AN IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED CHERRY AND WALNUT BLOCK FRONT SLANT LID DESK Attributed to the workshop of John Shearer, Martinsburg, VA, early 19th century

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Lot 126
AN IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED CHERRY AND WALNUT BLOCK FRONT SLANT LID DESK
Attributed to the workshop of John Shearer, Martinsburg, VA, early 19th century

Sold for US$ 37,812 inc. premium

Home & Interiors

26 Jan 2021, 10:00 PST

Los Angeles

AN IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED CHERRY AND WALNUT BLOCK FRONT SLANT LID DESK
Attributed to the workshop of John Shearer, Martinsburg, VA, early 19th century
height 48in (121.9cm); width 41 1/2in (105.4cm); depth 22in (55.9cm)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sotheby's, New York, Sale 5622, 24 October 1987, Lot 503,
    Christie's, New York, January 1991, lot 366A.
    The Barnacle, antique gallery in Cragsmoor, New York by 1995 or 1996 (Letter to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA))
    Sotheby's, New York, Important Americana, 20 & 21 June 1996, Lot 466, $28,750 hammer.


    Possibly the illusive 'Tory Joiner of Martinsburg', John Shearer was a Scottish cabinetmaker who immigrated to America around 1775 and was active in Martinsburg, (West) Virginia from around 1801-1817. Shearer infamously preserved his loyalist affiliations in his fifty-two remaining pieces of idiosyncratic furniture, crafting his furniture almost as a political cartoon and demonstrating early American cultural ties to Great Britain during this period.

    Shearer had stylistic peculiarities that distinguish his pieces, such as the vertical placements of the brass hardware, the ogee feet, and the vertical backboards. He often adopted the Federal Knot; a pierced four intertwined tear-drop loop, an allusion to the entailed and ineffective new government. The complex construction of his furniture was also purposeful for a more mysterious reason.

    The most particular of Shearer's techniques was the use of his furniture as a vessel for hidden pro-Tory propaganda. Following the American Revolution and preceding the Civil War, Americans found themselves split between Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalist. Pro-British sympathies weren't necessarily widely acknowledged or favored in the South at this time, prompting Shearer to use symbolic inlay and hidden inscriptions to relay his ideologies and glorify Great Britain and the Royal Navy. Because of their complex construction, these areas were only visible when deconstructing his furniture -- removing the nailed back board and looking into a compartment at a very particular angle.

    Shearer's patronage, largely Anglo-Americans, also illuminates how his personal political stance could have been shared with local clientele. Shearer was known to have written To a Tory or God Save the King on furniture, presumably for those more politically aligned patrons. Adversely, Shearer may have also been secretly taunting other members of his community that did not share his beliefs. In one such case, Shearer wrote inside a desk made for slave holder and trader Albert Belt, addressing him as 'the Greatest Scoundrel in Loundoun County'. Shearer's work is a rare example of furniture partaking in the narrative of documenting conflicts that resulted in the Civil War and the eventual independence of America.

    This particular desk contains a letter which discusses when the British burned Washington. Attached to the interior face of the rear tambour partition, a secret document reads: Made by me John S---- When the British ---- Capital of America. God save the King ---- amen ---- the worst and greatest vill ---- in Loudoun County Virginia By ---- e Torrys on ---- ard.. It is believed the first part of this inscription refers to the event When the British ... [burned the] ... capital of America. on August 24, 1814. An enigmatic figure in history, this desk is another mystery that makes John Shearer an even more enticing figure in Americana.
Contacts
AN IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED CHERRY AND WALNUT BLOCK FRONT SLANT LID DESK Attributed to the workshop of John Shearer, Martinsburg, VA, early 19th century
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