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Chest of Drawers, ca. 1810

Maker: Ephraim Mallard, American, 1789 - ca. 1854

Medium: Birch, maple, mahogany veneers, secondary woods birch and pine

37 5/8 x 40 1/2 x 20 3/4 in. (95.6 x 102.9 x 52.7 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust

Object Number: 92.4

On View

Emma Rundlet, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Helen Rundlet Tilton; see file

This piece is a fine example of a group of chests made in the early 19th century in southeastern New Hampshire. Several significant decorative devices are combined to produce one of the most striking façades found in American Neoclassical furniture. Each bowed drawer front is framed by a dark mahogany banding enclosing a symmetrical arrangement of two panels of bird’s-eye maple veneer that flank a narrower central panel of highly figured birch, which is separated from the outer panels by a checkered inlay. The central panels, whose feather-like figure forms a vertical line, terminate at the base of the chest in a matching drop panel pendant that also serves as the focal point of the carefully designed apron. Both the pendants and the tall bracket feet with a slight flare at the bottom are distinctive characteristics of Federal period chests made in southeastern New Hampshire.

 

Unlike most surviving early American furniture, this chest is signed in chalk by its maker, Ephraim Mallard, on five interior surfaces. Mallard may have served his apprenticeship in Portsmouth, the most important urban center north of Boston, and may have worked briefly there after its conclusion. About 1810 or 1811, he moved to Gilmanton, a town north of Portsmouth where he opened a cabinet-shop. That this chest was probably made after Mallard’s move to this smaller inland community with a less prosperous and sophisticated clientele than Portsmouth is suggested by the contrast of the plain solid birch sides and wide overhanging top with the elaborate veneered façade that would rival in quality of its decoration and craftsmanship any made in the larger city during the Federal period. Mallard had a long career, since he is still recorded as maintaining a workshop in 1849.

 

The die-stamped brass back-plates of the drawer handles were probably made in Birmingham, England, for the American market. The flying eagle with trailing banner inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM flanked by sixteen stars suggests the back-plates were made between 1796 and 1803, the dates of the admission of the 16th and 17th states to the Union.