Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854)

New York, 1815-1820

The inclined inset leather top crested with a storage well comprising lidded compartments and a pen rest above a rosewood case with a long drawer on the shallow side and a candle slide at the deep side.  The case is supported on a turned faux-rosewood grain painted baluster-form pedestal with gilded ring turnings and raised on four carved, gilded and rosewood grain painted hocked saber legs terminating in carved and gilded paw feet with brass casters.

H: 31”  W: 24½”  D: 21½”

Condition: Excellent: having an old repair to a break in one leg.  The lids to the writing compartments and pen rest are replacements as is the leather writing surface.  The case has been re-finished with shellac in the manner of the period.  The pedestal base and legs retain their original undisturbed surface.

This desk is drawn directly from a “Lady’s Writing Table” in plate 68 of Thomas Sheraton’s Cabinet Dictionary (London, 1803), yet other American examples of the form are unknown and this one may be unique.

It is clearly related in style and decoration to a group of rosewood and faux-rosewood painted pieces believed to have been made in the Phyfe shop.  The acanthus-carved saber leg furnishes the most convincing connection to Phyfe as there are several examples with closely related carving published in Nancy McClelland’s Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency (New York, 1939), documented to owners including: Mr. Astor’s card table (pl. 239), Mr. Foot’s card table (pl. 259), and Charles Smedberg’s dining table (pl. 282).  The attribution of the card tables, and hence this table, is strengthened by a related trestle-base card table that came to the market in 1997 bearing the label of Duncan Phyfe.[1] Additionally, a Pembroke table descending in the family of Eliza Phyfe Vail (1801-1890) and an other labeled card table have identical carved legs.[2]


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[1] Christie’s sale 8746, October 8, 1997, lot 86.

[2] Peter M. Kenny & Michael K. Brown et al. Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011), p.284 & 287, Appendix 2, 2.13 & 2.23.

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