Chest of Drawers with Doors Maker: Unknown


American Decorative Arts

On view, 1st floor, American Decorative Arts before 1900

This paneled chest of drawers, with its subtle color play between the different exotic woods used for the turnings and veneers on its facade, is one of the most complex pieces of American seventeenth-century furniture. This chest underscores the cosmopolitan nature of Boston in the middle of the seventeenth century, with the aesthetic underpinnings coming from high Anglo-Dutch style.


Each case frame, principally white oak and red oak; drawer runners, panels, drawer fronts, most drawer sides and backs, white oak and red oak; top bottom of upper case, top back rail of upper case, some of drawer linings, chestnut; one board in bottom of middle drawer in lower case, eastern white pine; front feet, soft maple; door frames in lower case, corbels and plaques underneath them, dentils, probably American black walnut; top and bottom of lower case, some drawer linings, light-colored, shaped moldings on doors in lower case, on small drawers in upper case, and most of same type of molding on deep drawers in upper case, cedar; applied bosses, probably maple or cherry; replaced small bosses on upper case, beech; edge molding on top of upper case, flat, beveled moldings on small drawers in upper case, molding separating these drawers from deep drawer below, wide, beveled moldings and some of the thin, shaped moldings on deep drawer, base molding of upper case, torus molding at top of lower case, triglyphs, molding below triglyphs, base molding of lower case, cedrela (Cedrela odorata); flat panels of dark, reddish-brown wood with irregular black markings on small drawers in upper case, on deep drawer in upper case, and on doors of lower case, spindles on upper case, snakewood (Piratinera guianensis); spindles on lower case, rosewood (Dalbergia spp.); pulls on small drawers in upper case, lignum vitae (Guaiacum spp.).


48 7/8 × 45 13/16 × 23 11/16 in. (124.1 × 116.3 × 60.2 cm)

Credit Line

Mabel Brady Garvan Collection

Accession Number



17th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



The early history of the chest is unknown. In 1924, when it was first published in Nutting's Pilgrim Century, it was owned by Mr. J. F. Bernard of Albany, N.Y. Nutting commented that he had been led to believe that the chest had been "found not a very great way from Albany" (p. 235). It was purchased from Bernard by New York dealer Henry V. Weil, on behalf of Francis P. Garvan, New York, probably shortly after the object appeared in Nutting. Gift 1930 to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.
  • Gerald W. R. Ward, "The Red and the Black: Snakewood and Early American Furniture," Mortise and Tenon Magazine 15 (2023), 82, 85, ill
  • American Art: Selections from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2023), 40–41, no. 1, ill
  • Peter Follansbee and Robert F. Trent, "Reassessing the London-Style Joinery and Turning of Seventeenth-Century Boston," American Furniture (2010), 194, fig. 1
  • Harvey Green, Wood: Craft, Culture, History (New York: Viking Press, 2006), 116, fig. 39
  • Dennis Andrew Carr, American Colonial Furniture: Guide to the Collection, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2004), 2–3, 16, fig. 1
  • Robert F. Trent and Michael S. Podmaniczky, "An Early Cupboard Fragment from the Harvard College Joinery Tradition," American Furniture (2002), 230, fig. 2
  • Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 92–93, fig. 81
  • Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 87, ill
  • Peter Arkell and Robert F. Trent, "The Lawton Cupboard: A Unique Masterpiece of Early Boston Joinery and Turning," Maine Antique Digest (March 1988), 1-C, fig. 2
  • Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), 9, 11, 15, 35, 95, 123, 125–28, 163, no. 51, pl. 5
  • Benno M. Forman, "The Chest of Drawers in America, 1635–1670: The Origins of the Joined Chest of Drawers," Winterthur Portfolio 1 (Spring 1985), 9–10, fig. 9
  • Robert F. Trent and Jonathan Fairbanks, eds., New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century, 3 vols., exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1982), 522–24, no. 481
  • John T. Kirk, American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 71, 176, fig. 467
  • Benno M. Forman, "The Origins of the Joined Chest of Drawers," Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (1981), 175, fig. 4
  • Mahonri M. Young, "Of Thee I Sing," Apollo (June 1980), 467
  • John T. Kirk, "The Tradition of English Painted Furniture, Part I: The Experience in Colonial New England," Antiques 117 (May 1980), 1080–81, Pl. V
  • Wendy A. Cooper, "In Praise of America," Antiques 117, no. 3 (March 1980), 162–63, 168, fig. 183
  • Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture: The British Tradition (Suffolk, England: Antique Collector's Club Ltd., 1979), 370–71, fig. 3:407
  • Patricia E. Kane, The Seventeenth-Century Furniture of the Connecticut Valley: The Hadley Chest Reappraised, ed. Ian M. G. Quimby (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1975), 105, 108, fig. 24
  • The Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Education Corporation, 1973), 194–95, fig. 2
  • Benno M. Forman, Urban Aspects of Massachusetts Furniture in the Late Seventeenth Century, ed. John D. Morse (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1970), 7–8, fig. 3
  • R. T. Haines Halsey and Elizabeth Tower, The Homes of Our Ancestors as Shown in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1935), 33, fig. 22
  • Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury, 1st ed., 3 vols. (Framingham, Mass.: Old American Company Publishers, 1928–33), no. 475
  • Charles O. Cornelius, Early American Furniture (New York: Century Co., 1926), 57, pl. IX, facing p. 36
  • Wallace Nutting, Furniture of the Pilgrim Century 1620–1720 (Framingham, Mass.: Old American Company Publishers, 1924), 209, 235–36, fig. 218
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

chests of drawers, utilitarian objects


The bottom edge of the drawer fronts in the lower case bear incised marks: "II" on the left side of the top and bottom drawer; "I" and "V" on the right side of the top and bottom drawer; and "X" on each side of the middle drawer. "L.2429" is written in chalk on the outside of the back of the upper case. A small piece of white adhesive tape bearing "802/1-5" in red ink is fixed to the top of the upper case at the right rear corner.

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