A chest of drawers by the joiner William Beakes III is signed and dated in white chalk on the interior surface of a side panel. The inscription was written before the chest was assembled. It may even have been written before the panel edges were chamfered to fit into grooves in the stiles and rails of the side, as some of the letters and numerals near the chamfered edges appear clipped. Some of the inscription is covered by the drawer runners and side kickers including the last numeral of the date.
When the chest was first published in 1979, the date was reported as 1711 though there is no way to know the last numeral without disassembling the drawer runner covering it. The author of the article may have known that a William Beakes died in 1711 so surmised the last numeral must be a “1.” But it was the joiner’s namesake father who died in that year. In 1985 the chest was correctly dated 1711-1719 by Benno Forman in his 1985 article “The Chest of Drawers in America.”
The joiner William Till, with whom Beakes was apprenticed, died in 1711 and it has been suggested that Beakes signed and dated the chest to “mark and celebrate his entry into the trade as a free artisan.” This is a possible explanation for the signature but the last numeral is not visible. It’s possible the full date was not readable even during its construction. Chamfering, or feathering, the top edge of the panel to fit it to the top rails of the side may removed part of or all of the last numeral.
This chest signed by Beakes is essentially identical in construction to the Dietrich American Foundation signed chest, a third signed chest offered by an antiques dealer, and a chest attributed to Beakes. The four chests share the same joined construction. The carcase is not a dovetailed box. The sides of the chest consist of a mortise and tenon frame with the joints double pegged. Thin panels made of one wide and one narrow board, flat on the exterior and chamfered on the inside surface fit into grooves in the stiles and rails.