Secretary Bookcase, ca. 1810-1820
Probably Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854)
American: New York
Mahogany, satinwood, tulip poplar, white pine, brass
94 1/2 x 78 1/2 x 16 5/8 (center), 14 5/8 in. (wings)
Descended in the family of Thomas Witter Chrystie, a New York attorney
Purchased, 1977 (F 76.37)

This secretary bookcase, of New York craftsmanship and made for a member of the Chrystie family, features beautifully veneered mahogany surfaces. It is thought to be the first piece of American furniture to bear a coat of arms in its design. The top center tablet depicts the family coat of arms, which consists of a phoenix rising from flames and a crest with a chevron dividing three wells. The family motto was “malo mori quam foedari.” (“I prefer to die than to be dishonored”). This representation is seen on a bookplate of Thomas Witter Chrystie, a New York attorney.

The bookcase has a one-piece cornice that fits over the three-part bookcase section, which in turn sits on the one-piece base. Four stylized rosettes mark the tops of the sides of each bookcase section. The bookcase doors have pointed arch glazing bars and open to adjustable shelving. The middle of the three sections projects slightly. The lower case is deeper than the upper. The projecting center section has three drawers, the top one of which is a secretary or writing drawer with hinged drawer front, baize writing surface, and interior of small drawers and pigeonholes. The interior drawer fronts are satinwood veneer on mahogany. At each side of the center drawers are cupboard doors with a single drawer above. Reeded panels decorate the end and middle stiles of the lower case. The top of the lower case is reeded. The lower case stands on turned legs carved with stylized leaves and ending in modern brass ball feet.

Many volumes from States Dyckman’s 19th century library are on display in the bookcase, which can be seen in the library of Boscobel House.

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