Desk and Bookcase
MAKER: John Shaw was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1745 and was working in Annapolis by 1768. The first recorded reference to Shaw as a cabinetmaker appears in the records of a 1770 court case. By 1772 he was in partnership with Archibald Chisholm. According to advertisements, the Shaw and Chisholm firm not only sold furniture made by the two cabinetmakers, but also sold imported goods. In 1773, Joshua Collins, musical instrument maker, advertised in February that he was working at their shop. They advertised later that year as cabinetmakers and chairmakers. The partnership dissolved in November 1776. During the Revolution Shaw was appointed the Armorer of the State of Maryland.
In 1777 Shaw married Elizabeth Wellstead Pratt. The couple had five sons and two daughters. Their youngest son, George, was also a cabinetmaker, but he died just a few months after John Shaw. After the death of his first wife in 1793, Shaw married Margaret Steuart in 1798 and had one additional daughter.
Much of Shaw’s work was commissioned by the Maryland government including furniture for the State House, the Chancery Office, the Land Office, and the Orphans’ Court. There are numerous pieces of furniture bearing the label of John Shaw. These examples tell the story of a versatile craftsman who developed a style all his own from his earliest Marlboro legged tables to a neoclassical taste tempered with shades of rococo. He died in Annapolis 1829.
GROUP: This desk and bookcase is one of a group of three very similar pieces made by Shaw, one of which is in the White House. William Voss Elder III and Lu Bartlett, in their book on Shaw, describe the White House piece thus: “It is transitional in style, combining a basically Chippendale form with four graduated drawers below the slant lid, and swelled bracket feet adapted from a design in Chippendale’s DIRECTOR. Neoclassical ornament, however, links the form to the Federal period with inlaid motifs of paterae across the cornice frieze and stars in the pediment with delicately carved piercing…giving a sense of lightness and grace to the overall design.” (JOHN SHAW: CABINETMAKER OF ANNAPOLIS, p. 120) The same can be said of the desk and bookcase in MESDA’s collection.
NOTES ON DIMENSIONS: HOA is without finial. WOA includes swell of feet; width of desk case is 43 1/4. DOA includes swell of feet; depth of desk case only is 23).