John Townsend rare cabinet auctions at Christie's American Furniture sale

Here's another look at Sotheby's and Christie's upcoming auctions on January 20-21, featuring a number of rare and historic 18th century John Townsend furniture items.

We've already looked at a mahogany chest, signed and dated in 1756, which is being offered in Sotheby's sale. Townsend was just 23 years old when he made it. The chest has a $3m high-end estimate.

Also up for auction at Christie's is this John Townsend Chippendale Block-and-Shell Document Cabinet. It is billed by Christie's as "a rare survival of colonial Newport's merchant elite, this cabinet is signed by John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, 1755-1765."

This piece is the auction's expected leader when it appears in New York as part of the Important American Furniture and Folk Art sale on January 20. It is being sold with the approval of the directors of the Chipstone Foundation. The estimate is available on request to interested bidders.


Important Chippendale Carved Mahogany Diminutive
The John Townsend Chippendale Block-and-Shell Document Cabinet

"Diminutive in scale (27 ¾ inches high) but monumental in importance, this extraordinary document cabinet with drawers is a unique form signed by famed cabinetmaker John Townsend (1733-1809)," says Christie's.

This furniture item stands as his earliest known work with a tripartite block-and-shell façade. This design would become a Newport classic. The cabinet's date was first listed as "1756" - although this was later revised as unknown.

Nevertheless, the cabinet may still be the earliest example of a fully developed block-and-shell façade, thus representing one of the most significant innovations in early American furniture design.

It is also one of only six examples of tripartite block-and-shell furniture signed, or labelled, by Townsend. Four of these are in public collections - making Christie's upcoming sale a potentially one-off chance to acquire an historic furniture item of this calibre.

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