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Desk and Bookcase

Object Name: Desk and Bookcase

Object ID: 1975.029

Place of Origin: probably Enfield, NH

Date: 1830-1840

Description: Desk and Bookcase. From the home of Hon. James Willis Johnson (1826-86), Enfield, N.H., probably Shaker, c. 1830s-40s. Desk and bookcase made of two cases: upper case two-door bookcase with drop-front desk below. Lower case, two drawers, supported by Hepplewhite-style legs. Entire piece painted and grained, yellow and red (perhaps to resemble maple and mahogany); woods include maple, pine, and others unidentified. Upper Case, Bookcase: Upper case has an ogee molding cornice, below which is a two-door bookcase. Doors panel construction. White porcelain knob in each door (replacements) with brass latches, which operate with tilt mechanism; latches hook into brass staples driven into the shelf. Doors attached with brass hinges. One shelf in bookcase. Red wash in interior. Back made up of two wide horizontal panels (both cracked), nailed with cut nails. (Note that several filled holes in doors and central stile of bookcase are evidence of a former latch mechanism, consistent with door latches on several other pieces of Shaker furniture. See accession file for details.) Upper Case, Desk: Desk is below bookcase. Consists of a drop-front panel which falls to reveal a flat writing surface, and pigeonholes. Fall front rests on top surface of lower case (note that finish worn off on front of fall front, where it makes contact with lower case). Series of thumb tacks along back edge of fall front, and numerous tack holes along edges, probably to hold fabric cover of writing surface. Fall front is wood panel with breadboard ends; however, exterior edges are built up to resemble panelling of the bookcase doors. Octagonal brass escutcheon and steel lock on fall front. No key hole. Two tiers of pigeonholes and drawers behind writing surface. Five pigeonholes in lower tier. Central space wide, the others narrow. Dividers appear to be maple. Upper tier consists of five slots, four of which have drawers. Drawers of dovetail construction, maple fronts and pine secondary wood, with have small wooden drawer pulls. Same painted and grained finish on drawer fronts. Drawers numbered in chalk, "1", "2", and other illegible marks. Central slot with red wash. Mortise and tenon construction.
Lower Case: Lower case is a chest of drawers with two drawers, supported by Hepplewhite-style legs. Top drawer, 5.9" high, lower drawer 6.75" high. Drawers of dovetail construction and round wooden drawer pulls (probably original). Both drawers with pressed brass escutcheons, both blind. No dustboard; no bottom board. Legs probably maple; sides and back pine; front rails maple. Evidence of salmon color paint on drawer siderails, that appear to have been painted prior to construction of the dovetails (this may be the graining undercoat). Rear panel of top drawer has a red "3"; rear of lower drawer has red "1". Inscription on bottom board of top drawer (illegible; see NOTES for possible additional inscription).
Key stored separately.

Material: Wood

Dimensions: H-69.75 W-40 D-18.5 inches

Provenance: Desk from the home of Hon. James Willis Johnson (1826-86), Enfield, N.H. Home furnished largely with Shaker and Victorian furniture. Several of Johnson's wife's (Susan A. Smith) siblings were Shakers of the Enfield Colony. Ownership of the J. W. Johnson Homestead descended in the family until contents, and later house, were sold at auction in August 1973.
A granddaughter of Johnson was Marguerite Fellows Melcher, author of children's books and several plays about Shaker life and collector of Shaker furniture; Marguerite resided in Montclair, New Jersey and summered in Enfield, N.H. She married Frederic Gershon Melcher (1879-1963), who would become an important publisher based in New York City. Their son, Daniel Melcher (1912-1985), who succeeded his father as publisher then sold that business to Xerox, bought out his cousin's interests in the Enfield house and called for the auction. Desk bought at the J. W. Johnson Homestead Estate auction, Enfield Center, N.H. by Pam Boynton; NHHS purchased from Pam Boynton in 1974-5.

Credit Line: New Hampshire Historical Society Purchase

People: Mellish, Stephen (1772-1849), Mellish, William E. (1799-1858), Johnson, James Willis (1826-1886), Johnson, Susan A. (1825-1899), Melcher, Marguerite F. (1879-1969), Melcher, Daniel (1912-1985)

Subjects: Furniture, Bookcases, Desks

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