Chippendale Carved Mahogany Dressing Table
The base to this high chest of drawers was made in the same shop as the dressing table with which the chest is now displayed in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The two pieces have been associated since 1946, when David Stockwell advertised the dressing table and noted, “We have recently found the matching highboy.”1Advertisement, Antiques 50 (September 1946), 154. The existence of a virtually identical base (in an anonymous collection), however, makes it difficult to establish which of the two was the mate to the dressing table (Acc. No. 66.96).
Above the upper drawer in the lower case is a slide that was originally covered with baize or leather, suggesting that it was intended as a writing surface. Thomas Sheraton included a similar slide in a design for a chest of drawers, describing it as “the common slider generally used for merely writing on.”2Sheraton Appendix, 23. In addition to high chests, a few chests of drawers and desks and bookcases were fitted with slides, but they are uncommon in 18th-century American case furniture.3Philadelphia high chest with slides are illustrated in Flanigan, no. 29; Hornor 1935, pls. 130 and 182; and advertisement, Samuel T. Freeman, Antiques 103 (May 1973), 893. A New York chest of drawers with a slide is at Winterthur (Hummel 1976, 27), and a Newport desk and bookcase with a slide is at the Yale University Art Gallery (Ward 1988, no. 177). For further discussion on the use of slides in the chest of drawers, see Ward 1988, no. 58. The obvious difficulty of reaching the top drawers in high chests and other architectural case pieces probably made these slides equally useful for holding linens or other goods that were being placed in the upper case.
The upper case of this high chest originally belonged to a different object. All of its carved elements were changed and its depth was extended about three inches when it was married to the base.4The recarving was done by the William Gray Corporation in New York in 1964, according to Harold Sack, who kindly provided this information.
David L. Barquist
Excerpted from 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: H.N. Abrams, 1991.