Questions about the use of the wood species sweetgum in eighteenth century Delaware River Valley furniture from the last post reminded me of a high chest that sold at Sotheby’s a decade ago this month.
It was most likely made in Philadelphia and should be dated after 1735 when rails similar in thickness to the carcase sides and cockbeads or ovolo-mouldings were first adapted by English cabinetmakers. The high chest was likely made shortly before or after 1740. Most Delaware River Valley case work is made from solid boards. This chest, however, has drawer fronts that are veneered with spectacularly grained mahogany and the rails are cross-banded similarly. When I examined the chest, I found the veneered drawer fronts were made of sweetgum. The sides and backs of the drawers were yellow poplar and the drawer bottoms were riven Atlantic white cedar. In addition, hard pine was used as the substrate for the veneered rails and other internal elements. Figured mahogany can be found veneered on maple, cherry, hard pine, and even plain grained mahogany drawer fronts in eighteenth-century Delaware River Valley furniture. In this instance, the maker chose to use sweetgum.
While the construction of the carcase is up to date, the drawer construction is a mix of drawers running on their nailed-on bottoms and drawers that have raised bottoms with applied runners. The drawer sides, bottom, and runners are visible at the sides of the drawers. This drawer construction was adopted shortly after 1700 by London furniture makers to reduce friction inherent in the earlier mode of construction with drawers running on their full width.