screwed into the top and inserted into notches on the inner skirt may have been added at a very early date to deter warpage. One bears the inscription, M. B. Ives, for Moses Brown Ives, the son of Hope Brown Ives and owner of this table at one time. The underside of the feet retain their scribe lines, probably since the table has rarely been moved since 1805.
John Goddard learned the Newport craft tradition from the master cabinetmaker, Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1765), and married his daughter, Hannah, in 1746, presumably after completing his apprenticeship. He worked from the mid 1740s to the 1780s at a shop attached to his house located at the corner of Washington and Willow Streets in Newport, producing high-style desks, tables, case pieces and chairs for many of Rhode Island’s most prominent citizens.[xviii] This table not only represents his mastery of serpentine design and carving excellence but also his innovative ability, since the form of this table has no known prototype.[xix]
Four other extant tables of this form are attributed to Goddard. One example with a veneered skirt, open talons, an opening above the ball, small chalk o’s on the skirt interior, and rails tenoned into the legs has a history in the Brintnall family of Connecticut and was possibly owned originally by Captain Buckminster Brintnall (1731-1789) (see figs. 8 and 9).[xx] One at Winterthur Museum with a veneered skirt and open talons was by tradition owned by Charles Field of Providence (see fig. 10). One at Bayou Bend with closed talons and an applied mahogany veneer covering the juncture of the upper leg stock with the skirt may also have been owned at one time by Thomas Poynton Ives and has a history in the Bancroft family (see fig. 11). One in the Wunsch Collection once owned by George Lorimer with a history in the Thurston, Pitman, and Banning families displays closed talons and rails tenoned to the legs (see fig. 12). A sixth example in the Kaufman Collection is the only extant example attributed to John Townsend (see fig. 13).[xxi] This demonstrates how Newport cabinetmakers were able to perfect a narrow range of designs and motifs for forms, as Luke Beckerdite has noted in “The Early Furniture of Christopher and Job Townsend,” published in American Furniture 2000.[xxii]
Newport furniture of this quality made by the Goddard and Townsend craftsmen and offering a direct descent from the original owner sells on the marketplace for record prices. The aforementioned desk-and-bookcase originally owned by Nicholas Brown sold in June of 1989 for $12,100,000, the highest price ever paid for a piece of American furniture. A desk and bookcase signed by Christopher Townsend and originally owned by Nathaniel Appleton (1693-1784) of Boston sold in these rooms in 1999 for $8,252,500 (see fig. 14).[xxiii] A kneehole desk attributed to Edmund Townsend and owned by Samuel Whitehorne (circa 1744-1796) of Newport sold in these rooms in 1996 for $3,632,500 (see fig. 15).[xxiv] The Captain Brintnall tea table mentioned above was the last tea table from this group to come up for sale. Hidden Treasures by Leslie and Leigh Keno notes that it was sold by Leigh Keno American Antiques at the 1998 Winter Antiques Show for $3,650,000. Prior to the Kaufman table which sold in 1984, the only other table from this group to come on the market in the past century was the Jabez Bowen table at Winterthur, which was purchased by Henry du Pont at the Flayderman sale held at the American Art Association Anderson Galleries in 1930 for $29,000, a fortune at that time.[xxv] That same year, Henry du Pont bought the table originally owned by Charles Field from Charles Field Swain through Ella M. Bolt, of Pomfret, Connecticut, for, by tradition, approximately $100,000.
Exceedingly few high-style Newport tea tables of this type from this historically significant period in America appear on the marketplace. This table is all the more extraordinary due to its remarkable state of preservation and association with John Goddard. This sale represents a unique opportunity to purchase one of the most sophisticated and high quality Newport tea tables ever offered. It additionally carries a sterling provenance in that we know its original owner, Nicholas Brown.
Sotheby’s is honored to have the privilege to offer for sale a table of this importance.
[i] The letter is in the collection of the Moses Brown papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society library (RIHS, oversize box 1, F.1V1.P53, no. 89) and transcribed in Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards, Tenafly, NJ: Americana Press, 1984, p. 196-7.
[ii] Statement of account from John Goddard to John Brown, 1760, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, BFBP, Box 775, folder 9, item 8. Moses Brown Ledger for 1763-1836, July 23, 1763, Moses Brown Papers, Rhode Island Historical Society Library (Box 11X, vol. 3, p. 436).
[iii] Inventory of the Personal Estate of Nicholas Brown Esquire, Recorded November 7, 1791, Collection of City Archives, Providence City Hall. Sotheby’s would like to thank John J. McCusker, Ewing Halsell Distinguished Professor of American History and Professor of Economics, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, for providing an analysis of 18th century Rhode Island currency. See John J. McCusker, Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775: A Handbook, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992 and John McCusker, How Much is That in Real Money? A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States, Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2001.
[iv] Will of Nicholas Brown, Recorded November 7, 1791, Collection of City Archives, Providence City Hall.
[v] Sold at Christie’s, The Magnificent Nicholas Brown Desk and Bookcase, June 3, 1989.
[vi] Providence directories from 1824 to 1832 list the Thomas Poynton Ives residence. After his death, Providence directories from 1836 to 1855 list Hope Ives as a widow living at the house.
[vii] The table is illustrated in the drawing room of the Thomas Poynton Ives House in Barbara Snow, “Living with Antiques: The Providence home of Mrs. R.H. Ives Goddard,” The Magazine Antiques (May 1965): 582. It appears illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Ralph Carpenter, The Arts and Crafts of Newport, R.I., 1640-1820, Newport, R.I.: The Preservation Society of Newport County, 1954, no. 77, p. 105.
[viii] Moses Brown Ives is listed in Providence directories for 1856 and 1857 as residing in the house. Mrs. Moses Ives is listed at the house in directories for the years 1858 to 1869. The 1870 directory lists Mrs. Moses B. Ives at the house. She continues to be listed there until 1883. The 1884 directory lists her as “Ives Moses B. Mrs. Died March 1, 1884.”
[ix] Will of Moses B. Ives, Recorded July 13, 1857, Collection of City Archives, Providence City Hall.
[x] Providence directories for 1885 to 1904 list Henry G. Russell residing at the house. The 1909 directory lists Mrs. Henry G. Russell at the house. The directory for 1910 lists the Estate of Hope Brown Russell at 31 Market Square.
[xi] Robert H. Ives Goddard is listed residing at the house beginning with the directory for 1911.
[xii] See The Rhode Island Historical Society, A “Most Magnificent” Mansion, Providence: The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1985, p. 11.
[xiii] John Carter Brown Library, Brown University (BFBP, Box 775, Folder 9, Item 18). Sotheby’s would like to thank Richard Ring, Reference and Acquisitions Librarian, at the John Carter Brown Library for discovering this bill of sale as part of the Sotheby’s research effort for this sale.
[xiv] John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, BFBP, Box 8, Folder 3, item 11.
[xv] John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, BFBP, Box 775, Folder 4, Item 22.
[xvi] A transcription of the letter is printed in Moses, p. 196.
[xvii] Moses Brown Papers, Rhode Island Historical Society Library (Box 11X, vol. 3, p. 436).
[xviii] Moses, pp. 195-200.
[xix] Philip Zea, “The Serpentine Furniture of Colonial Newport,” American Furniture 1999, ed. By Luke Beckerdite, Hanover and London: The Chipstone Foundation, 1999, p. 262.
[xx] For a discussion of the Brintnall table, see Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno, Hidden Treasures, New York: Warner Books, 2000, pp. 190-213.
[xxi] See Moses, frontispiece, pl. xii. See also Israel Sack Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, Volume VIII, P5640, p. 2185.
[xxii] Ed. by Luke Beckerdite, Hanover and London: The Chipstone Foundation, 2000, p. 25.
[xxiii] Sotheby’s, Important Americana, January 16-7, 1999, sale 7253, lot 704.
[xxiv] Sotheby’s, Important Americana: The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henry Meyer, January 20, 1996, sale 6801, lot 48.
[xxv] American Art Association Anderson Galleries, Colonial Furniture, Silver & Decorations, The Collection of the Late Philip Flayderman, 1930, lot 450.
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