The carved feet, gracefully arched skirt, and elegant proportions of this miniature high chest indicate that it was the product of a sophisticated cabinetmaker’s shop, most likely in Philadelphia. Despite the small scale, the maker followed almost every detail of construction and design found on the best full-sized examples. The trifid feet and the arrangement of the drawers, with three in the top register, two in the second, and single drawers below, are characteristic of Pennsylvania high chests and chests of drawers from the mid-eighteenth century. Full-sized high chests of this type probably first appeared in the late 1730s, following the introduction of cabriole-leg chairs. This example, however, may have been made in the 1760s or 1770s.1This high chest has been published in Schiffer and Schiffer, no. 141. A similar miniature high chest appears to have been produced about 1760, and a full-sized, flat-topped high chest may have been made for Sarah Pleasants Fox (1767–1825) of Philadelphia as late as the 1780s.2Hornor 1935, pl. 62; Rollins, 1104, pl. 3. The skirt, composed of a series of reverse curves, is similar in conception to the skirts on case pieces in the fully developed rococo style, including a high chest made by William Savery between 1765 and 1775 and a dressing table made by Thomas Tufft about 1775.3The Savery high chest is in the collection of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Three Centuries, cat. no. 75); the Tufft dressing table is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Woodhouse, 292–93).
Miniature high chests and chests of drawers were popular in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. Although they were known as “spice boxes,” these chests were used to secure small valuables such as jewelry and silver flatware rather than spices. An inventory of “one Spice Box [and] Sundreys therein” taken in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1750, included gold and silver sleeve buttons, silver and brass shoe buckles, a pincushion with a silver chain, a silver scissors and thimble, six silver teaspoons, two silver tablespoons, a pair of silver sugar tongs, and “Sundrey Small things.”4Schiffer and Schiffer, 265–66. This chest has no locks and was probably intended to safeguard less precious possessions, such as writing implements.
David L. Barquist
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.