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c. 1780-1795

Part of a set. See all set records

attributed to John Townsend

(American, 1732-1809)

"Plum pudding" mahogany, red cedar, chestnut, white pine, brass

Overall: 240 x 108 x 64.8 cm (94 1/2 x 42 1/2 x 25 1/2 in.); Bottom: 121.9 x 107.9 x 36.5 cm (48 x 42 1/2 x 14 3/8 in.)

Gift of Harvey Buchanan in memory of Penelope Draper Buchanan and Dorothy Tuckerman Draper 2012.43.a


In the 18th century, orders for furniture from the celebrated cabinetmakers of Newport, Rhode Island, came in from far and wide. This desk was likely made for Oliver Wolcott Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later governor of Connecticut. The desk passed down through his family to the famous 20th-century interior decorator Dorothy Draper and ultimately to her daughter, Penelope Draper Buchanan, whose husband gave it to the museum after her death—a rare, unbroken line of succession. Large desks were designed to hold the necessary components of a gentleman’s office, including books, pens and ink, and important documents. To serve such a function, they became complicated masterworks of the cabinetmaker’s art, incorporating many parts—from small drawers to large panels cut from a single tree—making them among the most expensive types of furniture available. This desk and bookcase exhibits the characteristic traits of classic Newport furniture: "plum pudding" mahogany, cupcake-like finials, and a carved shell on the inside of the desk.

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