Joined chest

Attributed to Thomas Dennis (American (born in England), 1638–1706)

Object Place: Probably Ipswich, Massachusetts

Catalogue Raisonné

Randall 7


Overall: 77.5 x 112.7 x 48.3 cm (30 1/2 x 44 3/8 x 19 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oak, white pine

On View

Brown-Pearl Hall (Gallery LG35)




Case furniture and boxes

The three-panel front of this joined chest is composed of two arch panels flanking a central diamond panel. The arch panels are carved with stylized palmettes with a chalice-shaped truncated central leaf, while the diamond panel encloses four tulip motifs, stem to stem, and is bordered by broad curling leaves. The stiles and rails are carved with addorsed palmettes. Much original pink-white and bluish black color remains in the backgrounds. The carving on the stiles was painted black against black, and traces of both black and white appear in the panels. Beneath the stiles are two brackets with the initials MI, possibly those of the original owner.

The ends are two-paneled, with a molded central stile and a channeled rail; they retain a thin coat of green paint, flecked from the brush with an irregular pattern of dots. The back has three plain panels. The single plank pine lid is fitted with oak cleats and shows traces of a later coat of white lead, now largely rubbed off on the front portions. The ends of the lid are gouged with quarter-round indentations.

The interior is fitted with a till, the lid of which has a molded edge; and the bottom of the chest is made of five oak planks running transversely and nailed in place. The keyhole escucheon is original, but the lock and catch are lacking.

Many woodworking shops were active in seventeenth-century New England, and ordinarily the sources of their furniture design can be traced back to specific areas of England. This example is from Ipswitch in Essex County of eastern Massachusetts. The chest is related to those associated with William Searle, who arrived in Essex County from Devonshire, England, in 1663, and with Thomas Dennis, also from southwestern England, who married Searle’s widow and is the more likely maker of this example. The shallow relief carving covering almost every square inch of its facade is evocative of the Devon style, as is its original painted decoration, much of which has survived though muted by time.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at


Brackets carved with initials: "M" on proper right and "I" on proper left.


Purchased by J. Templeman Coolidge about 1891 from John L. Coleman of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who, Mr. Coolidge surmised, probably acquired it in the Portsmouth vicinity; Gift of J. Templeman Coolidge (Accession Date August 1, 1929)

Credit Line

Gift of John Templeman Coolidge