I’m past the half-way point on my 2nd version of this cupboard and it will pick up speed now. It should, anyway. I wrote so much about the project when I made the first version in 2021/22 that I have ignored this one pretty much. I haven’t been shooting many photos lately, so today I thought I’d have a look at other New England cupboards so you can see how this one is similar and how it’s different.
First – what is it? A press cupboard, a wainscot cupboard, a joined cupboard, a court cupboard – those terms all can refer to something like these. Below is a 17th century one from Plymouth Colony – the area where I live – for most of the 17th century it was separate from Massachusetts Bay to the north. (photo from Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)
There’s a number of these Plymouth cupboards (and related chests with drawers) – the common format for the Plymouth ones is a lower case with four drawers (2 in the top row and singles below) and a cupboard with doors in the upper case. It has a flat recessed front behind two large turned pillars that support the overhanging cornice. Some of the moldings are integral, others applied. Applied turnings also. To me, the most notable feature of these pieces is the large integral moldings in the lower cases. These are roughly 2” x 2” square and feature what we call a “lipped” tenon – a section in front of the tenon that is molded. (my repro of this joint below)
At least one of the Plymouth cupboards is open below – a common feature in period cupboards of this type. A lower shelf for displaying “plate” – i.e. pewter, ceramics or better – silver. A drawer in the middle section for linens, and a cupboard above. (also the Metropolitan Museum of Art).
New Haven Colony along what is now the Connecticut coast had some very distinctive large cupboards. Flat fronted – no overhang, no pillars. Carved decoration in addition to the applied geometric stuff. (Yale University Art Gallery)
They also had the more typical format – a trapezoidal cupboard, pillars, overhanging cornice – etc. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
From Wethersfield along the Connecticut River comes a large group of chests with drawers and cupboards – carved and applied decorations. Doors below, flat-fronted but with an overhanging cornice. To me, the most distinctive feature of these is they are built in a single, full-height case. Makes them trickier to move than the others, all of which are built in two sections so they can break down for moving. (this one from Yale University Art Gallery)
The cupboard I’m copying is one of 12 or 13 from northern Essex County, Massachusetts – most likely Newbury. But in Salem, Massachusetts comes this cupboard – now at the Peabody Essex Museum there – similar decoration – elaborate molded decoration, lots of turned bits – arches on the upper panels. Three deep drawers in the lower case. The only overhang is the cornice. An excellent cupboard.
But the joiners and turners who made the group of cupboards that I’ve been working from went further than any other New England joiners. First off, there’s a lot of their cupboards left for us to study. And each one is something different from the others – some are similar, but most are quite singular. The overhanging sections are one feature unique to this group. Remember this one at Winterthur Museum – Jennie Alexander used to call it the “lunar lander.”
One more for today – don’t be fooled by this. Irving P. Lyon, writing in the 1930s called it a “cabinet in the court cupboard style” –
I don’t know what to call it – it only has drawers, so I’m inclined to call it a chest of drawers. But it no more looks like a chest than I do. The black & white photo is pre-restoration. Here it is now, part of the Chipstone collection.