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High Chest of Drawers

Artist/maker unknown, American

While the bed chambers of chic early Philadelphia houses often featured a high chest (for storing textiles; 1957-129-1) and dressing table (for cosmetics and hair accessories; 2012-59-1), this pairing represents the pinnacle of design, cabinetmaking, and carved ornament. The raised space underneath the high chest distinguishes it as a confection of North America since the British had abandoned that design by the 1730s.

While most high chests and dressing tables fit within well-defined groups, the proportions and shaping of the rails and the legs of this pairing relate to only one other dressing table, making it difficult to identify the maker. The choice mahogany, with an even surface and swirling figure, signifies the status of the commission. And a highly skilled carver ornamented it profusely—most conspicuously with a narrative from Aesop’s fable of “The Fox and the Grapes” on the central bottom drawers. Aesop’s moralistic tales were the only fiction Quakers were allowed to read.

Object Details

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