Most of the information needed to restore the missing elements of the dressing table were present in the surviving table. But research was necessary to confidently restore elements that had no surviving counterpart. I was also interested in gathering as much information as possible about related objects.
The research phase of the project was extensive and too long a tale for this blog post but here are a few highlights.
A dressing table in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since the mid-20th century had many similarities to the table I was working with. Additionally it bears the paper label of the Philadelphia cabinetmaker Thomas Tufft glued inside the top drawer. Tufft was likely working on his own shortly after his marriage in 1766.
The matching high chest for the labeled dressing table is also in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A high chest that would have been made along side the table I was working with would have been similar in form. That high chest is on display in the galleries along side the labeled dressing table but there is no information or photographs of the high chest on the museum’s website at this time.
I was eventually able to put the PMA labeled table and the table I was working on side by side and it was clear they were made to the same patterns and measurements. They had been made by the same joiners, most likely in the same shop – I now had a firm attribution for the maker of the dressing table I was restoring. With a less elaborate carving plan, the PMA table didn’t, however, provide information for the missing carved elements.
A carved drawer appliqué featuring rococo foliage and scrolls over columns appears on a small group of objects. They were produced in different shops with various carvers taking their stab at it. This then had become a popular appliqué design in the small community of carvers living in close proximity to one another in Philadelphia. It saves time if you don’t have to invent the wheel every time you begin a new project.
This photo appeared in “The Magazine Antiques” in the 1930’s. I was not able to locate this table during the restoration.
Another object with a similar drawer appliqué was illustrated in an early 20th century book of American Furniture. I was able to track this one down. It is located in the Ford Mansion/Washington’s Headquarters in the Morristown National Historic Park, New Jersey.
It turns out it is a cellarette, with a hinged top, false drawer fronts, and vertical dividers in the case for bottles. It is larger in size than a dressing table but smaller than a high chest base.
An exciting but bitter sweet discovery was an advertisement from the 1920’s illustrating the matching high chest. Unfortunately, by the early 20th century the base and top sections had been separated. The fate of the upper section is still unknown. The mostly intact carving on the center drawer of the base showed that the bases of the columns resolved in the same manner as the other related drawer appliqués. The brass pulls had been replaced but the carved drawer knob was in its original location.
Time to start drawing and getting out 12/4 mahogany for the legs.