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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.); Top: 107.4 x 113.3 x 64.5 cm (42 5/16 x 44 5/8 x 25 3/8 in.)

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

Did you know?

This desk and bookcase was likely made for Oliver Wolcott Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later governor of Connecticut.


In the 1700s, Newport, Rhode Island, was the fifth largest city in North America and one of the most important centers of shipping and trade along the Eastern Seaboard. Orders for furniture from its celebrated cabinetmakers came in from far and wide. This desk and bookcase was likely made for Oliver Wolcott Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later governor of the State of Connecticut. Eventually, the desk passed down through his family to Dorothy Draper, an important 20th-century interior decorator, 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 all the necessary components of a gentleman’s office under lock and key: books, papers, pens and ink, and important documents. To serve such a function desks also 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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