TERM: The term “cellaret” has not been found in probate inventories of the North Carolina Albermarle. Rather, they were referred to as “gin cases,” “bottle cases,” or “brandy cases.” The term “gin case” was apropriate, since cellarets were almost invariably fitted for the tapering, square Dutch gin bottles exported to this country in great numbers in the 18th and 19th centuries. These bottles were simply re-used to hold any sort of spirits desired. Wine bottles of late 18th century form usually will not fit into the partitioning compartments of the cellaret cases.
FORM: This furniture form was a prominent product of cabinetmakers in the Albermarle region. Many Albermarle households had more than one of these items, especially during the decades immediately following the Revolution. In fact, more cellarets from the Roanoke River Basin have been found than from any other section of this country, or even Britain. In this country, cellarets-on-stand do not seem to have been made north of Maryland, and they were rare in both Baltimore and Charleston. The near-square plan of this cellaret is typical of earlier examples; many later ones are more rectangular in plan.
SHOP: At least eight cellarets by this cabinetmaker survive. Three of them are in the collections of Tryon Palace, Historic Hope Plantation, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Typical of the Roanoke River Basin is their use of lightwood cockbeading under the lid and surrounding the drawer. This feature can also be seen on cellarets made by the cabinetmaker William Seay of Bertie County. In this instance, elm was used for the cockbeading, but other light-colored hardwoods were used for the same purpose, including holly, dogwood, boxwood, and maple. Like the other examples from this particular shop, this cellaret was intended to be used against the wall, as the back is unfinished. A wooden latch at the center of the back prevents the bottle case from sliding out of the frame.
MAKER: This cabinetmaking group is attributed to Micajah Wilkes (c.1765-1842) of Bertie County, North Carolina. Two of the cellarets in this group are inscribed with his initials “MW,” and another example has the initials “MW” inlaid on the front of the case and “JS” on the top of the lid. Notably, on 27 September 1791, Wilkes married Anne Seay, a younger sister of the cabinetmaker and house joiner William Seay, suggesting that he had probably trained under his brother-in-law. During the late 1790s and early 1800s, Wilkes witnessed several marriages of her Seay family kinsmen and acquired tracts of land from Seay family estates, located near Roxobel in Bertie County. In 1798 Micajah recorded and signed the probate inventory of his father, James Wilkes, which listed prominently a case of bottles, or cellaret. Micajah’s own inventory listed multiple woodworking tools, and his will bequeathed to one of his children the “plantation known as the Sea Place.”