chest of drawers, some background & history

 

More about the chest of drawers. The above photo shows how far I got this week. There’s a staggering number of pieces of wood in this thing, and several dozen more to come. Trent got me thinking about it in these terms, and I wasted a lot of time counting the individual bits – somewhere near 230 thus far. 

But, back to the chest of drawers itself, time for some background. This project was begun ages ago, and got stashed for an interminable period. The original that it’s based on was made in Boston, and is now at the Museum of Fine Arts. Mine’s not a direct copy, but its format, proportions and general overall look is taken from that piece. Here’s their photo: 

Years ago, I worked with Bob Trent on a long-winded article about chests of drawers, you can read it (and see most of the photos, but not all of them) here, http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/612/American-Furniture-2010/Reassessing-the-London-Style-Joinery-and-Turning-of-Seventeenth-Century-Boston 

A chest of drawers like this is a significant item in that period. The only way it could be “better” is if it had doors, like the related one at Yale University’s Art Gallery. The lower case is two square, or nearly square doors, with three drawers behind them. The upper case is much like the MFA’s; two shallow, side-by-side drawers above a very deep single drawer. Both feature various “exotic” woods; Spanish cedar, lignum vitae, rosewood, ebony, etc. 

Thankfully, I didn’t set out all those years ago to make a copy of the Yale one! The MFA one is involved enough. 

Long-time readers of the blog might remember my greatest hit, “Riven Cedrela” about the chest of drawers at the MFA:

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/riven-cedrela-to-the-tune-of-on-top-of-old-smokey/

I have lots of research material we collected when writing that American Furniture article, mine mostly centered on identifying the men in Boston who followed the trades of joinery, turning, and some other woodworkers too. The joiners Henry Messinger and Ralph Mason seemed to be at the top of the heap, several of their sons followed them in the trade. Probate records for several of them survive and contain some high-style furniture forms. 

I’ll post inventories for Henry Messenger and his son Henry Messenger, Jr. here – the prices listed are pounds/shillings/pence. 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound. A tradesman’s wages in New England then might have been around 2 or 3 shillings a day…

Henry Messenger –

An inventory of the estate of Henry Messenger deceased taken by us whose names underwritten the 30 of April 1681

In the Parlor

A featherbed a boulster & too pillows a payer of blankets a coverlid & curtins & valling & bedstead £08:00:00

A framed bedsted a woolbed & boulster 2 coverlits 01:05:00

A press cubberd wth drawers

A table & seven joint stooles 01:10:00

A small round table five elbo chayrs 00:18:00

Two framde Elbo chayrs 00:08:00

Close stoole with a pewter pan in it & stone mortar 01:10:00

2 small boxes 1 case of quart bottles 10/ three stone juggs 1 Earthen 8/ 00:18:00

9 cushions & a warming pann 18/ A cote of Armes & Joynrs Armes 40/ 02:18:00

a parcel of glas & Earthen ware 12/ A silver spoon &  dram cup 10/ 01:02:00

A looking glass 2/6 Eight pr of sheets & five pr of pillobeers 7:10:00 07:12:06

Three dozn napkins of several sorts five small pillobeers & cupboard cloth 02:01:00

A Large diaper table cloth & three Linnen ditto 01:00:00

A pr darnick curtains & vallents 00:10:00

Two Darnick carpets and cupboard cuishion 00:12:00

A pr andirons fire shovel and tongs 8/ a Rapier & Childs blankett 10/ 00:18:00

In the Parlor chamber  

A feather bed, Boulster a pillow a pr sheets a pr blanketts Rugg and Bedsteed 04:00:00

Two Searge chaires a stand & pr of andirons 01:00:00

A small box of drawers a chest and looking glass 01:00:00

 

In the hall

A pr of andirons a fire shovel, tongs, a trammell pr of bellows 01:05:00

One cupboard, one chest and a screen 01:10:00

One table 3 joint stooles 4 chaires & a forme 01:00:00

Three framed chaires & 2 other chaire & one leather 00:15:00

A looking glass and a parcel of Earthen ware 00:05:00

Three Bibles and other bookes 00:10:00

A pr andirons tongs & fire shovel and tramell 01:05:00

A gridiron, fire Iron, toasting Iron and four Spits 00:15:00

Three Iron candlesticks and two frying pans 00:08:00

Five Brass kettles three skillets and a brass morter 02:10:00

Six pewter dishes, six pewter pots, two salts, three porringers a plate, 

seven small dishes and one chamber pot 02:05:00

Three dripping pans one sawce pan one funnell 00:07:00

A punch Bowle lign vitae 00:10:00

A parcel of wooden and Earthen ware & one piggin 00:10:00

Two pr scales and twelve pounds lead weights & meale barrel 00:10:00

In Kitchen chamber

Two spinning wheels a cradle, a table wth other lumber 01:10:00

In the Cellar

A powdering tubb with other tubbs and barrells 01:00:00

In the hall chamber

A flock bed and two feather pillows a pr blanketts a pr sheets two small pillows an old Rugg Bedsteed and a pillowbeer 02:10:00

In the middle room over the Hall  

Another flock Bed, one Bolster a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg and 

Bedsteed 02:10:00

A feather bed a Bolster a pillow a pr blanketts a pr sheets a Rugg a Bedstead 05:00:00

One table three chests a small box a close stool wth Earthen pan 01:10:00

A parcel of glue and Nurces skins 02:10:00

In the shop chambr

A wicker glass case, a chest of drawers a large bedsteed and trundlebedsteed 02:10:00

In the shop

All sorts of Joyners Tools 05:00:00

A table and Chest of Drawers not finished 01:00:00

Timber within and without Doors wrought and unwrought 10:00:00

Two cows and hay 06:00:00

Land and housing in all 400:00:00

About 20 gallons of trayn oyl 01:00:00

John Fayerweather Edw Wyllys

Sarah Messinger Exec made Oath in Court 5 May 1681 that this is a just and true Inventory of the Estate of her late husband Henry Messinger decd to the best of her knowledge and that if more appears she will discover it. 

Attests Js Addington

 

Henry Messenger, Jr.

{PF: When Henry Messenger died in 1681, his sons Henry, John, Simeon and Thomas were all practicing joiners. The first of these, John, born in 1641, could have been working on his own from the early 1660s, thus his career and that of his father could have overlapped for almost 20 years. At the other end of the range, Thomas, born in 1662 might have just finished his apprenticeship by the time of his father’s death. 

The younger Henry Messinger died in 1686, just a few years after his father. His shop included at least two apprentices, based on his calling Benjamin Threeneedle his “eldest apprentice” in his will: 

“I give to my Eldest apprentice Benjamin Threeneedle the remainder of his time he hath yet to serve with me; and if his friends thinke he have not sufficient cloathing I would have my wife give him one suit of Apparell suitable for him.”]

Inventory of the Estate of Henry Messenger late of Boston, Joyner decd taken & apprized by us whose names are underwritten, 30th Nov 1686

Impr. His wearing Apparell, hatts, shoes, stockins, shirts etc 

and his Armes, given away by will amongst his Brethren

25:4:00

In the Halle:

1 doz. Russia Leather chaires at 11/8 6:12:00

2 Tables at 24s a ps 1:08:00

 

In the Chamber over the halle:

8 Turkey worke chaires at 14s 5:12:00

1 Chest of drawers 2:10:00

1 feather bed, boulster, pillows, ffurniture of coverings, curtains,

 vallents and bedestead 17:00:00

1 table 25s  1 looking glass & brasses 18 2:03:00

1 pr brasses for the chimney 20s 2 stands 8 1:08:00

In the Chamber over the Kitchin

One feather bed, furniture and bedstead 6-00-00

1 ???att table, one chest & deske and Trunke 1-10-00

In the Kitchin

1 Table (price) eight sedge bottom chaires (price) 1-12-00

1 Hamaker and Morings (price) one Chest 2-00-00

A dwelling house & garden and land the apprces 200-00-00

Timber, Boards, planks workeing tooles (etc) at the 

Shop, apprized by Mr Cunnibell and Tho: Warren, Joyners

At Eleven pounds 16/8 11-16-8

A parcel of glew -12-10

Money since the death of my husband for worke done for 

Some frenchmen 2-05-00

I spent a lot of time trying to determine if the joiners were all grouped in one area in the city. It seemed that several did live pretty close to each other, but whether this was just how things worked out or was intentional & somehow effected their work habits could never be established. One joiner, Jeremiah Bumstead, lived right next to Henry Messenger, Sr. But they weren’t exactly best friends, according to: 

“The testimony of Thomas Varrin, aged about 16 years… 

That he has heard Jerimyah Bumstead caull henery Messinger senior a wicked base mallitious fellow and the devill had set him a work and he would finish it for him and further testifyeth I have heard him call him a prateing Logarhed” 

I found the above testimony in an unpublished manuscript by Benno Forman, 

Boston Furniture Craftsman, citing Suffolk Superior Court Files 10:149. I don’t remember if I followed up & read the original record. 

 

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “chest of drawers, some background & history

  1. Thank you, Peter, for the pictures of these chests…..I’m tickled that you are finishing your own! I’m thrilled that you shared the information on Messinger and family and other woodworkers of the day. What he owned was considerable even for then. His estate was simple, but no doubt his furnishings were elegant and well made for furniture in the 1600’s. Great posting, Peter. Many thanks and blessings to you

  2. Sir something is wrong whit your email to day no photos?

    Trausti.,

    This e-mail was written on 100% recycled bytes. Before printing this email, please think about the environment. P.S. Paper is Only For Fountain Pen User..

    >

  3. Any possibility of a class on these? Maybe a long term one like Allen Breed does with the T-G chests. There’s a lot of great stuff in there for apprentice joiners.
    Brian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s