Bartram Family Joiner Chest Over Drawers, Part 2


I found the Bartram Family joiner chest over drawers in a corner on the balcony at Pook & Pook, Inc.  It did not rate the main gallery on the ground floor, but then, it is not a complex furniture form, it’s not made of walnut , and while its primary wood species is a softwood, it is not paint decorated.


There is a surprise waiting when you open the lid and drawers – all of the interior surfaces, except for the till, have newspapers affixed to them.  The pages of newsprint are from various papers published in Philadelphia and West Chester (not far the auction house) and range in date from the late 1830s to the mid-1850s.


There is a till is on the right side of the chest compartment (proper left) that is made from riven white oak.   Two small drawers that sit below the till are also made of riven oak but with riven white cedar bottoms. These dovetails are not wedged but the dovetails of the hard pine chest and the drawers below it are.  The front, sides, and back are rebated and the drawers run on their bottoms.


True to this turners design sense, there are multiple score lines on the small knobs of the till drawers.


The dovetails of the chest and the two bottom drawers are wedged, hard pine wedges for the pine chest and oak for the oak drawer sides.


The brass hardware is original, the chest compartment lock is replaced.  The drops are attached with iron cotter pins.


Adam Bowett describes this type of drawer as “second-phase construction”.  The bottom fits in a groove in the front, it is nailed to the sides and back, then runners are added at the sides, raising the bottom so that it doesn’t bind or rub on dustboards, or in this case, the frame supporting the drawers at bottom of the chest.  The drawer side, the bottom, and the runner are visible at the sides of the drawer.


The back board is yellow-poplar, the only use of this species in the chest. This is also the case for the spice box attributed to this joiner.


The oak feet are turned in the idiosyncratic design of other turnings attributed to this shop.  There is local wear to the largest element of the feet but otherwise they are in very crisp condition and turning gouge marks are visible on the more protected areas such as the tall reel or neck.

A chest over drawers was a less expensive option than a four-tier chest of drawers.  It also may have been easier to maneuver up winder stairs – in some cases, cost may not have been the main influence towards purchase.  John Head charged Christopher Topham 1 pound, 5 shillings for a “pin (pine) chest with 2 drawers”, less than half the cost of a many of his four-tier chests of drawers.  As we don’t know what Head’s chest looked like, we cannot directly compare it with the chest at Pook & Pook, Inc.  Did Head provide a till – with the addition of a pair of drawers below?  Were there locks on the lower drawers?

All in all, the Bartram family joiners chest over drawers appears to be the finest and costliest version of the form available at the time. There is the same level of workmanship seen in the more complex and expensive furniture from this shop, good quality, old growth wood is used throughout, all three storage areas are fit with iron locks, brass hardware is present (iron, instead of brass, cotter pins were used, either a slight downgrade or brass cotters were not available at the time the chest was made), and there is a till with additional drawers below.  All standing on those superb, skillfully made feet.

8 thoughts on “Bartram Family Joiner Chest Over Drawers, Part 2

  1. Very Cool! Great photos as well, nice that the hardware/pulls are original, how about the hinges on lid, are they original as well, they look like they are. Really fine condition considering it’s age, the feet, drawers, lid, till and hardware, it doesn’t get any better than that.

    • The lid hinges are relatively small iron cotter pins. They don’t appear as substantial as other versions or types of hinges but there are still there and working.

      To some it seems a fairly trifle object but it would have cost a working trades person making 4 to 5 shillings a day over a weeks wages. Institutions are challenged today to present a more broad picture of objects used by the full range of society, this chest fits that bill in a number of ways.

    • Nice that it came out though and we were able to “collect” it by examination and record keeping, and to add another form to this shop/turner. So far we have tea tables, stands, oval tables, three drawer and single drawer dressing tables, tables without drawers, chests of drawers, chests over drawers, spice boxes, and spice boxes on frames.

  2. Agrees! Chris got me caught up in this chest, I had seen the sale but didn’t give this blanket chest the time of day, kinda like everyone else! It seems to me that as far as Pennsylvania is concerned, if it’s not paint decorated, it doesn’t count in the arts world nor the research world, which is a shame.
    You did a GREAT job on this chest Chris, keep up the good work!

    • Yes, I have seen them. I know Fred and Anne Vogel. The inlaid chest is particularly interesting because the inlaid initials may document it to an original owner. If the information in the catalogue entry is correct, this and the related chest with the initials “MO” would have been made just before or at the time of the Sarah and Martha Ogden’s marriages. Sarah married 21 September 1711, (this is not noted in the catalogue) so the chest was most likely made in late 1710 or early 1711 as it uses her maiden name initials. (Martha’s chest of drawers could conceivably have been made even earlier.) This chest can therefore be dated 1710, rather than 1720 as given in the catalogue, an early date for a fully inlaid chest but quite appropriate based in the style, form, and hardware of the chest of drawers. The Dietrich American Foundation owns the only chest from this maker, indeed, the only chest of drawers made in Chester County with ball feet, that retains it’s original feet. The feet on the Vogel’s chest are reproductions of the D.A.F. chest of drawers feet.

  3. The Vogel sale is still in progress as i write this. I bought lot 822, a joined table with drawer, mostly because of the provenance (nutting) and the Met has a very similar table from the Bolles collection, i like the form plus, the price was right! Top is replaced but so is the one at the MET.

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