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Secretary Bookcase

Sass, Jacob/Shop of __Attributed to
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –mahogany veneer –cedar –white pine
[Overall Ht]104″ __[Overall Wdth]55 3/8″ __[Overall Depth]24 3/8″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Secretary with bookcase: Broken scroll pediment with shaded-inlay rosettes, narrow plinth with inlaid fluting on finial plinth and topped with carved urn finial, single string-surrounded spandrels of figured veneer in the tympanum; cove and dentil molding on cornice; crossed stringing and horizontally oriented husk and dot inlay on frieze (stringing returns around side); bookcase with two key entry only glazed doors fitted with thirteen-light style of Chinese tracery, face veneered stiles and rails, the veneer mitred at the corners, two rows of stringing on stiles and rails, doors enclose adjustable shelves; lower case with two sham drawers (top two), enclosing desk over three graduated full-width drawers (all with key entry and rosette-and-bail pulls, string inlay and cockbeaded edge); desk drawer with fall-front and quadrant enclosing central prospect door with key only entry and string inlay flanked by document drawers with single-string inlay, outer section with one drawer over two drawers over four pigeonholes with valences (all drawers with single-string inlay and knob pulls); bed molding over straight bracket feet with single-string outlining and rounded (astragal) responds

Pediment: pediment, cornice, and frieze are assembled on a separate dovetailed frame;

Doors: unpinned mortise and tenon, faced with bookmatched mitred veneers;

Corner joinery: upper case dovetailed top and bottom; lower case dovetailed at bottom; top of lower case not examined, but probably screwed to laths blind dovetailed to case sides;
Back joinery: backs of both cases paneled;
Drawer rails: glued to dustboards and half-dovetailed to case sides, the joint covered by facing strips;
Drawer supports: drawer rails and dustboards;
Dustboards: full-bottom, 3/4 depth, set into dadoes;

Base system:
Foot block system: vertical blocks resting upon horizontal flanking blocks glued to bed block;

Frame joinery: dovetailed; back passes sides;
Bottom-to-frame joinery: interior drawer bottoms fitted to flush rabbets at front, sides, and rear; case drawers fitted to dadoes in front and sides, nailed at the back, with butted segmental blocks flush-fitted to bevels at sides, spaced flush blocks at fronts;
Bottom section/joinery: interior drawers of one flat board with grain parallel to front; large drawers with three-piece butt-joined beveled boards parallel to front;
Runner system: interior drawers, sides and bottoms; large drawers, sides and glue blocks;
Front edge finish: interior drawers plain; large drawers with mitred cockbeading;
Drawer face finish: one-piece face veneers with solid red cedar cores
(Joinery component taken from Rauschenberg & Bivins, THE FURNITURE OF CHARLESTON 1680-1820, pp. 504-505.)

MAKER: Jacob Sass (1750-1836) was one of Charleston’s most successful post-Revolutionary cabinetmakers. He was born in Hessen, Germany, and emigrated to Charleston in 1773. During his over sixty-year residence in Charleston, he emerged as one of its most prominent German-born citizens. During the Revolution he actively participated in the siege of Savannah serving with Charleston’s German Fusiliers, a group of which he was a part from 1775 until 1830. He first advertised his shop in December 1783. This was about a year after the death of fellow-German Martin Pfeninger (Acc. 1185, Acc. 4455), the man in whose shop Sass probably worked as a journeyman, along with Henry Gesken and Charles Desel. Sass advertised his shop–located on what is today the south side of Queen Street between Meeting and King–prolifically for over thirty years. He was twice elected president of the German Friendly Society, in 1789 and 1805. He served as president of the vestry for St. Johns’s Lutheran Church for nearly twenty years and was elected to a number of municipal and state offices. He represented the parishes of St. Phiip’s and St. Michael’s in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1798-1799. In 1799 he was elected to the position of Charleston’s Commissioner of Streets and Lamps and a year later became a commissioner for Sullivan’s Island, a barrier island just outside of the city. He seved as a warden and vice- president of the Charleston Mechanic Society. Sass was successful enough that he did not take a partner until 1810 when he took his son Edward George Sass, who came of age. Jacob Sass is the probable maker of a large body of work generally referred to as Charleston’s Post-Revolutionary German School. Attribution to the Jacob Sass Shop from Gary Albert, “Probability & Provenance: Jacob Sass and Charleston’s Post-Revolution German School of Cabinetmakers,” MESDA Journal, vol. 36, 2015; online:

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund and Gift of Bill and Patty Wilson