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Desk and Bookcase

Doll, Conrad __Attributed to
Place Made:
Frederick Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
walnut, poplar
HOA: 96 1/2; WOA: 45; DOA 21 7/8
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Desk and bookcase with scrolled pediment enclosing a tall leaf-and-ball finial mounted on a column-shaped plinth; two-door shelved and drawer bookcase with fluted quarter columns, this resting in a molding upon a slant-top desk; the interior fitted with a carved prospect and shaped drawers and letter compartments; prospect enclosing ten secret drawers; the desk above four tiers of drawers, the top tier is comprised of two drawers divided by a carved shell; the top drawers have key hole escutcheons with drawer pulls, other drawers have separate escutcheons and drawer pulls; full-depth dustboards in the lower case; desk with fluted quarter columns resting upon a molded base supported by ogee bracket feet; vertical tongue and groove backboards.

DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION: The interior of the desk is fitted with a carved prospect and shaped drawers and letter compartments; ten secret drawers have been fitted behind the prospect. An unusual feature of the desk is the set of quarter columns, which are formed from single pieces of walnut turned with capitals that are part of the fluted members rather than the usual method of three separate parts.

MAKER: Based on design and construction similarities, the desk and bookcase can be attributed to Conrad Doll (1739-1814). A documented desk made by him in 1787 for John Brunner later belonged to Barbara Fritchie’s neighbor, Jacob Engelgbrecht, and currently resides in the Historical Society of Frederick County. Both desks share prospect doors with molded arches and keystones, fluted pilaster document drawers with scalloped sides, fluted quarter columns, dustboards in the lower case, and a very old-fashioned drawer construction technique with horizontal bottom boards nailed into the drawer frame, instead of beveled and set into dadoes on the front and sides of the drawer frame. The drawer, therefore, slides directly on the bottom board, instead of on the side of the drawer frame. This was a common technique in the early eighteenth century, but rarely seen when this desk and bookcase would have been made.

Conrad Doll was born to Johannes and Margretha (Hartmann) Doll in Bretten, Germany, and migrated as a young child to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He probably trained with his brother-in-law, George Burkhart (1721-1783), an early Lancaster cabinetmaker who married Conrad’s sister, Anna Margaretha Doll, in 1753. Today, Burkhart is best known for the elaborately carved, Chippendale-style organ case he completed in 1770 for Lancaster’s German Reformed Church. Combined, the Burkhart and Doll families represent an important group of German furniture makers whose influence stretched from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to western Maryland.

In early 1760s, Conrad moved to Frederick, where he married Anna Maria Schisler in the German Reformed Church on September 20, 1761. Later, he was joined by his brother Joseph Doll (1747-1819), a house carpenter and sometimes cabinetmaker whose surviving account book provides an important window into the early woodworking trades in Frederick.

Conrad Doll was closely associated with Barbara Fritchie’s family. The 1799 estate papers of her father, Nicholas Hauer, record a debt to Doll for three pounds, ten shillings. Doll’s own estate records document among his debtors Fritchie’s uncle Daniel Hauer, her cousin George Hauer, and her brother Daniel Hauer, Jr. Conrad Doll’s will mentions both his “Desk… with the Bookcase on the Top” and his “clock and Clock Case,” two of the most iconic early Frederick furniture forms.

Conrad Doll’s will and Joseph Doll’s account book also mention business dealings with Christian Weaver (d. 1814), a professional turner who was working in Frederick by the late 1760s and may have been responsible for the turned quarter columns seen on many of the desks and bookcases and tall clock cases made in the town.

See Sumpter Priddy and Joan K. Quinn, “Crossroads of Culture: Eighteenth-Century Furniture from Western Maryland” in American Furniture 1997, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Chipstone Foundation, 1997).

RELATED OBJECTS: Based on its similar style, drawer construction, and hardware, MESDA’s Frederick County, Maryland, chest with sulfur inlay is also attributed to Conrad Doll (MESDA Acc. # 5689).

The desk and bookcase has a long Frederick history. It belonged to Barbara Fritchie (1763-1862), the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Civil War poem that bears her name. Barbara’s father, Nicholas Hauer (d. 1799), was a wealthy hatter and businessman, and probably its original owner. Hauer arrived from Germany in 1754, and after residing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, moved to Frederick, Maryland, about 1767. Among the creditors listed in Hauer’s estate papers was the cabinetmaker Conrad Doll for a debt of 3 pounds, 10 shillings. The desk and bookcase was listed in the 1849 probate inventory of Barbara’s husband, John Casper Fritchie, and documented as early as 1885 in correspondence between Mrs. Ariana Trail of Frederick and her son-in-law, Reverend John Harding of Baltimore. Trail urged Harding to buy “Barbara Frietchie’s secretary, a lovely genuine antique & in perfect order” with “the most fascinating drawers (secret ones!).” The desk and bookcase descended in the Harding family until it was acquired by MESDA.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund