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  • American Skippet
    American Skippet
  • General Josiah Harmar
    General Josiah Harmar
  • Appeal to the Great Spirit
    Appeal to the Great Spirit
  • Hong Punch Bowl
    Hong Punch Bowl
  • Barter for a Bride
    Barter for a Bride
  • Artist/Maker
  • Date Madeca. 1800
  • Place MadeUSA: New York, New York
  • MaterialsWood; Mahogany; Mahogany Veneer; Light-and Dark-Wood Inlay; Yellow Poplar; Pine
  • Measurements38 3/4 in. x 53 1/4 in. x 24 in.
  • Gift bequest of the Estate of Mrs. Richard C. Rockwell
  • RoomThe Walter Thurston Gentlemen's Lounge
  • Accession #1995.0017


Although Americans achieved political independence from England in the Revolution, the patriots’ victory was not accompanied by a similar strong desire for stylistic or artistic independence.  This beautifully inlaid commode, fashioned in New York City by a skilled cabinetmaking shop, is testimony to this retention of a penchant for things English.  Its demilune form is directly taken from the design for a commode published as plate 78 in Hepplewhite’s Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide.  This influential English pattern book, first published in London in 1787 and into its third edition by 1794, was included in the libraries of a good many American furniture makers and housewrights.
The Collection’s commode differs slightly from the Hepplewhite plan in having a central section of four drawers, flanked by cupboards, although as Hepplewhite notes these commodes are made of “various shapes.”  Because they are “used in principal rooms, [they] require considerable elegance,” and “the top and also the border around the front, should be inlaid.”  The make of the Collection’s commode followed this advice, as its top is decorated with a spectacular inlaid sunburst and stringing forming a radiating, semicircular pattern, echoing the Hepplewhite plate.
Commodes of this general style were made in Boston, Salem, Maine, and elsewhere, as well as in New York, demonstrating the homogenization of design that is characteristic of much high-style federal-period furniture and that was caused by the proliferation of pattern books and price guides.[1]  Some examples are fitted with drawers and compartments that allow them to function as sideboards or so-called butler’s desks.[2]  Most commodes, however, like the Collection’s example, were primarily chests of drawers that evidence suggests were used principally in bedchambers to store linens.[3]
Gerald W.R.Ward
1. See Hipkiss, cat. nos. 28, 42, 43; Laura Fecych Sprague, ed., Agreeable Situations:  Society, Commerce, and Art in Southern Maine, 1780–1830 (Kennebunk, Me.:  The Brick Store Museum, 1987), cat. no. 97; and Dean Thomas Lahikainen, “A Salem Cabinetmakers’ Price Book,” in Luke Beckerdite, ed., American Furniture 2001 (Milwaukee, Wis.:  Chipstone Foundation, 2001), 168–69.
2.  Hipkiss, cat. nos. 28 and 43.
3.  Lahikainen, “Salem Cabinetmakers’ Price Book,” 169.  The great Seymour commode at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for example, was used in the chamber of Oak Hill.