Secretary and bookcase

Date: 1795–1805

Geography: Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Culture: American

Medium: Mahogany, mahogany and satinwood
veneers with white and yellow pine,
yellow poplar, cedar

Dimensions: 106 1/2 x 85 1/2 in. (270.5 x 217.2 cm)

Classification: Furniture

Credit Line: Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1967

Accession Number: 67.203a–h


This bookcase with a secretary or writing compartment in the top center drawer is based on a design by Thomas Shearer in the 1793 edition of "The Cabinet-Makers' London Book of Prices". The unknown Philadelphia cabinetmaker responsible for the manufacture of this stylish yet highly functional piece of case furniture chose from several decorative options offered in the Shearer design. These include a range of drawers with inlaid elliptical panels over cupboards in the lower section, inlaid circular paterae in the corners of the cupboard doors, and a pediment with flat elliptical hollows, inlaid patera on each end, and a central inlaid fan. Providing options for customizing basic furniture forms to suit the fancies of furniture makers and their patrons was the intent of published patterns like Shearer's. It is rare, however, to find a surviving piece of American furniture that is so clearly reflective of this design process.