Line and Dot Inlaid Furniture at Sotheby’s

One of Bill du Pont’s collecting focuses over the last decades was inlaid objects from Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Delaware River Valley. Using the search term “inlaid” in the on-line catalogue of his collection to be sold in January 2022 at Sotheby’s turns up no less than 44 objects. If the inlaid metal objects – long rifles, flint tinderbox pistols, etc. – are removed from the list it leaves 34 wood objects of various forms – chests, boxes, cupboards, spice boxes, tables, a desk, a clock, and a cradle. The objects are inlaid with wood, sulfur, and brass. A slant-lid document box is inlaid with both wood and sulfur. 

Eleven objects can be found searching for “line-and-berry.”  A box, (lot 11), a two-part chest of drawers, (lot 174), and a chest-on-stand, (lot 505), were discussed in a previous post, “Lines and Dots,” where I speculated that a sub-set of line-and-dot objects made in Southeastern Pennsylvania may have been made in or near Philadelphia in the first quarter of the eighteenth-century based on their form, construction methods, and secondary woods, rather than in Chester County where the majority of line-and-dot inlaid furniture has heretofore been attributed. 

When first published in Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758, (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999, pp. 130, 142, no. 28, fig. 191) the two-part chest (lot 174), was attributed to Southeastern Pennsylvania, probably Chester County, c. 1725-45. In Sotheby’s catalogue, the attribution of the chest has been amended to the “Delaware River Valley, possibly Philadelphia, Circa 1720.”

Sotheby’s places the chest-on-stand (lot 505) in “Chester County or Delaware River Valley, Pennsylvania, Circa 1735.” (To clarify my use of Delaware River Valley, I do not use it in conjunction with “Pennsylvania.” I use the term to be inclusive of West New Jersey makers in a way the “Southeastern Pennsylvania” and Philadelphia” as places of origin do not. Furniture historians use place of origin terminology to place an object that is not signed or otherwise have documentation as to where it was made, to a more specific location than the broader regional distinction “Mid-Atlantic.” I understand this can be confusing with different writers using varying terminology for the same object.)

The box, (lot 11), shares the combined use of single and clusters of four dots and complicated stringing inlay designs as seen in the two-part chest and chest on stand. I believe this could warrant an attribution like that given to the two-part chest and chest on stand. Sotheby’s does not report the wood species of the bottom board of the box. In the photo on-line it does not appear to be yellow poplar and I suspect it is Atlantic white cedar or hard pine. We’ll see in January.

The on-line catalogue does not illustrate the tops of these three objects but the large area of the top boards, as well as the slant lid of the Dietrich American Foundation desk, allows for some of the the most elaborate and inventive line and dot designs produced in the Delaware River Valley. Interestingly, when any of this small group of objects with single and clusters of four dots and complicated stringing inlay designs comes to auction, the fact that their tops, in addition to the drawer fronts, have an inlay design is remarked upon as unusual as this is rarely seen on objects with line and dot inlay documented to Chester County. But when examined as a group it is entirely unremarkable as the top of every one of these objects has a lively, energetic inlay design. (To date, this group includes the three objects discussed above owned by Bill du Pont now at Sotheby’s, the desk in the collection of the Dietrich American Foundation, a chest of drawers in a private collection, sold at Pook & Pook, Inc., another chest of drawers in a private collection inlaid with the date 1706, a box in the collection of Winterthur Museum, and a spice chest sold at Pook & Pook, September 30, 2021.)

Top of the box, lot 11. Photo Sotheby’s.
Top of the two-part chest, lot 174. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Top of the chest on stand lot 505.

3 thoughts on “Line and Dot Inlaid Furniture at Sotheby’s

  1. Mr Bill was into line & dot decoration, no doubt about it, my Fav is lot # 174, the 2 part chest of drawers because of the cluster ( I counted 13) of light & dark Dots at the center of the top board. The Tulip? or flower inlaid lines on the drawer fronts are very attractive as well.
    I suspect all these line & dot pieces will go for big numbers at the sale.

  2. Thanks to Sotheby’s posting of the Bill duPont catalog, I have discovered your scholarly analysis of a subgroup of line and berry furniture that you conclude should be categorized simply as being of “Delaware Valley” origin. This is of great interest to me because we own an item which fits into the group in question. It is a chest on frame purchased at Pook on January 11, 2008, lot 304. It is somewhat unique from the other items in the subcategory as the chest portion consists of just two over two drawers. The base is later. I am not qualified by education or experience to judge the soundness of your analysis, but it seems plausible to me. I do not have any info as to the chest’s history, except (as you may know) that it was featured in a full page ad in “ANTIQUES’ magazine in October, 1927. In the ad, the dealer hailed it as one of the “really beautiful specimens of the early Dutch of Pennsylvania.” I suppose that this (mis)attribution was due solely to its bold tulip motif. The ad further stated that the item was “found in Chester County many years ago.” Of course, even if accurate, that fact would not rule out a Philadelphia or nearby New Jersey origin. Indeed, the ad noted that the dealer’s shop was located only three miles north of Philadelphia City Line. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights with the collecting community.

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