Newport Secretary Desk and Bookcase
The Rhode Island Desk and Bookcase is one of the most famous pieces of American Furniture associated with the Townsend Goddard family of cabinetmakers of Newport, Rhode Island. There are nine know examples of this style Block and Shell Carved Desk and Bookcase, all of which are in museums around the country except for one which sold at Christies of New York in 1989 to a private buyer for a record $12.1 Million Dollars. This desk and bookcase is going to be a version based on 4 of the 9 known examples. The four original Secretary Desks are attributed to John Goddard and are located at the Rhode Island School of Design, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. We made this Desk and Bookcase out of solid South American Mahogany using a spectacular plank of figured mahogany for the Drawer Fronts, Lid, door panels and pediment panels. The interior drawer parts are made from a single log of tiger maple. The parts were shop re-sawn from the larger planks.
All Carving is done by hand and all of the dovetail joinery is hand cut.
Check out Part 1 of our video on the making of this Desk and Bookcase
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His Desk Sold for $12 Million, but ‘Van Gogh of Mahogany’ Died Poor
Financially speaking, when John Goddard died his shirt didn’t quite meet his pants.
On balance, that is, he was broke. Having 15 children may not have helped. Too bad. Just 204 years later, a desk almost certainly made by him has been sold for $11 million--plus 10% commission, for a total of more than $12 million.
John Goddard (1723-85) was a cabinetmaker. He was the unsung Vincent van Gogh of mahogany. It was die now, get rich later. Much later.
In the 1760s Goddard thought, correctly, that he was making a handsome bookcase desk for John Nicholas Brown, a Providence merchant. Brown did not know that the desk would make tidal waves in the antiques market in June, 1989, when his descendant and namesake sold the family heirloom through a New York auction house.
The highest bid of $12.1 million was quadruple the previous world record price paid for a single piece of furniture. That was $2.97 million, paid in 1988 for a Louis XVI table that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.
Colonial cabinetmakers, even superstars such as Goddard, didn’t die rich. Their customers did. The Goddards served them in death as in life, eking out a living between masterpieces by making coffins--or hammer handles or cheap furniture for export to the Caribbean, whence came the expensive mahogany logs they used to make fine pieces.
Goddard’s home, one of many Colonial buildings in this seaport, still stands on 2nd Street near Pine. So does his shop adjacent to the three-story, gabled house. It’s about as big as a one-car garage--one compact car, that is.
John Alden, the Mayflower immigrant, was the first cabinetmaker in the Colonies. His product was crude as a broadax, rough-hewn for the ages. As the Colonies prospered, hardscrabble utility began surrendering to refinement. Quality furniture became a confirmation of status, gentility, wealth.
And wealth in the Colonies was concentrated at the seaports. Philadelphia, second-largest city in the British Empire, was the capital of cabinetmaking. Newport by the mid-1700s was home to 11,000 people. It had more than 50 rum distilleries and a growing class of entrepreneurs becoming rich in the triangular trade of rum, slaves and sugar cane.
Newport also had a family of Quakers named Townsend and Goddard. Three generations of Townsends and Goddards intermarried both nuptially and vocationally, producing a line of some 20 cabinetmakers and a golden age of furniture--wooden Parthenons for the drawing rooms of the rich who could afford the best and found it, providentially, within walking distance.
John Goddard was born in Dartmouth, Mass., son of a shipwright, one of the crafts that gave rise to Colonial cabinetmaking. By age 20 he was master of the sloop Bashsheda, plying between Philadelphia and Newport. In 1746 he married Hannah, daughter of cabinetmaker Job Townsend. Goddard’s brother, James, also married a daughter of Job’s. The brothers began to learn “the art, trade and mystery” of cabinetmaking.
The first quality furniture in America was either imported from Britain or copied from English books of design such as Thomas Chippendale’s “The Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director,” published in 1754. Gradually, each of the American port cities evolved its own furniture style.
Philadelphia’s furniture the most elegant and richly carved. New York was an unadorned and “put it there” kind of town, and so was its furniture. Boston, already in decline as a seaport, produced a frugal style that resisted change as well as ostentation. And in Newport, which had 67 cabinetmakers during the century, the best, remember, were Quakers.
The tools of their trade were almost prehistoric by today’s standards.
“All you needed were sharp planes, saws and chisels,” said Robert Emlen, the curator who shipped Goddard’s desk off the auction block. “They finished wood with scrapers, pumice and rottenstone or sharkskin--but for that you had to find a shark.
“Screws were expensive, and they were only used where absolutely needed,” said Jeff Moore, who restores furniture for the Newport Preservation Society. “They used (animal) hide glue--it’s still holding. Blacksmiths made files, and they had molding planes and jointer planes and rifflers and sandpaper made out of crushed glass glued to paper. They weren’t fools. They did it the easy way wherever they could.”
Humble woods were used where they wouldn’t be seen, but the visible mahogany surfaces were flawlessly carved and dovetailed.
Future cabinetmakers apprenticed for seven years, beginning at about age 13. After the dog work they became journeymen, traveling from job to job until they acquired enough rifflers and planes and sharks to open their own shops. Roughly, it took a journeyman eight days to make a table four feet long, six days to make a plain desk, 22 days for a highboy.
Each city’s style became subtly distinctive, an aid to future antiquarians since few pieces in the Chippendale era were signed. It was an anonymous business presumably because everybody knew who made what. Ball-and-claw feet were squared off at the bottom in New York, carved with pronounced knuckles in Philadelphia, lacked webbing between the talons in Newport.
The Townsends and Goddards became known for their block-front furniture, with convex panels surrounding a third, concave panel and topped with a carved scallop shell, a common adornment, along with stars and radiating suns. It was a style that came to Newport from Italy by way of Boston.
Customarily, several craftsmen contributed to a block-front desk-bookcase: the lathe turner, the brass hardware maker and sometimes the carver. They would turn over their pieces to the cabinetmaker, who put them all together and got credit for the final product. So it was, presumably, with John Goddard’s $12.1-million block-front desk, although he probably did the carving himself.
Actually, no one is positive that Goddard made the desk. It is unsigned. “It’s a reasonably good bet he made it, but we’re not sure,” Emlen said.
Aside from the distinctive touches on the piece, there are letters between Goddard and the Browns, who were of such importance and wealth that the College of Rhode Island was renamed Brown University in their honor. A 1763 letter to Goddard from Nicholas’s brother, Moses, accuses the cabinetmaker of falling behind on an order and of working for another client when he should have been finishing Brown’s furniture.
Goddard the Quaker wrote back, hat in hand, that Moses should understand he had “to keep my boys Imploy’d . . . so I hope thou will think better of thy friend.” He went on to describe a “Chest on Chest of Drawers and a Sweld (block) front which are costly and ornamental.”
Such a costly and ornamental desk-bookcase, now known as a secretary, might have sold then for 400 pounds. Nicholas, when he died in 1791, left a “bookcase with books"-- probably the very same one--valued at 95 pounds in the widely fluctuating currency of that day. That was a high value for the times.
There were 10 such desks made. One was lost in a fire; eight are in museums. The Brown desk had remained in the family from the day it was made, in about 1767. After it was moved to the ultimate Brown family home in Providence in 1814, it left there only twice, both times on loan for an exhibit.
When he died, Goddard left “all my stock of mahogany” to his sons “to be worked up for the support of my wife and minor children.” A year later, the Newport Mercury carried a sad epitaph, a notice that Goddard, “represented insolvent . . . all those indebted to said estate are desired to make immediate Payment . . .” And so he faded into obscurity.
The desk, meanwhile, was passed down through the eldest Brown son and gradually acquired the status of a “family icon,” said Emlen, “a pinnacle of the family fortune. The Browns had the means to change the interior decor every 20 or so years, but the desk always remained.”
For years it had received little more notice than Goddard himself. Then in 1913, it was mentioned in Vincent Lockwood’s “Colonial Furniture in America.” Goddard was similarly rediscovered, as were his town and his works.
Newport had been invaded by the British during the Revolution and 400 homes were torn down for firewood. In the aftermath the town languished, its motto being “Eat it up, make it do, do without.” In this environment, old furniture stayed at home and out of antique shops. As the mahogany took on the blood-maroon, glowing patina of age, the cabinetmakers of Newport were recalled from their graves as “craftsmen (whose) output in quality, design and originality (was) unsurpassed by any other urban or rural setting throughout the world.”
The Goddard desk, almost 10 feet high, rose above the finicky, precious details in the auction house catalogue: “molded scroll pediment . . . fluted urn flame finials . . . stop-fluted quarter columns . . . shell-covered prospect door . . . scroll-carved bracket foot . . . .”
Goddard and Townsend
The Goddard and Townsend families of Newport lend their name to an extensive body of New England furniture associated with Newport, Rhode Island in the second half of the 18th century.
Family of artisans
The Townsend and Goddard families were two Quaker families that were part of a large cabinetmaking community centered in The Point neighborhood of Newport, a predominately Quaker neighborhood. The founders of this cabinetmaking dynasty immigrated to Newport from other New England towns. Christopher Townsend (1701–1787) and Job Townsend (1699–1765) of Oyster Bay, New York, came to Newport in 1707 with their parents Solomon Townsend and Catherine (Almy) Townsend. Both brothers would become cabinetmakers in Newport. Carpenter and cabinetmaker Daniel Goddard (1697–1764) was born in Jamestown, Rhode Island to Henry Goddard and Mary (Howland) Goddard. He moved from Jamestown first to Dartmouth, Massachusetts, before settling in Newport by 1727.
The second generation of Newport cabinetmakers from these families are perhaps the best known. John Townsend (1732–1809) was the son of Christopher Townsend and Patience (Easton) Townsend. He would marry Philadelphia Feke (1742–1802), daughter of famed portrait painter Robert Feke. John Goddard (1723/4-1785) was the son of Daniel Goddard and apprentice of Job Townsend. He married Job's daughter Hannah Townsend (1728–1804).
Twenty-one members of successive generations of these two intermarried families worked as cabinetmakers over a period of 120 years, selling their products not only in New England but also in the coastal trade and in the West Indies.
The furniture associated with the Goddard and Townsend families is identified by a number of unique features. The so-called Block-and-shell motif, a block-front topped by a carved shell in alternating concave and convex pattern, is one of the key features. However, this alone is not proof of Goddard or Townsend origin- recently rediscovered cabinetmakers such as Benjamin Baker (1734–1822) of Newport or Grindal Rawson (1719–1803) of Providence are also known to have used the carved shell pattern when constructing case furniture. Newport furniture of this school is also associated with a distinct ball and claw foot, in which there is an open space carved between the talon and ball. Such a form is thought to be unique to Newport, though not unique to the Goddard or Townsend families.
A single mahogany secretary bookcase made by Christopher Townsend (John's father) in 1740 sold at auction in New York for $8.25 million. John Goddard made a famous six-shell desk-bookcase for Providence merchant Nicholas Brown, Sr. It was sold by the Brown family in 1989, for $12.1 million — a record for a piece of American furniture at auction. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art and Preservation Society of Newport County own works of Goddard-Townsend.
References and external links
- ^Morrison Hecksher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.), 35-60.
- ^Magazine Antiques; April, 1995 - Ralph E. Carpenter
- ^Dennis A Carr, "The Account Book of Benjamin Baker," American Furniture (2004)
What Do You Know About Antique Secretary Desk By The Goddard And Townsend Families
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He was famed for his antique exquisite furniture designs, he died in the year?
John Goddard came from a family famed for contributing to the extensive body of New England Furniture, the family called?
John Goddard was primarily associated with the development of?
He built a piece six-shell mahogany desk-bookcase and made for the merchant named?
John Goddard built six-shell mahogany has the height of?
The six-shell mahogany was a record sale in the year?
The Brown family sold the furniture to Harold Sack for?
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Time magazine reported that since the sale of the Newport desk, Kindel future of Grand Rapids has booked orders for 110 replicas at $19,000 in the year?
Secretary desk goddard townsend antique
In 1990, a mahogany desk made by Newport cabinetmaker John Goddard sold at auction for $11 million plus a 10 percent commission. Until then, no other piece of furniture had sold for anything near that price. It was four times the price tag for a Louis XVI table that belonged to Marie Antoinette.
A John Goddard table, courtesy National Gallery of Art
Goddard made the $12 million block-and-shell desk for Nicholas Brown, a Providence merchant and member of the prominent Brown family. During the 18th century, the simple but elegant Newport furniture made by the Goddard and Townsend families was a status symbol. Then it fell into obscurity until 20th century scholars woke up to the glories of Newport furniture.
Goddard may have been the best of the Rhode Island craftsmen. He was called the Vincent van Gogh of mahogany. But when he died in 1785, he left his 16 children nothing – nothing but the ability to make fine furniture.
John Goddard was born in Dartmouth, Mass., on Jan. 20, 1724, the son of a successful shipwright, Daniel Goddard, and his wife Mary Tripp. Both were Quakers. Soon after John was born, his family moved to Newport, where his father built ships that would carry his son’s furniture.
The wealthy seaport of Newport was then the fifth-largest city in America with a thriving cabinetmaking industry. Newport furniture evolved differently from that of Boston and Philadelphia. It had less of an English influence, and was characterized by fine workmanship, block fronts, curved shells, bold ball-and-claw feet, spare ornamentation and elegant proportions.
High chest attributed to John Townsend, courtesy National Gallery of Art
Young Goddard was apprenticed to Job Townsend, a cabinetmaker. He became a freeman in 1745 at age 21 and married Hannah Townsend, Job’s daughter. His brother James married Hannah’s sister. All in all, three generations of Townsends and Goddards intermarried and produced 20 cabinetmakers and some of the best furniture in America.
John Goddard was talented and ambitious, and he wanted to outdo the Townsends. He had 16 children, three more than his former master Job. He built a house and shop that was bigger than Job’s.
Historians speculate he went out on his own to pursue the higher end of the business. He developed his own style in furniture, described as “a bold and muscular version of the delicate, linear cabriole style associated with his master and the prior generation.”
Neatest Workman in America
His big break was a commission for the newly married John Brown. Goddard made a scalloped tea table, two corner chairs, two clawfoot tables, one tea table and a dressing table. (It’s now in the John Brown House Museum.)
John Brown’s brothers Nicholas and Moses simply had to have Goddard’s furniture. Goddard didn’t get Moses his furniture fast enough, and Moses wrote him an angry note:
“This you was to do, that is, Finish ye Work I wrote for ye first you did after my Brother’s Wife’s furniture were done.”
The high point of John Goddard’s career came in the 1760 and early 1770s. He added to his clients Aaron Lopez, Jabez Bowen, Christopher Champlin, James Atkinson and Stephen Hopkins. His reputation spread to wealthy clients in England and the West Indies, commissioned by John Banister.
He may not have been a good businessman. He was often late and had a hard time keeping his workers occupied.
Nicholas Brown wrote to a West Indian client who had ordered a set of Goddard armchairs: “The Two Armed Chaiar is not Done, we have it now making by the neatest workman in America, was in hoops to have it finished by this, but the Maker being Very Curious in Mahy. The Feet in Imitation of Eagles Claws & all the other parts in the Handsomest manner is the Reason of its not being Done.”
In 1764 he was elected to two public offices: a viewer of joiners’ lumber and a justice of the peace.
In 1776, the British occupied Newport. Nearly half the town left, as the population fell to 5,299 from 9,209 in 1770. The occupation devastated Newport’s commerce. Goddard was not spared.
He fell on hard times and had to make ready-made furniture to survive.
He may have lost business because of rumors he was a Loyalist. Three of his sons moved to Nova Scotia after the British left; three others continued the cabinetmaking business in Newport.
John Goddard died broke on July 9, 1785. He was forgotten until the Colonial Revival – and furniture scholarship – revived his reputation and that of Newport furniture.
Luke Vincent Lockwood, the pioneering furniture scholar in the United States, revived interest in Newport furniture in 1901 with his book, Colonial Furniture in America. Interest in Newport furniture was furthered by Antiques magazine, which began publication in January 1922.
The Rhode Island school of Design in 1927 put on the first special exhibition of Rhode Island furniture, which included an essay on John Goddard’s life. The same year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought three Newport pieces.
As scholarship continued to identify more Newport furniture, its reputation soared. It reached its zenith in 1990 when a descendant of Nicholas Brown sold Goddard’s block-and-shell desk at auction.
Newport block-and-shell furniture still commands high prices at auction houses.
American Revolution, art, furniture, manufacturing, Newport, Quakers
18th-Century Desk Sold For Record $12.1 Million
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An elaborately carved 18th-century American desk was bought yesterday by a New York antiques dealer for $12.1 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for an object other than a painting.
The sale of the Newport relic with an enviable pedigree catapults antiques and decorative arts to a new plateau. The auction, at Christie's in New York, is the most recent in an overheated market in which records are toppled almost daily for an increasing number and variety of artworks.
This year 11 paintings and this desk, a secretary, have each brought more than $10 million at auction, a level that was first surpassed in 1983. Until yesterday, no work of the decorative arts had sold at auction for more than $3 million.
''Not all masterpieces hang on the wall,'' said the purchaser, Harold Sack of Israel Sack Inc., after Christopher Burge, Christie's president in New York, brought his gavel down on the purchase. Mr. Sack said he was representing a young man with a variety of business interests who ''is forming a superior collection'' of American furniture. Starting at the Top
''He and his wife are just starting as collectors,'' Mr. Sack said. ''They have been collecting for a relatively short time - it can't be more than three or four years.''
One interesting aspect of this couple's antiques collecting that Mr. Sack said is increasingly common is that they have just come into the market and are starting at the top, buying the finest antiques. ''These people who are at that level are not buying out of disposable earned income,'' he said.
No piece of furniture auctioned over the last several decades has aroused as much interest as this bonnet-topped mahogany secretary, robustly carved with a block-and-shell front, which was probably made by John Goddard, a master Rhode Island cabinetmaker of the pre-Revolutionary period. It is the tallest, at 113 inches, of the nine six-shell Newport secretaries known to survive, most of which are in museums.
This desk-bookcase, the tallest surviving example of what was a status symbol for merchants in Colonial America, eclipsed the $3 million level, which was reached only last month. It was then that a diamond-encrusted Russian enameled Easter egg, made in 1900 by Peter Carl Faberge, was auctioned for that figure at Christie's in Geneva. The highest sum ever before achieved at auction for a piece of furniture was $2.97 million, paid in November at Sotheby's in London for a Louis XVI console table that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Many Historical Associations
Mr. Burge said he did not expect many works of the decorative arts to sell for the price that the desk brought at auction. ''There is always going to be a premium paid for the fine arts,'' he said. ''It is possible to see $100 million for the right picture, but it will be a long time before we see $50 million for any work of the decorative arts.''
Mr. Burge said the price for the desk was at least $2 million more than anyone at Christie's thought it would be. But even some American antiques collectors had suggested a much higher price might be paid.
''The desk has so many historical associations,'' he said. ''It is the only such desk available, and it is probably the best example of a six-shell Newport secretary. If you are going to buy a great and soaring piece of American furniture - this is it.''
The market for American furniture is very strong, Mr. Burge said. ''But big prices, on the whole, are paid for very few pieces, and only Americans buy American furniture. In French furniture, you have many more pieces going for much higher prices - an awful lot sell for $300,000 or $400,000.'' 'Bound to Be a Ripple Effect'
The pedigree of the Rhode Island secretary auctioned yesterday is as impressive to many American furniture collectors and museum curators as French furniture made for royalty. ''It had descended in the family of the original owner, Nicholas Brown of Providence, who was in shipping and commerce, producing candles from whale oil,'' said Dean Failey, who heads American furniture sales at Christie's. ''Brown University took its name from the Nicholas Brown family of Providence.''
Mr. Sack said there was bound to be a ripple effect in the antiques market that will cause prices to increase on the finest-quality pieces. ''I also think that this new plateau will bring out a lot of great pieces of furniture that are still in hiding.''
Until yesterday, the only object other than a painting to sell at auction for more than $10 million was the 12th-century Gospels of Henry the Lion, an illuminated manuscript, which was sold in 1983 for $11.9 million at Sotheby's in London.
Mr. Burge said he attributed the high prices for art and antiques to ''the availability of money and the enormous new wealth many people enjoy.''
At least one dealer in American art and furniture decided before the sale not to bid. ''I can't see myself buying a piece of furniture for more than I would pay for a painting,'' Alexander Acevedo, a Madison Avenue dealer, said after he paid a record $8.25 million for Frederick Edwin Church's ''Home by the Lake,'' the highest figure paid at auction for a pre-20th-century American painting. He said he was sure the secretary would go for more than $10 million. ''To me, it is no longer an investment; it's a tombstone.''
The desk had remained in the family of Nicholas Brown since it was carved in the 1760's. In December, a descendant and namesake of the original owner, Capt. Nicholas Brown, executive director of the National Aquarium of Baltimore, donated the desk to the 175-year-old wood-framed Nightingale-Brown House of Providence, which is endangered. The residence, where he grew up, now houses the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization. The center is named for Captain Brown's father, an Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Truman Administration.
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