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A California Collection by Russell Buskirk
by Russell Buskirk
California is not known for its large quantity of antiques, but searching in local shops, estate sales, and auctions has rewarded this collector with many rare, important, and undocumented pieces. He also has a network of dealers and auctioneers who call when a quality piece comes on the market.

The collector, who has been acquiring furniture, paintings, ceramics, and other decorative arts for decades, suffered a major loss in 1997 when a fire destroyed much of his home. He has since rebuilt and has continued to collect. Mostly self-taught, he has a remarkably keen eye. What follows is a selection of furniture he has been acquiring over the past eleven years.

Monumental would be the most appropriate term to describe this 78-inch-tall New York mirror, circa 1780-1800. The shell-inlaid figured mahogany tympanum is surmounted by gilt goose-neck moldings ending in rosettes and a gilt urn holding a flower and shafts of wheat. String inlay delineating the architrave, with projecting shaped ends, is repeated on the frame between the double gilt moldings. The architecture of the pediment, urn, fret-work, and moldings relate to other mirrors made in New York's Hudson River Valley, but only a few mirrors exhibit such a grand scale; one in Winterthur Museum's collection measures 72 inches tall.

Detail of front right stile.

The Boston or Salem mahogany secretary bookcase, circa 1785-1800, is the largest and perhaps most important piece in the collection. Although it has a different base and cornice design, the form is very close to the bookcase seen in plate 1 in The Cabinet-Makers' London Book of Prices (1793). The lower section consists of a cherry-sided secretary drawer with small interior drawers and compartments flanking a prospect door. Book-matched crotch mahogany veneer and a satinwood inlaid border on the front are repeated on the flanking drawers. Four crotch veneered doors conceal shelved compartments. The upper sections have adjustable shelves behind glazed doors with Gothic-style arched beaded dividers. Diamond-shaped ivory key escutcheons punctuate the doors and drawers. Although nearly square in dimension, the tapered feet and unusual satinwood raised, banded stiles (see detail) give the piece the illusion of being taller than it is wide. The applied banded treatment is repeated on the sides of the upper section. The central cornice tablet is flanked by convex and concave parapets, which are divided by banded plinth blocks with finials that reinforce the vertical thrust of the piece.

A circa 1805-1811 tall-case clock bears the label and signature of William Lloyd, a cabinetmaker working in Springfield, Massachusetts, from 1802 to about 1820. A similar labeled Lloyd clock, also made of cherry and white pine, is in the collection of Historic Deerfield. Fluted plinth blocks, pierced fret-work, arched bonnet with conforming door, chamfered corners, and an inlaid panel on the base are consistent features of both clocks. This clock has the addition of segmented inlay on the waist door.

A cherry and white pine tall case clock with a moon phase dial was made by David Wood, working from 1792- 1824, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Better known for his shelf clocks, Wood made a few tall case clocks and was known for numbering them. This clock is numbered "67" on the inside of the back board, which, based on his work production, means it could have been made as early as 1795.

This circa 1815-1820 mahogany chest of drawers is attributed to Thomas Seymour (1771-1848) of Boston. It retains its original pulls and escutcheons. The combination of veneered drawer fronts, scrolled backsplash, white pine secondary wood, solid top with edge inlay, turret corners, construction details, and chalk numbers and witness marks help attribute the chest to Seymour's later furniture, possibly when he was working for Isaac Vose.1

This birch "oxbow," or reverse serpentine, chest of drawers, circa 1760-1780, was possibly made in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It features a molded-edge top, cock-beading on the case, and bold ogee bracket feet. The shell-carved center drop is a distinctive regional feature. The chest retains an old finish on the top, sides, and feet. Although the pulls are replacements, the key escutcheons appear to be original.

Although the carved elements on this table were produced by a contemporary craftsman of Salem, Massachusetts, carver Samuel McIntire, the collector was inspired to purchase this Salem piece after reading the recently published Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style by Dean Lahikainen. The circa 1790 to 1800 tilt-top table employs molded edges and ovolo corners on the serpentine-shaped top. The classically inspired urn of the pedestal exhibits carved floral swags and a series of carved beads encircle the base. The table rests on three cabriole legs with carved paterae at the knees. The table is part of a small group of this form with carved elements.

The circa 1795-1800 inlaid Baltimore card table with lily of the valley paterae is what originally brought the collector and myself together. Having read my article on how the lily inlay is made in a previous issue of this magazine (3rd Anniversary, 2003), he called me to see if I could restore the poorly executed repairs of the inlaid shell on the top of his table. Three quarters of the shell and most of the background had been crudely replaced. After he sent the table to my shop, we found a virtually identical shell pattern on which to base our repairs. During our research, we discovered that Annapolis cabinetmaker John Shaw (1745-1829) used comparable shells on a desk with bookcase, a chair, and both doors of a sideboard and that William Patterson (1774-1816) inlaid a similar shell on a clock case dated 1797. It is likely that all of these shells were made in Baltimore by Thomas Barnett. Patterson purchased "238 shells" from the estate of Barnett on November 20, 1800.2

A mahogany and satinwood card table, circa 1795, with a serpentine front and ovolo sides is, according to the late collector and author Benjamin Hewitt, one of only two known Federal period Philadelphia satinwood card tables with this shape. The satinwood skirt with string inlay panels, arched satinwood panels on the leg plinths, and inlaid cuffs are decorative treatments used by the cabinetmaker to give the table a more refined appearance. A Philadelphia work table with a satinwood skirt and similar inlay treatment is in the Garvan collection at Yale University Art Gallery and signed by Robert McGuffin, a journeyman cabinetmaker working for Henry Connelly (1770-1826) of Philadelphia.3

One of a pair of looking glasses, American or English, circa 1790-1810. The collector purchased the first of this pair several years ago from a retired Connecticut antiques dealer who had acquired it at an estate sale in Massachusetts. Over-coated with paint when the collector bought it, he sent it to a conservator for treatment. In 2006, he found what appeared to be its mate on the website of a Florida dealer who had purchased the looking glass in a Manhattan apartment. The shared classical motifs of lions, masks, seahorses, and dragons indicated the same maker. Detailed notes written in the same hand on the back boards of both mirrors confirmed they were long separated mates. Both are constructed of white pine with gesso-molded ornaments on wire.

A diminutive tiger maple tall chest, circa 1740-1760, is attributed to Christopher Townsend (1701-1787), one of the patriarchs of the Newport, Rhode Island, cabinetmaking dynasty, and father of John Townsend. The case and drawer construction are consistent with another tall chest signed by Townsend.4 The chalk lettering script on the drawer backs is comparable to other documented Townsend pieces.5 The leg profiles and turned pad feet resemble those on early Rhode Island chairs. The chest retains most of the original brass pulls, escutcheons, and many of the original glue blocks.

A round tilt-top table, circa 1755-1775, illustrates how important pieces turn up in unexpected places. The collector found this table at an antiques show booth that was exhibiting English case furniture. Thinking the table was also English, the dealer priced it accordingly. The collector liked the table so he bought it. At first glance, I thought it looked like a Newport, Rhode Island, piece. During our assessment of the table we found that the lower block of the birdcage, a feature sometimes seen on Newport tables, was made of American cherry wood. After a quick review of published material of Newport furniture, we knew we were on the right track.

Although restrained in its decorative details, the execution of this table is undoubtedly of the first order. The simple rounded-edge top, the profile of the cleats, the turned elements of the birdcage and spiral-carved vase of the pedestal, the shape and treatment of the legs as well as the feet are closely related to a table in the Newport Historical Society collection reputedly owned by Solomon Southwick (1731-1797), the publisher of the Newport Mercury. The spiral-carved shaft is a treatment undocumented on any other Newport table. Because of the interdependence and specialization of cabinet shops in Newport, attribution to a specific maker is difficult at this time. Hopefully, further research and discoveries will provide clues as to the creator of these tables.

This large mahogany pier table, circa 1825 to 1830, is attributed to Anthony Quervelle (1789-1856) of Philadelphia. The central ogee-shaped skirt is repeated on the base between turret corners, and, in typical Quervelle fashion, the scrolled front legs have carved rosettes at the sides, acanthus knees, and bold paw feet. The solid mahogany top conforms to the convex-shaped skirt. The oil painting above the table is attributed to American landscape artist Andrew Melrose (1836-1901).

The throne-like high-backed walnut Gothic Revival armchair, circa 1840, retains its matching footstool, often separated because of its portability. The central drop on the front rail is carved with the face of a man wearing a crown. The back has an arched frame enclosing complex tracery surmounted by five quatrefoils. The spires on the tops of the stiles evoke the spires of a Gothic cathedral. The chair is inscribed "Robert Lowry Westchester, PA 1838."

While the greatest thrill for this collector is "the hunt," he also enjoys researching the objects, discovering where they originated, and how they relate to other pieces. His collaboration on this article was the result of his desire to both document and disseminate information on his collection. Since neither the collector nor I claim to know everything about the objects shown here, our hope is that some of you may be intrigued by them and may even have additional information you would like to share. I invite you to contact me about these or related pieces.

Russell Buskirk is owner of Buskirk Restoration, Inc., Charleston, South Carolina. He is on the vetting committee of the Winter Antiques Show and on the MESDA Advisory Board. He can be contacted at 843.406.9861 or visit www.buskirkrestoration.com.

Photography by the author.

1. Robert D. Mussey, The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour (Hanover: University Press, 2003), 79-132, 264-265, no. 65.

2. Sumpter Priddy III, Michael Flanigan, and Gregory R. Weidman, "The Genesis of Neoclassical Style in Baltimore," American Furniture (2000): 83-84, fig. 36, 39.

3. For related tables with similar shells and inlay treatment see: "Baltimore Furniture: The work of Baltimore and Annapolis Cabinetmakers, in Alice Winchester," ed., The Antiques Book (New York: Bonanza, 1950).

4. Jeffrey P. Green, American Furniture of the Eighteenth Century (Newton, CT: Taunton Press, 1996), 234-237.

5. Michael Moses and Israel Sack, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, NJ: MMI Americana, 1984), 102-103, fig. 3.8, 3.10, 3.11.

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