Double Chest with Secretary
TERMS: The drawer that works as a secretary was called a “desk drawer” in Charleston during this period. The term “secretary” for a case piece with a desk drawer did not appear in Charleston records until the late 1780s. There is a tendency to call this form–that is a two piece chest with drawers on both upper and lower cases–a “chest-on-chest,” but only once in Charleston has that term been found. The preferred term in Charleston was “double chest of drawers.” The first Charleston mention of a double chest was in 1734; the last mention was in 1793. Cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe recorded in his account book in May of 1773, that he had made for Humphry Sommers “a double chest of drawers with a frett round,” (80 pounds) “a Mahogany bedstead flutted post & Brass Caps With a carved Cornish,” (65 pounds) ” a Sett of Brass Casters,” (2 pounds) and “a Lady’s dressing drawers for daughter,” (45 pounds).
CONSTRUCTION: The drawer construction is normal to the Low Country and follows London practice in the use of full-bottom dustboards and two-part drawer bottoms divided from front to rear by muntins, a feature that lessened possible damage from radically shifting humidity levels.
STYLE: This “double chest of drawers” is a showcase of classic Charleston details. The cornice is made up of an ogee crown, a Doric dentil, and a cove, a format repeated on a number of related case pieces. The strongly architectural nature of this chest is typical of Charleston, including the engaged, stop-fluted pilasters, the cove-and-ovolo bed molding, and the inset base. The fret pattern in the frieze below the cornice is one popularly known as the “Elfe” fret, after the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe, to whom many pieces of furniture with this decoration have been attributed without documentation of any sort. A very similar fret pattern was used in the Elfe shop.