|The Completed Bureau|
This blog post concerns a piece I recently restored for an estate in Jefferson County, West Virginia called Cedar Lawn. If you are interested in viewing other pieces restored for this house, you can click on the label to the left that says "Cedar Lawn".
The piece in question is a bit of an oddity. It has all of the lines and construction details of a sideboard, but when the bottom doors are opened, they reveal an inner cabinet built in to the larger cabinet that houses a series of drawers. In addition, the two drawers above the drawers open to reveal a mirror (originally two, one in each drawer) that folds out and is adjustable. Behind the mirror are three little drawers built into the larger drawer. In front of the mirror are trays and one removable tray (again, there were originally two trays, one for each drawer). It is as if someone walked into a cabinet shop and said, " I like that sideboard over there you are working on. Is there any way we can make it into a dresser/ dressing table?"
In fact, something like this is what likely happened. If you look at the price books distributed in the early 19th century ( for an example click here: https://archive.org/details/cabinetmakerslo00unkngoog ) you will see that a piece of furniture was sold in its basic form. From there you could pick and choose features that suited your needs and the price would be raised accordingly. This cabinet was probably started with one idea in mind, and then customized to fit the needs of the particular customer who bought it. The inclusion of the separate inner cabinet that housed the drawers, held in place with screws, and finished with some molding around the edges, would suggest this. It would be easy to remove or install this inner cabinet, where, if the piece were intended originally to be used as a dresser, the drawer framework would be integral to the cabinet.
At least, this is one theory, and there is probably some validity to it. That being said, the early 19th century was a time of innovation and playing with forms. Below is a broadside showing the wares of Joseph Meeks & Sons, a prominent cabinet making firm from New York and competitors of Duncan Phyfe's cabinet making firm (not to mention the firm that built the bureau in question).
At first glance one can see the variety of pieces offered by Meeks & Sons, in the latest styles and fashions. What caught my eye is the piece second row from the bottom and to the far right. It is not visible in the image above, but the listing describes this item as a bureau. Bureau is one of those lovely terms in furniture that has a loose meaning. It can either refer to a desk or a dresser. If this were a desk, it was probably of the same kind as what we refer to as a butler's desk. If it were a dresser that "Bureau" was referring to in this ad, the layout would have been similar to the piece I worked on.
Because of this ambiguity, I thought that bureau would be a perfect way of describing this piece, which seems to be a mix of two forms. What I do know about the piece through inspection, was that it was made in a city center on the east coast some time in the first two decades of the 19th century. The piece could be Baltimore, but I am inclined to think it came from Philadelphia or New York. The inclusion of a white marble top might suggest one of these places because marble was used throughout the east coast on fine pieces, constructed near ports, during this time. The primary wood used in the piece is exquisite mahogany, both in veneer and solid form. The knobs are made of rosewood. The secondary woods used in the piece are poplar and pine. All of the timbers used were selected for their beauty as well as their stability, and as a result, two hundred years later there was minimal cracking and loose veneer/ joinery. This was a well made piece made by professional craftsman who did exquisite work. It is my belief that this piece was made by a cabinet making firm such as Meeks or Phyfe, somewhere on the east coast, and not by a sole cabinetmaker.
Even with such superior workmanship at hand, time took it's toll on this piece, and the damage was plentiful when I first saw it. Below is a photo of the piece as it came to me.
The knobs were started between centers on the lathe with the grain running parallel to the bed of the lathe (as opposed to face grain knobs). I started with a square blank that fit the dimensions and turned it to a cylinder.
By dragging the scratch stock over the wood at a perpendicular angle, I was able to produce the molding, as seen below. Once I was satisfied with the molding I would rip it from the stock on the table saw and with a bit of refinement I had replacement molding.