Chest of Drawers at Sotheby’s

The chest of drawers attributed here, but not by the auction house, to the Philadelphia joiner John Head sold at Sotheby’s this past Thursday. The hammer price was $26,000. With the “buyers premium” now at 25 percent, the total price was $32,000. This was more than 2 and a half times the high estimate but over $6,000 less than what it sold for 27 years ago. There was no salesroom announcement of a revision of the catalogue description to include an attribution to Head before the lot was sold. Auction houses give much weight to attributions, signatures, and labels on objects but missed this one at the same time they were heavily promoting the attribution of the case housing a Peter Stretch to Head. That tall-case clock will be sold this afternoon.

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Chest of drawers, attributed to John Head, Philadelphia, circa 1725.

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Half-inch drawer dividers with full thickness and full depth hard pine dust-boards. A circle and slash chalk mark on the second tier dust-board survives as lack of use and attendant wear meant the drawer bottom did not rub against the dust-board, removing the mark.

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Drawer escutcheon.

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Drawer pull. John Head used the same drawer brass combination on a surviving high chest of drawers. That high chest is illustrated in “The Connoisseur”, November 1978, p. 206, fig. 15.

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Original iron lock.

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Of the hundreds of dovetail made by this shop I’ve examined, this is one of the very first miss-cuts I’ve come across. The short saw-kerf beneath the two upper long kerfs was started in the wrong location.

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On the exterior of the drawer the miss-cut can be seen in the first pin from the top.

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The Head workshop used three designs of chalk marks on the exterior surfaces of drawers, a double circle drawn in one stroke, a half-circle and slash seen one the back of this drawer, and a “V” that tilts towards the back, seen on the proper right side.

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The bottom of a long drawer. The bottom is composed of edge-glued shingle-width riven cedar and is nailed to the back, sides, and a deep rabbet in the front. Cedar running strips are glued at the sides. This was a new drawer construction technique in England when Head began his apprenticeship and he used it on the majority of the drawers he made in Philadelphia.

4 thoughts on “Chest of Drawers at Sotheby’s

    • Adam Bowett, the English furniture historian uses numbered “Phases” to describe changes/advances in case construction of British furniture 1660 – 1740. His description for this construction would be “First phase carcass construction” with “Second phase drawer construction” as there are now runners present and the drawer runs on these rather than having the entire surface of the bottom board running on the dust-board.

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