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Lady’s Desk and Bookcase

Walker, Robert
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –satinwood –see description
HOA 83 1/8; WOA 42 1/4; DOA 21 1/4
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Inlaid desk and bookcase in two parts: Upper bookcase with molded cornice above double doors with glazed and mullioned portion above veneered panels; geometric glazing pattern of each door includes center band of diamonds and triangles with rectangles along each side; glazed doors open to shelved interior above desk section which includes 3 drawers with ivory pulls (one wide over two smaller) over 4 pigeon holes on each side of a prospect door; behind prospect door are two drawers, the top drawer is “secret,” the bottom drawer has brass pull. Lower case has hinged writing surface with (replaced) green baize; three graduated drawers each with brass pulls ; top drawer has slide on either side with brass pulls; the whole above reeded legs with ball feet.

Robert Walker label currently attached (nailed and glued) to left side of back; label is protected by 20th century frame which is screwed to case; original label location is visible on bottom of case.

TERM: The term “Lady’s Desk” is applied to writing cabinets with the fold-over writing surface.

MAKER: This example retains its original “ROBERT WALKER, CABINETMAKER,” label. The label refers to his shop at No. 53 Church Street, Charleston, which he occupied from 1812 until 1820. The label on this desk and bookcase is original to the piece but is not in its original location. It’s original site was on the bottom of the baseboards where there can still be observed its site with four nails for attachment (nails possibly later). The label is now located on the back of the piece.

Walker’s copy of THE LONDON BOOK OF PRICES (MESDA Acc. 4297) is inscribed to indicate he was in Cupar, Scotland (across from Edinburgh), in 1791-1793; he was in New York from October 1793-November 1795. The MESDA files place Walker in NYC by October 1793 and in Charleston by October or November 1795. Walker became a citizen of the United States in 1799. He is first listed as a cabinetmaker at 57 Broad Street in 1801; he was at 39 Church Street the same year. Also in that year he was admited into the St. Andrews Society. In 1810 he was listed at 19 Elliott Street and at 53 Church Street from 1812, the year he married Margaret Murdoch. He was, for a time, partners with Charles Watts.

Among his most interesting advertisements, one in 1805 lists card and Pembroke tables of satinwood; one in 1810 lists (among materials for sale) “Mahogany boards, Plank Veneers, Sattin Wood, Holly, best Dublin Glue….” Walker sold various woods, cabinet hardware, etc. throughout his life in Charleston.

The chalk inscription on the back of the desk and bookcase, identifying the railroad station town of Lugoff, confirms that the piece was in the Camden area at the turn of the 20th Century. It is believed to have belonged to Martha Alberta Team (1881-1962) of Camden. An upcountry provenance could be explained by the wording at the bottom of Walker’s original label, “ORDERS from the COUNTRY speedily and carefully executed, in the neatest manner.”
Credit Line:
Gift of the Estate of O.Edward Freeman, Jr.