Desk and bookcase

about 1715–20

Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Catalogue Raisonné

Eighteenth-century American Arts No. 18


224.79 x 75.25 x 52.07 cm (88 1/2 x 29 5/8 x 20 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Walnut, white pine, mahogany, ebony, satinwood

On View

Burton A. Cleaves Gallery (Gallery LG27)




Case furniture and boxes

Desk and bookcase of Virginia walnut and white pine. Front of crotch-grain veneer; drawer and door bands of mahogany, ebony and satinwood; stars of rosewood and satinwood on doors and lid. Scroll pediment; central finial ( a replacement). Two arched paneled doors enclosing drawers and pigeonholes. Slant lid above four graduated drawers with original brass bail handles and escutcheons. Bracket feet.

The practice of adding a bookcase above a slant-front desk developed in early-eighteenth-century Britain. Tall, substantial, and imposing, the combined desk and bookcase was designed to look like a small building. This very early American example incorporates many characteristics of the late Baroque style. The architectural form and strong verticality of the piece give it a striking presence, while its narrow proportions, clean lines, and high-quality woods add sophistication and refinement. The surface is enlivened by swirling veneers and inlaid designs in light and dark woods, including bands in a checkerboard pattern and five stars that create the illusion of spinning. The interior is lavishly fitted with stepped, undulating drawers; carved shells; and pigeonhole compartments that held important business and family documents.


Avery, Greenough, Townsend families; purchased from Mr. Edward Greenough Townsend, New York, for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts.

Credit Line

The M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts