The design of the block front furniture is considered amongst the finest of American furniture.
What is blockfront furniture?
Block front furniture refers to a type of chest that is divided into three parts. There are two convex panels and the center panel of the chest is concave, set back from the sides.
Origins of Blockfront Furniture
The production of blockfront furniture first started in Boston. The earliest documented piece dates back to 1738. It was a block front desk made by Job Coit and his son.
Later, many renowned furniture makers like John Cogswell, Benjamin Frothingham, and George Bright continued the block front furniture making tradition until about 1780.
Each of these furniture makers added their own unique style and design characteristics.
According to many researchers, the production of the block front furniture reached its perfection in Newport, Rhode Island. The earliest labeled blockfront furniture was a document chest made by John Townsend in 1756.
The Townsend-Goddard workshops in Newport continued to produce blockfront furniture until the early 1800s. There weren’t any significant changes in the design of the furniture because the furniture makers resisted changes in styles of design.
So, over the entire course of production, only a handful of variations were made.
Forms of Blockfront Furniture
Forms of blockfront furniture include tall-case clocks, card tables, tea tables, pier tables, dressing tables, high chests, chests-on-chests, chests of drawers, kneehole desks, slant-lid desks, and desk-and-bookcases.
Matching pairs or suites were rarely made because the cost of their production was pretty high. Because of this, it is extremely rare to find the pairs made in that era.
Boston vs. Newport Construction Techniques
There are some differences in the construction techniques of Boston and Newport blockfront furniture designs. The tops of Boston block front furniture are secured with a sliding dovetail, nails or glue blocks.
The tops of Newport blockfront furniture, on the other hand, are usually secured with a butterfly cleat. The giant dovetail joining the base molding to the baseboards on Boston block front furniture is visible when the bottom drawer is removed.
On the other hand, there is no giant dovetail when it comes to the Newport blockfront furniture. Instead, there is a sunken area between the carcass bottom and the bottom drawer.
Different Types Of Blockfront Furniture
- Chippendale Blockfront Chest
- Mahogany Blockfront Chest
- Blockfront Chest of Drawers
If you want to see part of the process for making a blockfront chest the following video shows you how to make the drawers. It gives you a good indication of what this style of chest looks like…
The Uniqueness of Antique Blockfront Furniture
The block front furniture made in New England during the 18th century was truly unique and it is virtually impossible to recreate it.
The South and Central American, as well as West Indian mahogany used at that time for the construction of the block front furniture, was from freshly-grown trees of untouched rainforests.
Unfortunately, these rainforests have been depleted and most of the mahogany available today do not have the same characteristics as the older wood. Not to mention its quality is vastly inferior.
The majority of the block front furniture sold at auction or by dealers in the past few decades has gone into public collections, museums, as well as private collections.
These collections continue to house some of the greatest masterpieces of blockfront furniture.