Attributed to the Harvard College Joiners (1638-1752)
Tolman Catalogue: 1. Black Oak Court Cupboard, formerly belonging to Gregory Stone, an early inhabitant of Cambridge, who died in 1672. This piece remained in the possession of his direct descendants until purchase by Mr. Cummings E. Davis. About the year 1835 it was owned by one of Concord’s literary men now almost forgotten, viz.,John Stone, author of Edwin Forrest’s celebrated play of “Metamora” (Tolman, p. 1)
Red oak, white pine, sugar maple. The drawer has a single large dovetail connecting each side to the front. A groove for the side-hung runners in the case is chiseled through the middle of each dovetail. The dovetails are held by one rosehead nail driven in the above the runner groove. The drawer back is nailed to the sides from the rear. The bottom consists of one pine board deeply chamfered on all four sides. The front edge is let into a groove in the drawer front, while the sides and rear are nailed along the edges. The two framed backs of the upper and lower cases have chamfered pine boards similar to the drawer bottom nailed to the outer surfaces, rather than panels held in grooves. A shallow shelf on the interior of the upper case is supported by two small shaved brackets. The top of the upper case, the drawer knobs, four of the smaller bosses, and the moldings on the drawer front are restored. Two dentils in the cornice are missing. Layers of red and black paint were removed from the entire exteriors in 1930. The interior and structure are substantially intact.
One of the war horses of the Concord Museum collection, the Gregory Stone cupboard has been accepted as a nationally prominent antiquity since it was illustrated by Esther Singleton in 1901. Within the last twenty years, the Stone cupboard has been recognized as the key monument of a group of six cupboards from the same shop tradition. Because the patriarch of the Stone family lived in Cambridge, his cupboard is attributed to one of three successive Harvard College joiners, each of whom is thought to have apprenticed with his predecessor. The first college joiner was John Taylor (here 1638-1683), one of many woodworkers who helped to build the college buildings in the 1630s and 1640s. The second college joiner was John Palfrey (working 1664-1689), who married the daughter of the college cook. The third was Zachariah hicks, Jr. (1651-1752), who took on many public building projects in Cambridge besides his college work. These three workmen without question established and maintained New England’s only institutional joinery shop.
Additional evidence for attributing the Stone and related cupboards to the college joiners is to be found in a Boston cupboard with four drawers that was identified in 1988. This seminal object represents the urban prototype for the Cambridge examples, but differs enough in key structural details to suggest that the Stone cupboard was not, in fact, a Boston product. The detail that is most pertinent is the drawer construction. Where the Stone cupboard displays drawers with one large nailed dovetail on each side, Boston drawers have two dovetails without nailing on each side of drawers of roughly equal depth. However, the turned ornament of the newly discovered Boston cupboard is very close to that of the Stone example, and the strong possibility exists that the college joiners obtained their pillars, columns, bosses, and knobs from London-trained turners working in Boston. An alternative explanation might be that John Gove (working 1658-1704), the leading Cambridge turner, modeled his versions of these fixtures on Boston prototypes.