Desk and Bookcase

Collection Type

  • Furniture


c. 1780-1800 and c. 1810




Slant front desk [a]. Mahogany with white pine secondary wood. Serpentine front, four graduated drawers with original Chippendale brasses. Bookcase [b] has broken scrolled pediment with carved rosettes. Three pierced teardrop finials. Two hinged doors with string inlay and quarter round fan inlay in corners. Rests on cabriole legs with ball and claw feet. Interior of upper case back signed "R. Bartlet."


Descriptive Terms

secretaries (furniture)
desks and bookcases
mahogany (wood)
pine (wood)
inlay (process)


Displayed in the "Newbury Furniture" exhibit in the SPNEA One Bowdoin Square Gallery May 2, 2000 through October 6, 2000. "This desk and bookcase was owned by Richard Bartlet (1763-1832) and his wife, Hannah Pettingell Bartlet (1765-1836), of Newburyport. The desk was made for Bartlet sometime around 1780-1800. Some years later he had the bookcase made for it, apparently not bothered by the stylistic inconsistencies of Federal inlays and pierced finials placed over a Chippendale style desk. Richard Bartlet came from a family of cordwainers, or shoemakers, who were among the first settlers of Newbury. He and his brother profited from mercantile interests during the Revoultion, his brother becoming Newburyport's wealthiest citizen by the end of the 18th century. Yet despite his family's new found wealth, it may have been a spirit of frugality that led Bartlet to update, rather than replace an old piece of furniture."
Possibly around the time of his marriage in 1783, Newburyport merchant Richard Bartlet purchased a fashionable desk from a local cabinetmaker. The desk has the typical characteristics of the style referred to as Chippendale in its ball-and-claw feet with ogee brackets, inwardly bowed drawer façade in the “oxbow” form, and Rococo style brasses. Some years later, probably around 1810, Bartlet updated the desk by adding a bookcase in the prevailing style of the day. The bookcase's verticality, the inlaid rectangular stringing and light and dark wood inlaid shells on the doors, and the inlaid oval beneath the central finial represent a new style. The result is a Chippendale desk topped with a Federal bookcase, a hybrid that looks wrong to furniture collectors' eyes, but that seemed totally appropriate to Bartlet. We know the bookcase was added by Bartlet because an inventory taken shortly after his death in 1832 lists the piece as a desk and bookcase. It remained in the family until 1940 when it was donated to Historic New England by Bartlet's great-granddaughter.


"This secretary belonged to Richard Bartlet father of Abigail Bartlet mother of Edward Tappen Shaw who was father of Annie Bartlet Shaw, mother of Sumner Bartlet. Andover about 1780." (Tag inside upper case)
"Newburyport." (Pencil script)



Location of Origin

Newburyport, Massachusetts


95 1/2 x 41 3/4 x 22 3/4 (HxWxD) (inches)

Credit Line

Museum Purchase

Accession Number



c. 1780-1800 and c. 1810 (Desk, about 1780-1800 Bookcase, about 1810)


Newburyport (Essex county, Massachusetts)
Massachusetts (United States)
Newburyport (Essex county, Massachusetts)