Thursday, March 14, 2013

If the foot fits...

Secretary desk, owned by William Penn. Made in London, after 1710.

One of the original feet to the secretary desk owned by William Penn has been found!
This wonderful discovery is due to the help of a number of people. It all began when Laura Keim, curator of the Germantown Historical Society’s collection, came across a foot in their collection with a label stating it belonged to the desk of William Penn. We knew that the current feet on the desk were not original. But could this be one of the right ones?

Furniture historian Adam Bowett came to help us investigate the matter. He was able to determine that the foot was indeed from the desk on the basis of several criteria: it was made of the right material (elm); it was correct stylistically; the threads inside the desk matched the screw on the foot; and it was the right height and diameter. Of course, the only way to be certain was to try it out. And it matched!
It fits!
The original foot is placed back on the desk. Desks made during this time period had large ball feet. Compare it to the much smaller “restoration” foot above.
The foot screwed into the desk. This common feature made it easier to move the desk, as well as more practical to ship it.

It was a great opportunity to learn more about the desk, which has a rich history. Much of what we know comes from the early historian John Fanning Watson.  He saw the desk in 1827 in Burlington, NJ, when it was owned by Nathaniel Coleman, a silversmith. According to Watson, Coleman acquired the desk from George Dillwyn, whose family had obtained it from Peter Worrall when the contents of Pennsbury Manor were sold in 1792.  The desk also originally had mirrors on its doors, which Coleman removed and hung in his parlor. The piece came to the Library Company in 1873 as a gift from John Jay Smith, our former Librarian.

It’s very fortunate that the foot was saved after all of these years. To quote LCP Trustee Beatrice Garvan, “Philadelphia is the most amazing attic!”
LCP shareholder Jay Robert Stiefel, LCP Curator of Art & Artifacts Linda August, LCP Trustee Beatrice Garvan, Furniture historian Adam Bowett, and Curator of the Germantown Historical Society Laura Keim examine the desk.
Linda August
Reference Librarian and Curator of Art & Artifacts

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