This impressive chest represents a rare form that was produced by only a few cabinet shops in America. The serpentine form, with canted corners and conforming bracket feet, was a style popularized by Thomas Chippendale in England during the mid-eighteenth century. Please see attached illustration from “Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director” for an example. American versions were produced in coastal Massachusetts, New York and Philadelphia. The wealthy patrons from these population centers were familiar with the latest English styles and sought to decorate in that mode. A limited number of cabinetmakers produced such an ambitious chest during this period, creating a short list of possible makers.
Chests of this monumental form and construction are ascribed to the shop of Jonathan Gostelowe [1744-1795]. A group of over fifteen related chests, including labeled examples, are credited to him. Gostelowe demonstrated his interest in producing these fashionable forms by hiring London-trained cabinetmaker, Thomas Jones in 1773. While most English examples include more exuberant Rococo decorations, the American chests are slightly more austere. For example, their canted sides are modestly decorated with either a simple lattice, reeding or smooth veneers. Most of these chests share a fitted top drawer with their English counterparts. These neat fittings served as a dressing table, complete with a folding mirror. Again this is a feature borrowed from an English stylebook by Thomas Shearer, “Cabinet-Makers’ London Book of Prices”. These details are discussed in Deborah Anne Federhen article “The Serpentine-front chest of drawers of Jonathan Gostelowe and Thomas Jones”, The Magazine Antiques, May 1988.
This important chest has commanding scale and superb proportions. It retains a pleasing old color and a mellow surface. The molded rectangular top is vibrant ribbon mahogany and has serpentine front and sides with outset-squared corners. The top is above a conforming serpentine case of four graduated drawers flanked by canted corners. Each drawer has vivid mahogany fronts with cock-bead surrounds and original period hardware.
The interior of the top drawer is fitted with dressing compartments and a folding mirror. There is evidence that a sliding cover or dressing shelf was originally fitted over all of this, but is absent. The drawer and fittings are all constructed from choice mahogany.
The serpentine edges of the drawers come to pronounced corners, which are flanked with canted sides decorated with an applied blind lattice. The bottom edge of the case has a multiple step-molded apron that conforms to the serpentine and canted shape. The chest rests on distinctive bold ogee bracket feet, which are constructed of three pieces. The front and sides of the bracket have shaped returns and the center has an ogee knee that aligns with the canted side. The feet terminate in a square molded toe.
Notes: The most closely related example is a chest from the Luke V. Lockwood collection and discussed in Volume one of his “Colonial Furniture in America”, figure 128. That piece shares the same proportions, fitted top-drawer, canted sides with blind lattice and foot form. His chest is also shown as the illustration for Gostelowe’s work in Ethel Bjerkoe’s “The Cabinetmakers of America” on both the dust jacket and page 115
Dimensions: Case width 42" Depth 24 ¾”; Height 34” Top Width 36 ¼”.