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Robert F. Trent and Michael Podmaniczky
An Early Cupboard Fragment from the Harvard College Joinery Tradition

American Furniture 2002

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Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Cupboard head attributed to John Taylor, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1640–1670. Oak and pine with pine. H. 31", W. 51", D. 18 3/4". (Private collection; photo, Jim Schneck.) The panels have lozenges that were carved with a V-shaped parting tool, and rondels and scrolls carved with a gouge. This effective but simple carving has no exact cognate in New England joinery, even though incised lozenges were a common motif throughout the region.

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Chest of drawers with doors attributed to the Ralph Mason and Henry Messinger shop tradition, Boston, Massachusetts, 1635–1650. White oak, red oak, chestnut, maple, black walnut, cedar, cedrella, snakewood, rosewood, and lignum vitae with red oak, white oak, chestnut, and white pine. H. 49", W. 45 3/16", D. 23 3/8". (Courtesy, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, Yale University Art Gallery.) The turnings on this piece are attributed to Thomas Edsall.

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Cupboard attributed to the Harvard College joiners, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1660–1670. Oak and maple with pine. H. 51 5/8", W. 45", D. 19 1/2". (Courtesy, Concord Museum.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Rear view of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 3.

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Side view of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 3. Some of the side panels are made of pine rather than oak.

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Detail of the dovetailing of a drawer in the cupboard illustrated in fig. 3.

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Detail of a pillar on the cupboard illustrated in fig. 3.

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Detail of a pair of half-columns on the cupboard illustrated in fig. 3.

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Joined cupboard with four drawers attributed to the Ralph Mason and Henry Messinger joinery tradition and the Thomas Edsall turning tradition, Boston, Massachusetts, 1675–1690. Oak, maple, cedar, walnut, and chestnut with oak and white pine. H. 55 5/8", W. 49 1/8", D. 21 3/4". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The frieze ornaments, top of the upper case, several small moldings, and the knobs are modern restorations. The original owners of the cupboard were Isaac (1650–1731) and Elizabeth (Tallman) (d. 1701) Lawton of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, who were married in 1673.

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Detail of a pillar on the cupboard illustrated in fig. 9.

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Detail of a pair of half-columns on the cupboard illustrated in fig. 9. These small half-columns differ from those found on the Cambridge group, which are similar to those on the upper section of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 9.

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Detail of the dovetailing of a drawer in the cupboard illustrated in fig. 9

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Joined cupboard, Boston or Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1670–1700. Oak and maple with oak and pine. H. 60", W. 49 3/4", D. 23 1/4". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Bayou Bend Collection, museum purchase funds provided by the Theta Charity Antiques Show.) Two corbels, some applied moldings and plaques, the knobs, and the bottoms of the posts are modern restorations. The pillars are slender versions of those on several cupboards that clearly are part of the Cambridge group.

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Detail of the dovetailing of a drawer in the cupboard illustrated in fig. 13.

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    Rear view of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 13. On most of the cupboards in the Cambridge group, the rear façade of the lower case is sealed with nailed-on boards.

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    Side view of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 13. On most of the cupboards in the Cambridge group, the side frames of the lower case have one panel rather than two.

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Chest of drawers attributed to the Ralph Mason and Henry Messinger joinery tradition and the Thomas Edsall turning tradition, Boston, Massachusetts, 1640–1670. Oak, cedrella, cedar, walnut, and ebony with oak. H. 51 1/4", W. 47 3/16", D. 23 1/16". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bequest of Charles Hitchcock Tyler.)

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Joined cupboard, Boston or Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1650–1690. Oak, maple, and walnut with oak and pine. H. 61", W. 52 1/2", D. 23". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The pillars, knobs, and some applied moldings and plaques are modern restorations. The cupboard was reputedly found in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Rear view of the cupboard illustrated in fig. 18.

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Detail of the left door of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1. Each door hinges on 1/2" pins set into holes in the top and bottom of the stile. These pins engage holes in the case. The joiner clearly drilled the holes to make the doors recessed on the hinge side and flush with the façade on the other.

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Photos showing how the joiner ran the groove for the panel in the outer stile of the left door of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1.

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Photos showing how the joiner ran the groove for the panel in the outer stile of the left door of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1.

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Photos showing how the joiner ran the groove for the panel in the outer stile of the left door of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1.

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    Detail of the chamfering on the right upper post of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1. The slight chamfer at the juncture of the top rail and the suspended posts is unusual, but it appears to be the result of a mistake rather than a stylistic conceit. This detail is barely discernible and may represent the joiner’s attempt to dress up the posts adjacent to the mistakenly inverted frieze rail.

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Detail of an open mortise-and-tenon joint on the underside of the upper right post of the cupboard fragment illustrated in fig. 1.

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Joined cupboard with drawers attributed to the Harvard College joiners, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1670–1690. Oak, maple, and cedar with oak and pine. H. 52", W. 46", D. 20". (Private collection; photo, David Stansbury.)

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Joined cupboard attributed to the Harvard College joiners, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1670–1700. Oak and maple with oak and pine. H. 53 7/8", W. 46 5/8", D. 20 1/8". (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum.)

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Detail of the left corbel of a Cambridge cupboard (overall not illustrated). (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The corbel is decorated with the carved letter “I”.

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Detail of the middle corbel of a Cambridge cupboard. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The corbel is decorated with the carved letter “M”.

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Detail of the right corbel of a Cambridge cupboard. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The corbel is decorated with the carved letter “B”.

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Cupboard head illustrated in figure 1 with its restored lower case and upper pillars. The reproduction base and pillars made to display the cupboard fragment are somewhat conjectural, but many features were not difficult to infer; the Stone cupboard (fig. 3) provided the basic design. Decisions about construction and ornament were based on the assumption that the fragment was made before Boston styles influenced the Harvard College joinery tradition. The lower case was decorated with chamfers and carving matching that on the upper case; the drawer front was decorated with planed moldings; and the pillars were based on English examples of comparable date rather than the tapered urns seen on later Boston and Cambridge cupboards. The rear of the lower case was sealed with nailed-on, chamfered boards, and the front corners of the drawer were joined with one large dovetail.