Old family secretary desk

karen.izFebruary 25, 2013

I've looked and have never seen another secretary like this one. It has a written history with it; when my family bought a small town doctor's farmhouse in 1812, this was the doctor's desk and came with the house. My great-great grandfather (also a doctor) used it, and it was passed down through the family (along with a piece of paper documenting the passings). It was given to my grandparents on their wedding day, then to my parents on their wedding day. Two years ago they celebrated their 50th anniversary, and gave the desk to me. It's a treasure, and I hope it stays in the family for another 200+ years!

Can you identify the style or anything about the desk? I'd appreciate any information you might share!


This post was edited by karen.iz on Wed, Feb 27, 13 at 1:45

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With the desk part open

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 4:53PM
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Some of the hardware

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 4:54PM
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The piece seems to be in fine shape for its age. I believe there are 2 pull-out slides that support the writing panel and these appear to have their original wood knobs.

I spy a set of apoecary bottles in the cabinet! Did these belong to the first owner-doctor? (The label on one says "sodium citrate".) These antique bottles could be worth as much as this piece of furniture. Taken together and the documented provenance, the bottles and the secretary enhances each other. Never separate them!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 7:18PM
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It's probably a piece made to order for the original owner by a local craftsman, in something resembling the current styles.

Have you identified the wood?

Can you show details of the drawer construction? Dovetails? How the bottoms are held in? How the doors are built and hinged? What the back looks like.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 5:52PM
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Here is a drawer, showing the dovetailing and the bottom of the drawer (dovetailing is the same at the front and back - hard to see in photo). The bottoms of the drawers are angled slightly on the ends and slid into the drawer sides which have a similar angle. There are three nails in the back bottom of the drawers holding the bottom in place.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 8:14PM
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Here's a hinge from the upper section (with the glass door). There are two hinges that look like brass, and there are three screws in each side of the hinge.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 8:20PM
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Here's the underside of the shelf in the upper section to show how it's supported.

I don't know what the wood is - it has a bit of a grain, but it doesn't look like oak. It's not smooth like maple, hmmm... I don't know. It's not pine - no knots.

I can't move it without removing the bottles inside - it's very heavy and my husband isn't home. From what I remember, it's kind of rustic looking in the back, not finished. The top cabinet comes off (probably obvious to you).

The bottles inside are mostly old medicine bottles that my dad dug up from around the foundation of the old farmhouse in upstate New York after the house had been demolished. Others were bottles from my other great-grandfather, who was a druggist in Phila from 1860-1890.

Thanks for looking - I appreciate your help!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 8:33PM
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My wife's parents had a piece very much like yours. Likely, theirs came from MIL parents who lived in Janesville, NY (not far from Syracuse). Their piece dated to about 1915.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:03AM
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Jemdandy, Janesville is only about 60 miles from where the old farm was in Clinton, NY. Interesting. I'd love to see a photo of your family's desk, if you have one.

The woman (Fanny Jane Brockway) who wrote the history of the desk was born in 1831, and it was her father (Lathrop Brockway) who bought the house from his brother-in-law, Dr. John Fitch. The secretary had belonged to his father, Capt. John Fitch (1749-1840).

Whatever happened with your in-laws' desk - is it still in your family?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:44AM
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I am quoting from memory. We do not have the desk. When the last parent died, what remained of their furniture was divided between the two girls and mabe the rest was sold. We got the clock, book case, a wicker rocker in very bad shape, and a mon-descript chest of drawers. The secretary desk could have been sold when my wife's folks down sized when they retired.

The 8 day mantel clock is in runing order, but is missing some top pieces. The reverse painted glass front panels needs to be replaced. The clock was made in Amber, NY and has brass strap movement from a facrory in Connecticut. It appraises at $400, fully restored it would be $800. At present, there is not high interest in old clocks except the highly ornate ones, and that is depressing prices. However, I am facinated with its works and how it was designed, and that it is still in working order. The clock is a Jared Arnold made in about 1832 and has the original face. Its pendulum is suspended by a flexural pivot, a vrey modern and extremely low friction element, and is not subject to wear of a pin pivot,

My wife's folks also had a very unique bed. The long horizontal parts of the frame were made from unsawn poles. Large screw threads were turned on each end of a pole; one end with a right hand thread and the other end, a left hand thread. The treads were 'timed' with each other, e.g., each thread started at the same rotational location. It was a bearcat to assemble. becasue both ends of the threads had to be started at the same time, one in the head and the other in the foot. Once started, the pole was scewed until fully engaged. Also, once one side was started, the other side had to be started also, and then both screwed in together. Once put togetehr, it was never taken apart unless for putting into long term storage. That was a unique piece of woodwork. Lilely, it was not a factory piece, but one made by a local woodworker.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 5:44PM
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