Collections › MESDA Collection › Sideboard


Priestly, Edward
Place Made:
Baltimore Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –tulip poplar –white pine
HOA: 46 3/4″; WOA: 84 1/2″; DOA: 26 1/2″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Rectangular form sideboard with recessed center section; splash boards along back and sides of top; top tier of five drawers with veneered fronts interspersed with veneered and cross-banded panels; lower case with four veneered and Gothic-arched doors interspersed with stationery panels bearing Gothic arches and quatrefoils; overhanging top tier supported on four terms or caryatids, each with turbaned and bearded head, reeded shaft, and carved human feet; each supported on a cast brass hairy paw; two turned rear feet.

CONSTRUCTION: The heavy mortised-and-tenoned bottom frame consists of a rear rail, three front rails, two side rails, and two medial rails. It supports a detachable carcass made of three separate cases, one for each end section and one for the recessed center section. Each separate case consists of top, bottom, and side boards joined by dovetails. One full-depth dustboard is set into each case on sliding half-dovetails, and the runners and guides for the drawers are glued and nailed to these boards. The full-depth drawer dividers for the center section are set into the dustboard and the top board with sliding dovetails. The three cases are attached to one another and to the bottom frame with large original screws. Each case has its own back assembly consisting of a mortised-and-tenoned frame with one or two beveled panels. The back assemblies are fastened to their respective cases with screws. The terms are carved from solid boards and attached to supporting stiles with screws set from behind. These stiles are tenoned into the case top and bottom boards. Solid stiles with applied Gothic ornament flank the center doors and are tenoned into the center case top board. Two turned wooden rear feet and four turned wooden cores for the brass front feet are tenoned into the bottom frame. A narrow coved cornice run on the outer edges of three-inch mahogany boards is nailed to the tops of the three-case assembly along the front and sides. Two medial rails of the same dimensions are nailed to the top of the assembly above the lines where the cases abut. The top of the sideboard consists of a solid mahogany board supported by a mortised-and-tenoned frame with three medial rails. This assembly is attached to the carcass with screws set through the front edges of the three-case-assembly top boards and the tops of the back panel assemblies. The splash boards are attached to the main top board with screws.

The dovetailed drawers have bottoms that are beveled and set into grooves on the front and sides and flush-nailed at the rear. The sides of the bottom boards have rows of close-set glue blocks mitered at the rear corners. The drawer fronts are veneered, and their edges have applied cock beading. The flat-faced doors on the end cupboards have Gothic-shaped mortised-and-tenoned frames covered with veneer. Their Gothic panels are set into rabbets from behind. The bowed center doors consist of large panels sawn from solid stock and joined to sawn top and bottom rails with tongue-and-groove joints. The Moorish ornament is applied to the fronts of these doors with glue and nails.

MATERIALS: Mahogany top board, top board cross-banding, splash board, case sides, drawer fronts and veneers, drawer sides, drawer backs, doors and veneers, applied moldings, carved terms, supporting stiles for terms, turned rear feet, turned cores for front feet, dustboard front edge veneers, and base frame veneers; tulip poplar underframe for top board, paneled back assemblies, base frame, drawer bottoms, drawer bottom glue blocks, and drawer runners; white pine center section case, end section cases (except for their exposed side panels), dustboards, drawer guides, and center section drawer dividers.

Inspired by early eighteenth-century archaeological discoveries at Pompeii, European interest in the ancient world grew steadily over the next one hundred years, gradually encompassing a disparate array of cultures from sites throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. During the first half of the nineteenth century, architects and artists embraced the design traditions of these civilizations with renewed vigor and produced a new generation of exotic designs for everything from lighting devices to cabinet wares. In the introduction to his Collection of Designs for Household Furniture (1808), Englishman George Smith alluded to the broad range of design sources then in vogue. Touting “a variety of the newest patterns, . . . for the most superb articles of modern furniture,” Smith explained that his concepts had been “studied from the best antique examples of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman styles; and to augment this variety, some Designs are given after the Gothic or old English fashion, and also according to the costume [custom] of China.” Among contemporary American cabinetmakers, those in Philadelphia and Baltimore were especially receptive to this multicultural movement, and shops in both cities produced extraordinary examples of goods in the new fashion.

This massive mahogany sideboard epitomizes Baltimore’s interpretation of the late classical style. Made in the second or third decade of the nineteenth century, it is ornamented “in the rich Egyptian and Gothic style,” a specific combination advertised in Philadelphia as early as 1810. Gothic ornament is expressed in the form of multiple pointed arches and quatrefoils, although the ogee central arch technically is of Moorish origin. This arrangement is enframed by a series of four carved “tapered therms with mummy heads and feet,” as caryatids of this type were called. The bearded and turbaned heads surmounting the terms are more Turkish than Egyptian, unlike Philadelphia-made “mummy” heads that were more obviously Egyptianate in concept. The shafts that support the Baltimore heads and the realistically carved human feet have direct parallels in early Egyptian design, however. The abandon with which Gothic, Egyptian, Turkish, Moorish, and other elements were mixed and matched on this sideboard and on many other Baltimore pieces indicates that purity of design and archaeological correctness were not of paramount importance to some consumers.

Whether adorned with mummies or not, the “Gothic sideboard” was a standard form in Baltimore after 1815. Numerous examples from several of the city’s shops survive. The basic format was available in many guises since the maker could easily incorporate or omit components to suit the buyer’s budget. A sideboard in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, probably made by the same artisan who produced the CWF example, bears most of the same attributes, including mummies of similar form, but less expensive turned wooden feet have been substituted for the costly gilt brass animal paws on the CWF example. Another version from the same shop, now at the Maryland Historical Society, retains the gilt brass feet and adds a white marble top, but the mummies have been replaced by simple columns with large-scale reeds, another favorite Baltimore motif.

These sideboards exhibit structural traits that were relatively common in Britain by the middle of the eighteenth century but are rarely encountered on American pieces before the 1820s. The drawers in the Baltimore products have backs and sides built of tropical mahogany, a lavish use of an imported, comparatively expensive material. This change from cheaper native secondary woods was undoubtedly regarded as a mark of quality and refinement. Their enormous size and weight probably mandated that the Baltimore Museum sideboard and the CWF piece consist of discrete sections that can be detached from one another. In both cases, the top comes off to reveal three dovetailed carcasses connected only by a series of screws. These cases can also be detached from the substantially framed base unit. Eighteenth-century British library bookcases were assembled in precisely the same fashion. Such modifications made these sideboards less difficult to move.

Provenance: Antiques dealer David Stockwell of Wilmington, Del., sold the sideboard to American artist Andy Warhol. Colwill-McGehee Antique Decorative and Fine Arts of Baltimore, Md., was the successful bidder at Sotheby’s 1988 auction of Warhol’s estate. The piece was then sold to a private collector, later resold to Colwill-McGehee, and finally purchased by CWF in 1994.

Credit Line:
Loan Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation