James Shepherd Five-Drawer Chest

  • Artifact:

    James Shepherd Five-Drawer Chest

  • Time Period:

    Unknown, likely early 1800s

  • Description:

    This mahogany five-drawer chest was made in Shepherdstown in the early nineteenth century.  It has a slightly overhanging top with two small drawers over three large drawers, paneled sides and dovetailed bracket feet.  The front stiles, drawer fronts and drawer edges are all faced with a rather thick mahogany veneer.

  • Benefactor:

    Gift of John Allen

A paper James Shepherd label, attached to the inside of the upper right-hand drawer, reads:

James Shepherd Cabient [sic] Maker, Carries on the above business in all its various branches, in Shepherdstown, Va.  He constantly keeps on hand a general assortment of furniture, which he will dispose of on the most reasonable terms.   He keeps Mahogany of the best quality, and is always provided with well seasoned stuff of every other description, so that he will be enabled to comply with any demands on the shortest of notice.”


The one-quarter inch thick, two-board mahogany top is glued and nailed to a four-piece rectangular frame; a two-board batten runs lengthwise through the middle of the frame.  The front and side boards of the frame are mitered while the rear board is butt-joined to the side boards.  The front and side edges of the top board and frame are faced with rounded trim.  The top assembly is nailed to the case at each corner with nails driven through the top and into the stiles.  Glue blocks secure the top assembly to the case sides.  Countersunk holes on the underside of the top front rail and wells on the back assembly suggest that screws may have originally held the top to the case.  However, the fact there are no corresponding screw holes in the top frame assembly suggests the construction may have been altered at some time.

The back of the chest is a five-part assembly with top and bottom horizontal pine boards, two pine panels and a center vertical board.  The beveled panels rest in grooves in the horizontal and vertical boards as well as in the back stiles.  The center vertical board appears to be mortise and tenon-joined to the horizontal boards which in turn are mortise and tenon-joined to the rear stiles.  Each side of the chest consists of a large mahogany panel set in groves in the front and rear stiles and in horizontal upper and lower mahogany boards.  The upper and lower horizontal boards are joined by mortise and tenon to the front and rear stiles.

The top rail is probably dovetailed to the top of the front stiles and the drawer blades are attached to the stiles with sliding dovetails or dados.  The drawer blade joints are concealed by three-eighth inch thick mahogany facing on the stile fronts.  The drawer blade fronts have a three-eighth inch mahogany facing as well.  Drawer runners are nailed to brackets that appear to be mortise and tenoned-joined to the front and rear stiles.  Two thin wooden drawer stops are nailed to the top of each drawer blade.  The pine divider separating the top drawers is faced with mahogany and through tenoned to the top rail and the drawer blade.

The base molding consists of three boards mitered at the corners and attached to the case bottom with screws driven from below.  The front bracket feet are joined with open dovetails and attached to the base molding with countersunk screws driven from below.   The rear feet are butt-joined and also attached to the base molding with screws.  Each foot is backed by a square post for additional support.

The drawer frames have typical dovetailed construction at the corners.  Bottom panels are beveled at the front and sides and set in grooves while the back edges are flush nailed.  Drawer bottoms are further reinforced with tightly spaced glue blocks along each side.

Overall, the chest is 45 inches wide, 40 3/4 inches high and 21 inches deep.


The brass pulls are later replacements.  As mentioned in the previous section, empty screw holes in the top rail and upper back board without corresponding holes in the top assembly suggest the top may have been altered in some way.  Dovetails in the bracket feet are not as refined as other workmanship in the case.  In addition, countersinks for the screws attaching the bracket feet to the base molding appear to have been done with a high-speed drill.  These observations suggest the bracket feet may not be original to the chest.