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Desk and Bookcase

Artist/maker unknown, American

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



Mahogany, white cedar, pine, tulip poplar; brass

8 feet 8 1/2 inches × 44 inches × 25 inches (265.4 × 111.8 × 63.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Daniel Blain, Jr., 1997

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    During the mid-1720s, desks with hinged and slanted lids surmounted by bookcase sections with elaborately fitted interiors gained popularity among Philadelphia’s elite merchant class. Often referred to as an “escritoire” in period household inventories, the joinery techniques, design, and carved decoration of these early domestic desk forms evolved throughout the eighteenth century in response to developing Baroque, classical, and Rococo influences. Some of the more complex examples offered an owner the opportunity for a rich and varied presentation of prized objects. The elaborately shaped upper and lower interior compartments were intricately divided into drawers, ledger racks, and pigeonholes. These could be used to display the finely bound daybooks and atlases of the worldly and successful merchant, or the exotic curiosities, imported porcelains, or natural specimens of the gentleman collector.

    This desk, which descended in the Logan and Dickinson families of Philadelphia, is thought to have been commissioned by William Logan, eldest son of James Logan, William Penn’s personal secretary. The desk’s broad, broken-scroll pediment with floral terminals, its central richly carved double-shell tympanum ornamentation, the scroll-shaped, deeply beveled panels of the doors, and the richly grained imported mahogany of its case are all design characteristics drawn from later European and English Baroque influences popular among Philadelphia’s leading cabinetmakers during the mid- to late 1740s.

    The desk has survived with remarkably few restorations and retains its original brasses as well as an early accumulated surface finish. It relates in form and decoration to a small group of desks, several of which include similar carved ornamentation. Despite extensive research, none have been firmly documented to any known Philadelphia cabinetmaking shop or carver. However, aspects of the carving on several of these desks, as well as on this example, show marked similarities to the work of Samuel Harding, a specialized craftsman who supplied the carved architectural ornamentation for the stair tower and first-floor reception room of Independence Hall. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 32.