Desk and Bookcase

Artist/maker unknown, American

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


c. 1762

Mahogany, white cedar, yellow poplar, yellow pine, silvered glass; gilded brass

8 feet 6 inches x 44 1/4 x 24 inches (259.1 x 112.4 x 61 cm) Height (of writing surface): 32 1/8 inches (81.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 102, American Art, first floor (Flammer Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg Fund for Major Acquisitions, and with supporting funds from the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, funds contributed by H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., and other private donors by contribution and exchange, 1990

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The design of this desk and bookcase corresponds to the architecture of the room where it was intended to be placed. It is an ornate example of early Philadelphia furniture and reflects the ways in which the city's craftsmen interpreted the Baroque furniture style with carved Rococo ornament fashionable in England at this time. The glass doors---mirrored with silvered mercury---show an Asian influence: the pattern of their mullions (wood strips) derive from Chinese architecture and furniture.

The family of Philadelphian Anne Shippen Willing commissioned this work, likely upon her marriage to Tench Francis, Jr., a merchant, in 1762. It was a common practice for families, especially Quakers, to provide their daughters with sets of furniture when they married.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This fine and rare secretary bookcase exhibits one of the earliest stages in the transformation from Georgian conservatism to the "modern" Rococo taste in the decorative arts of Philadelphia. Believed to have been made for Ann Shippen Willing, who married Tench Francis, Jr., in 1758, the desk descended in the family in a remarkable state of preservation. The mirrored glazing in the doors has survived virtually intact, as have the carved and gilded ornaments in the interior compartments. The pitched pediment with its intricately carved and molded cornice, relates most closely in form and proportion to the ornate doorframes and entablatures in the grandest contemporary Philadelphia townhouses. The regularity of the extensive carved fret work, together with the scroll-and-leaf motifs on the corners of the doors, presents a stylistic contrast to the less rigid, asymmetrical decoration on later Rococo-inspired Philadelphia furniture of the late 1760s and 1770s. Only the central cartouche of the pediment, with its swirling counterbalance of scrolls and acanthus leaves, hints at the rocaille design that would prove so popular in only five to ten years. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 257.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.