SULFUR: To date more than one hundred pieces of sulfur inlaid furniture have been identified, ranging in date from 1764 to 1805. Blanket chests, schranks, corner cupboards, clock cases, and other furniture inlaid with sulfur demonstrate the flow of a particular decorative technique among Pennsylvania German communities up and down the Great Wagon Road. Of those with firm regional attributions, roughly ninety-five percent were made in the region surrounding Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. However, regional pockets of sulfur inlay on furniture have been observed outside of Pennsylvania in the areas surrounding Frederick and Washington County, Maryland; Shenandoah County, Virginia; and Alamance County, North Carolina.
MAKER: Based on design and construction similarities to MESDA’s desk and bookcase and a documented 1787 desk at the Historical Society of Frederick County, the chest can be attributed to Conrad Doll (1739-1814), a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, cabinetmaker who migrated to Frederick County, Maryland, in the 1760s. The drawers of the chest and the desk share a very old-fashioned construction technique with bottom boards nailed into the sides and back of the drawer frame instead of set into dadoes on the front and sides, so the drawer runs directly on the bottom board rather than the sides of the drawer frame. This method of construction was typical in the early eighteenth century, but rarely seen by 1785 and 1787. The chest also has fluted architectural decoration and virtually identical brass pulls and escutcheons as those on the desk and bookcase.
Furniture historian Lisa Minardi has speculated that Doll’s brother-in-law, and probable master, George Burkhardt (1721-1783), may have produced some of the early sulfur-inlaid furniture made in Lancaster County. Doll could have learned the technique from Burkhardt and brough it with him to Frederick, Maryland. See Lisa Minardi, “Sulfur Inlay in Pennsylvania German Furniture: New Discoveries” in American Furniture 2015, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Chipstone Foundation, 2015).
RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA’s desk and bookcase was originally owned by Barbara Fritchie of Frederick, Maryland (MESDA Acc. #3985).