“Mahogany Drawers With fret & Dentels”

The high chest with the paper label of Thomas Tufft in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has not been web published to date but is on display in the American Art galleries in the museum.  The carved fronds that would have spiraled off the volutes of the scroll mouldings are missing and the urn and flower cartouche is a late 19th or early 20th century replacement but is an appropriate restoration.

Tufft high chest and dressing table

High chest and dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The upper section with its straight cornice and scroll mouldings above gives a good indication of the appearance of the missing upper case of the high chest that is the mate to the dressing table of the restoration project.

High chest base

High chest base section
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
“The Magazine Antiques”
January 1928

In an invoice for furniture made to Mrs. Mary Norris and paid in full February 24, 1784 , Thomas Tufft described himself as “Joyner” and charged Norris 45 pounds “To One pair Mahogany Drawers With fret & dentels & Table to suit.” On the same invoice Tufft charged Norris 1 shilling 6 pence for “One roling Pin” – wood not recorded. Tufft was clearly ready to furnish your house top to bottom. “Mahogany Drawers With fret & dentels” is a suitable description of the labeled high chest at the PMA, though the extent of the carved decoration on the  high chest ordered by Mary Norris is unknown.

A detail of the fret and brass drawer pull shows Tuffts attention to detail in the correspondence between their designs. While Tufft chose to center the fret on the quatrefoil device, and not have the diamond pattern line up over the center drawer pull of the top tier, the pulls on the long drawers do roughly line up under the diamond motifs of the fret.

High chest detail

High chest detail
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775
Made by Thomas Tufft
Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

2 thoughts on ““Mahogany Drawers With fret & Dentels”

  1. Very interested in the blind fret carving used on the top part of the chest on stand by Thomas Tufft. Did he work under Affleck at any time?
    It seems to be a popular Philadelphia design and I think i have seen it on the William Logan chest on chest by Thomas Affleck,carved by Reynolds. Do you have a photo of the fret carving on the Logan piece? Or do you know any other works with this design between 1770-1775.
    Thank you.

  2. As far as I know there is no documentation of Tufft working for Thomas Affleck. The double chest you mention, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is attributed to Affleck based on payments recorded in William Logan’s cashbook, not based on construction features per se, but we assume Affleck’s shop was capable of producing objects like it. The fret on on the Met chest is similar, but a variant of labeled Tufft chest. The applied fret work on casework made in Philadelphia in the second half of the 18th century is remarkably consistent in scale, thickness, etc. with several designs and their variations repeated over time. It’s possible that one or more specialists if fret cutting supplied the majority of the larger shops. I’ll poke around in my files for images of similar designs. The Met double chest can be seen here:

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