Plymouth Colony joinery

a short detour tonight from the recent spate of plane-related posts.

I have been thinking today about Plymouth Colony furniture…this chest is for sale this month at Sotheby’s in New York. It’s lot #458

Plymouth Colony chest with 2 drawers
detail, Plymouth Colony chest w drawers
Plymouth Colony chest w drawers, rear view

I really like these chests, they have several characteristics that have intruiged me for years. The reference book for this work is still Robert Blair St. George, The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England 1620-1700, (Brockton, Massachusetts: Fuller Art Museum, 1979). The joined chest above is closely related to one I wrote about in this article: Peter Follansbee, “Unpacking the Little Chest” in Old Time New England, vol 78, number 268 (Spring/Summer 2000): 5-23.  (I didn’t make the title. It’s not a little chest, it belonged to Nina Fletcher Little.) Here’s what’s left of it:

Plymouth Colony chest, missing 4 drawers

In his book, St. George ran down a huge number of surviving pieces of furniture, ranging from full-blown press cupboards to simple benches and everything in between. A few things stand out about the joined work. First is the large moldings above and below the drawers – these are integral, not applied. This requires some careful layout of the joinery and the molding. Here is one of my repro joints, disassembled:

unassembled view of "lipped" tenon

This joint is the exception to the rule – it is not drawbored. Square pins secure it, sometimes one, sometimes two.

PF sample repro of "lipped" tenon

We have really only seen this “lipped” tenon on one other N.E. piece, the chest of drawers with doors at Yale. In that case, the lipped tenon is used to bump out a rail that then supports an applied molding.

Other ways the Plymouth Colony stuff stands out is the degree of finish inside and back of the chest. Some of the chests have crease moldings throughout the inside of the chest. I have seen this on some Boston stuff too, but it’s often on the Plymouth stuff. Sometimes just chamfers and stops, sometimes fully-formed moldings. Here is one from the MFA. (sorry for the poor slide)

interior, Ply Col chest w drawers

Here’s the stopped chamfers on the exterior framing parts, a very neat treatment:

stopped chamfers

There’s lots to the Plymouth Colony work, chests, chairs, cupboards. Few boxes that can be indentified with the rest of this stuff. Some very plain pieces, like this chest at the Smithsonian:

joined chest, Marshfield

All the way to things like this cupboard at Winterthur:

press cupboard

That’s really the tip of an iceberg. I hope to get around to studying Plymouth Colony joinery more. Last time I looked at it was for the Kenelm Winslow article; and the furniture that might be attributable to Winslow is not part of this main group of work.  Here’s a link to the article:

There, I guess this makes up for the other night when I posted something with no pictures. There’s more of this, but for another night.


8 thoughts on “Plymouth Colony joinery

  1. GREAT post………interior shot……coves cut on interior of stiles and rails.a really nice touch………..bob lindh,

  2. I wonder on those interior moldings, was that intentional or could it be an apprentice practicing during down time?

  3. James: the interior moldings are quite intentional; they are a decorative element, consistently appearing on a sub-group of these Plymouth chests, and as I noted, sometimes on Boston ones too.

  4. Another interesting feature is what Nutting called “serrated” oak and that all of these Plymouth serrated oak chests were made by Kenelm Winslow or John Alden. Is that still correct?

    In any event, very impressive chests and i wish i had an extra 20 or 30k laying around to bid on that arched Plymouth chest.

  5. Just read your article, Alden was a cooper and no evidence of Winslow as the maker so theres no joiner/shop that is connected to this type of chest, correct?

  6. Peter: Help me out. Why can’t the lipped tenon on the Plymouth Colony chest be drawbored? I am trying to
    visualize it. I keep thinking the pinholes in the post and tenon could be offset. It’s burning a hole in my brain. Assistance please.

  7. Peter: Are the double hinges common? It looks like there are two on each side. The zoom options doesn’t do much good for me. bryan

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