Today’s photo was inspired by the fact that I was allowed to remove the plastic sheets protecting my desk from the falling grit caused by the roof restoration project. I have worked here for over two months and today was the first time I saw my desk without plastic covering it. I thought about posting a picture of my desk, but decided that this one was much more attractive (and actually historically significant).
The desk-and-bookcase pictured above is the centerpiece of the room known as the study at Hammond-Harwood House. It was made circa 1797 in the workshop of John Shaw, the best-known of the cabinetmakers working in Annapolis in the Federal period. While Shaw’s workshop turned out a variety of furniture forms, according to the catalog from the 1983 exhibit “John Shaw: Cabinetmaker of Annapolis” at the Baltimore Museum of Art, “the desk-and-bookcase is one of Shaw’s most impressive and, probably, expensive productions.” The desk combines the Chinese influence of the earlier Chippendale style (visible in the fretwork on the doors) with the inlay popular in the Federal era. It is a substantial, decorative piece of furniture, and a functional one as well. An 18th-century gentlemen of knowledge and wealth needed a place to store his books, write his letters, and organize his business papers.
I was lucky enough to be able to consult with Alexander Lourie, the Curator of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, about this piece. He confirmed that there are only four other desk-and-bookcases known to have been made by Shaw’s workshop still in existence, one of which is in the White House Collection. Another is at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and two are in private hands, so the Hammond-Harwood House is one of the few places in the country where members of the public can see one of these distinctive pieces. Ours even has the original label still attached:
My desk certainly can’t match that level of prestige. Or cleanliness…