Bartram Family Joiner Chest Over Drawers

screenshot_2019-01-02 pennsylvania william and mary pine blanket chest - $800

Pook & Pook Ink. Americana and International Sale Day Two, January 12, 2019, lot 364.

On January 12, 2019, Pook & Pook Inc. will be auctioning a hard pine chest, 1720-1730, that can be attributed to the Bartram family joiner.  In previous blog posts I highlighted furniture attributed to this shop including an oval table and a dressing table made for James and Elizabeth Maris Bartram who were married in 1725.

The large turned feet from this shop are distinctive.

On the largest spherical shape of the turning, a deeply scored line is flanked by two thin scribed lines.  Pronounced scoring lines are also added to small elements that other turners left unadorned, such as the top element of the feet shown above. The turned feet on the chest at Pook & Pook Inc. share both the design vocabulary and turning details found on the other objects attributed to this shop.


Chest of drawers, attributed to the Bartram Family joiner.

lot 24

Spice box, attributed to the Bartram Family joiner.

The base moulding on the Pook & Pook chest is identical to that on the chest of drawers and spice box discussed in previous posts.  The cornice of the spice box is the same profile inverted.


Chest of drawers, attributed to the Bartram Family joiner with wedged dovetails.

The dovetails at the corners of the Pook & Pook Inc. chest appear to be  similarly angled and  spaced to the dovetails of drawers seen in other objects attributed to the Bartram family joiner.  The chest will need to be examined to determine if the dovetails are wedged, as the dovetails in other forms attributed to this shop are.


John Head account book, American Philosophical Society.

The cabinetmaker John Head debited for fourteen chests.  A single chest was described as a “pin (pine) chest with 2 drawers”, debited to “Cristofar Topam,” This description coresponds to the Pook & Pook Inc. chest.  No chests or chests over drawers that can be attributed to John Head have been identified.





5 thoughts on “Bartram Family Joiner Chest Over Drawers

  1. Interesting, I enlarged the photo on the Pook chest but could not determine if dovetails were wedged or not, this chest seems like it had paint decoration sometime in it’s past. The chest seems to be all there, the feet, drawers and lid which is remarkable considering it’s age.

    • I believe I can make out wedges but the image is too small to say definitively. I’ll see the chest this week and will write about it again and will be able to include details of brass, hinges, till, if present, etc. It does appear to have had some type of paint applied and removed. Paint would have added to the cost of the chest and I have my doubts that it was painted originally. Chests and chests over drawers were a less expensive option than four-drawer chests, not having to add paint would contribute to keeping the price down. Not sure how much can be determined about the paint during an examination at an auction preview, but we’ll see.
      It is a rare survival from the time. These lower market objects don’t survive in the numbers more expensive forms do but they are very much a part of the woodworking tradition. We we now have an example of the plainest case form (a chest without drawers would be an even less expensive option) from a shop that was capable of producing the most complex furniture of the first quarter of the 18th century made in Philadelphia.


  2. I believe I can make out wedges but the image is too small to say definitively.

    Agreed, it’s odd but i have often wondered why the camera misses construction details that are easy to see in person.
    I have an 18th century chest with 2 drawers that was found in the Shenandoah valley VA that is painted blue, yellow hard pine with wedged dovetails, even the 2 drawers have these dovetails as well as the case. It’s later than posted blanket chest because the feet are chippendale bracket feet suggesting 3rd-4th quarter 18th century. I have always wondered about these dovetails, i am guessing germanic construction but what was the point of doing dovetails this way?

    • Wedged dovetail joints is a topic that a number of people are studying but little has been published recently. It’s too long a topic to write about here in 1,000 words and deserves more research than I’ve had time to do but a few points – most American furniture historians agree that wedged dovetail joints are never found in New England furniture, and I concur, never having seen them myself. They are commonly found on furniture made in America by German immigrants and their descendants. However, they also appear in early 18th century furniture made in the Delaware River Valley by English immigrants and American born/English immigrant trained Quakers. Why is this so? It’s been proposed their was a co-mingling of German and English joiners both in Europe and America and the technique was transferred. More work needs to be done, especially by those with an understanding of woodworking practices. Is it a woodworking technique that can be adapted by anyone, anywhere? Or does it have a nationalistic component? Every Western woodworking tradition uses wedged tenons in door and sash making, why has that technique never been discussed as have a national tradition? (Actually, it has, but I don’t believe the evidence backed up the claim.) When is a woodworking technique universal and when is it a national trait? An article on this topic would need to begin at the latest in the 15th century and move through the end of the 19th when it seems this way of working disappeared. You would need to tackle English, French, German, Swiss, Italian, and American traditions.

      A speculative answer about your blue painted chest is that it was made by woodworkers of German descent who immigrated south during the 18th century.


  3. I look forward to your next post on the condition of this chest, it reminds me a little of how i came to acquire my “Bird” chest, a late 17th century Boston chest of drawers that i went after at auction after reading about it in Frances Gruber Safford book, American Furniture In the Met Museum of art 1. early colonial period: The 17th century & william & mary styles. A really fine book.
    Still, i need another blanket chest like i need another hole in my head but my interest is aroused, i registered for the sale.

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