Fall-front desk (secrétaire à abbattant)

Emmons & Archbald (active 1813–1824), Thomas Emmons (American, active 1813–1825), George Archbald (American, active 1813–1834)

Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts


Overall: 153.7 x 97.8 x 49.5 cm (60 1/2 x 38 1/2 x 19 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Mahogany, mahogany veneer, pine, ash, chestnut, popular, brass

On View

Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery (Gallery 133)




Case furniture and boxes

The firm of Thomas Emmons and George Archibald, active between 1813 and Emmons’s death in 1825, was a leader in Boston furniture making in the years after the War of 1812. Worthy successors to John and Thomas Seymour, the partners produced fashionable mahogany furniture in the French Empire style, including this fall-front desk (or secrétaire à abbatant) bearing their stenciled label.

Made in the restrained French taste, this secretary is characteristic of the elegant nature of Emmons and Archibald’s work and of Boston furniture in this period. Carefully selected mahogany veneers and superbly carved hairy-paw feet provide points of visual interest to the largely rectilinear, vertical form. Brass caps and bases accent the columns at each side of the case, while a floral escutcheon surrounds the lock on the fall-front. According to their advertisement in a Boston newspaper on June 1, 1825, the firm’s stock-in-trade included “a variety of elegant French CAPS and BASES, Rings, Knobs, and other Ornaments” that may have been imported from France.

The Emmons and Archibald establishment at 39 Orange (later Washington) Street had a three-story warehouse, “commodiously arranged for exhibiting furniture,” a thirteen-room dwelling house with yard and outbuildings, and “in the rear very extensive workshops with suitable fixtures and a large space protected from the sun for seasoning mahogany.” The extent of the enterprise is indicated by the eleven workbenches located in the shop, where journeymen and apprentices labored at their tasks.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.


Stencilled label inside twice: 1. central interior drawer and 2. on inside bottom of top drawer, at center: "EMMONS & ARCHBALD / No. 39 Orange Street / (BOSTON) / Cabinet, Chair & Upholstery / Manufactory."


1985, purchased by the Museum from New England Gallery, Inc., Andover, Massachusetts (Accession Date: June 26, 1985)

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated by a friend of the Department of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture and Otis Norcross Fund