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Download Emlen speaks about the Goddard desk and bookcase. (3.6 MB)

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This lustrous mahogany desk and bookcase represents a pinnacle of achievement for American cabinetmakers. One of nine known examples, this block-front desk and book-case with six carved shells is associated with the Goddard/Townsend family of cabinetmakers in Newport. The desk exemplifies their superb craftsmanship in the delicate dovetailed construction of the drawers. Their mastery of proportions is evident in the piece’s well-balanced broken-scroll pediment, alternating convex and concave surfaces, and integrated flame finials. In a Rhode Island house of the period, the desk and bookcase was the most expensive piece of case furniture. A combination office, safe, and library, it offered space for account books and writing materials, a flat surface for writing, and small lockable drawers for securing money or jewelry. 1760-1785.

Publication Date



RISD Museum


Providence, Rhode Island


Rhode Island School of Design Museum; American; furniture; desk; bookcase; mohogany; cedar; tulipwood; pine; chestnut


American Material Culture | American Studies | Art and Design | Industrial and Product Design


The essential elements of construction, material, and finish for this remarkable 18th-century desk and bookcase are explored with Robert Emlen. Emlen is a senior lecturer in the department of American Studies, university curator at Brown University, and a lecturer in the department of the History of Art and Visual Culture at RISD. Emlen is joined by Rhode Island-based furniture designer and builder Timothy Philbrick. One of just nine known examples, the block-front desk and bookcase with carved shells is associated with the Goddard/Townsend family of cabinetmakers in Newport.

Goddard Bookcase and Desk



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