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Desk and Bookcase

Osborne, David __Attributed to
Place Made:
Guilford County North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
walnut, yellow pine, oak, poplar
HOA: 100 1/2; WOA: 44 1/4; DOA 23 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Desk and Bookcase in four parts: Desk section rests on a low, separate frame with cabriole legs and small squared feet, frame with shaped apron; desk has graduated drawers and modern plate brasses; fallboard opens to reveal a writing compartment with an arched central prospect drawer flanked by fluted letter drawers and double tiers of small drawers, outermost tier is stepped; above upper drawers are pigeonholes with double ogee brackets; bookcase has paneled doors with face mounted hinges; bookcase has separate pediment in shape of double C-curves terminating in a peak, tympanum has a large shaped opening with central drop pendant, five finials not removable.

CONSTRUCTION: Note that the base is a separate frame, which is highly unusual. The exuberant, vernacular pediment and the massive construction–thick carcass sides, corbeled interior partitions, and drawer frames–indicate a cabinetmaker with a rural background. The drawer bottoms are fastened to the backs with wooden pins rather than nails.

GROUP: This highly unusual desk and bookcase is attributed to David Osborne, a Guilford County, North Carolina Quaker cabinetmaker who apprenticed under Thomas Pierce, a Quaker cabinetmaker who emigrated to Guilford County from Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the mid 1770s. It is part of a sizeable group of Piedmont North Carolina case-on-frame furniture with cabriole legs that seems to have been inspired by Chester County, Pennsylvania, prototypes. It is the earliest and most elaborate example of this cabinetmaking tradition in the region.

MAKER: David Osborne (1759-1833), the probable maker of this piece, was born in southern Guilford County on March 3, 1759, to William and Rebecca (Cox) Osborne of New Garden Monthly Meeting. David and his family lived along Hickory Creek at the Guilford-Randolph County border, a region which became part of Center Monthly Meeting. New Garden Monthly Meeting records identify Osborne as an “apprentice lad” in Thomas Pierce’s household in 1777, and a 1787 Guilford County deed identifies Osborne specifically as a “Cabinet Maker,” which is one of the earliest uses of that term in the region. After completing his apprenticeship with Thomas Pierce in 1780, Osborne transferred his membership from New Garden back to Center Monthly Meeting. Around 1790 he married Elizabeth Thompson, and in 1804 Osborne and his family joined other Quakers who migrated from the South to the Midwest, settling first in Ohio and finally in Wayne County, Indiana. Family records indicate that he died there on May 31, 1833.

Early 20th-century oral tradition states that this piece descended in the Lamb family of Guilford and Randolph Counties in North Carolina. The Lambs were one of the earliest Quaker families to migrate from eastern North Carolina to the Piedmont in the 1750s. They were closely intermarried with the Osborne family and both families attended Center Monthly Meeting in southern Guilford County. On June 7, 1761, Elizabeth Lamb married Samuel Osborne, the cabinetmaker David Osborne’s uncle.
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Douglas