A high chest-of-drawers, by legendary American craftsman John Townsend, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York on January 21, with an estimated value of $2m – $3m. This places it in the same league as the fabulous Harrington Commode, which was sold in Sotheby’s London saleroom for a record £3.8m, just over a year ago.
The piece, entitled:
“The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Shell-Carved and Figured Mahogany High Chest of Drawers with Open Talons”
is one of the most important pieces of American furniture discovered in 50 years. It was originally commissioned for Oliver and Mary Arnold to mark the occasion of their marriage in 1756, and has remained in the New England family home ever since. The present owner, Oliver Arnold’s great-great-great-great granddaughter, was totally unaware of the value of the high chest hidden in the upper floor of her property, until two Sotheby’s experts came across it during a valuation – a timely reminder for anyone in Lancashire with an antique oak partners desk stamped “Gillows” in their attic!
The provenance, rarity and historical significance of the chest means the hammer price will probably far outstrip its estimate. Lt. Colonel Arnold (1725-1762) has an important place in American history, and the chest has a history of direct descent through six successive generations of his family. Only one of five known pieces carrying Townsend’s graphite signature, the piece represents the earliest form of his Newport high chest, created as his masterwork soon after he finished his apprenticeship at the family firm.
In Lancashire, antique chests of similar structure may be found through antique dealers in Preston – though without the price tag.
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