The Chippendale style incorporated in the design of this piece was highly favored in the last quarter of the 18th century in the United States. Thomas Chippendale (1718?-1779), an English cabinetmaker, codified many of the design elements being introduced through Chinese import and incorporating them into furniture that reflected Baroque architectural influences popular during the first half of the 18th century in England and America. Chippendale’s book “The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director” was published in 1754 illustrating furniture of which combined rococo, Chinese, and gothic influences. This chest on chest was made in Philadelphia, the second largest English speaking city in the world by the third quarter of the 18th century. The city’s growing prosperity increased the demand for sophisticated furnishings; in response, many English trained cabinetmakers immigrated to Philadelphia and other urban centers within the United States. Philadelphia furniture was generally considered be more elaborate in decoration and often incorporated elements taken directly from Chippendale’s book.
The chest on chest, while structurally stable, had sustained significant damage from multiple old repairs, overzealous “cleaning” of the furnishings, and heavy use over a long period of time. Many of the applied decorative elements, hardware, and surface coatings required stabilization and repair. The intricately carved details on the pediment had been re-nailed during previous repairs causing significant damage and loss to sections of those elements. The sides of the upper and lower chests had large vertical splits that had been filled with wooden strips. Continual movement of the wood caused by changes in relative humidity had caused those replacements to fail and shrinkage of the edge glued boards resulted in large gaps and misalignment of the mahogany boards. The finish on the cabinet had been compromised by an earlier “solvent cleaning” which removed most of the finish on the drawer fronts. Minor scrapes and abrasions were found overall and what remained of the original finish was darkened by grime and reapplications of varnish. The chest on chest retained most of its original hardware, having only four pulls and escutcheons replaced.
The chest on chest was fully documented prior to treatment and finishes analyzed. The large splits were repaired and the side boards were realigned on both the upper and lower cabinets. Sections of lost applied carvings were replicated and inserted to visually reintegrate the floral composition found on the pediments. Large areas of splits and losses found on the drawer edges were filled with mahogany inserts; matching grain and color. Repairs were adhered using hot hide glue. The darkened finishes were carefully cleaned using aqueous and solvent based gels to reduce the later varnishes and linseed oil coatings. An isolation varnish was applied to all exterior surfaces and areas of thinned and missing varnish were padded with button lac to have them blend with the undamaged varnish layers. Missing hardware was replicated and all brasses were selectively polished and given a protective lacquer coating prior to reinstallation.