Transatlantic crossing: historical American desk turns up in UK auction

Extremely rare American 18th-century bureau/desk, Chippendale period, mahogany with secondary poplar, ball-and-claw feet, original brass escutcheons. Provenance: By repute, formerly the property of US Secretary of the Treasury, NY Governor and Civil War (Union) Major General John Adams Dix (1798-1879). Est. $28,000-$42,000

EPPING, U.K. – Although no one knows exactly how or when it made its way across the Atlantic, a very rare 18th-century American bureau/desk has emerged as the furniture highlight of a February 28 Greater London auction.

Boningtons auction house in Epping, Essex, immediately identified the private consignment as an American Chippendale-period piece. Made of mahogany with secondary white poplar, the desk is a magnificent example of furniture craftsmanship, with a well-carved shell motif below the central drawer, three drawers at either side, and elaborate original brass escutcheons. It stands on four masterfully carved ball-and-claw feet. The bureau/desk is offered by Boningtons with a $28,000-$42,000 estimate.

Owned by English family, its provenance includes US Secretary of the Treasury, NY Governor and Civil War Major General John Adams Dix

While it easily stands on its own merit, the bureau/desk also comes with intriguing provenance. By repute, it was formerly the property of John Adams Dix (1798-1879), a US Civil War (Union) major general, US secretary of the treasury and US senator.

Major General John Adams Dix, circa 1862, photo by celebrated Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady, public domain

Dix was notable for arresting the pro-Confederacy Maryland legislature, preventing the divided border state from seceding, and for arranging a system for prisoner exchange via the Dix-Hill Cartel in partnership with Confederate Major General Daniel Harvey Hill. He was also United States minister to France from 1866 to 1869 and served as New York’s 24th governor from 1873 to 1874. As a civilian, Dix was president of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1863-1868, during the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

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