William & Mary Dressing Table


It takes a special kind of crazy (think The Hurt Locker kind of crazy) to appreciate most William & Mary furniture, or so I’m told. Personally, I find much of it to be intriguing because it’s the first period to step out of the frame-and-panel mould.

Dressing tables (or lowboys) got their start during the William & Mary period. As a result, period examples are extravagantly expensive. (In fact, that happens to be the case regardless of the period from which a lowboy hails.) But what you may not know is, generally speaking, the William & Mary period was the only period in which lowboys used case construction. (Read what constitutes case construction, here.)

(Fig. 1) During the William & Mary period, dovetails begin to gain acceptance in building boxes, which lead to a “new” way to build furniture.

It was also during the period that the dovetail joint started to gain in prominence as the method of putting together boxes. When you think about it, a dovetailed box gave cabinetmakers lots of possibilities that just weren’t available before. The construction method was lightweight and allowed the application of many different types of legs or feet. (Fig. 1)

Removing the corner posts that ran from bottom to top of a piece also gave cabinetmakers the ability to stack boxes on top of one another. With all these new possibilities, it’s no wonder they developed new, stylish forms that never before existed. The dressing table, or lowboy, was one of those new forms, but like its big brother the highboy, it lasted in this country only until about the time of the Revolution.

A collector, who happened to be a good friend, decided he wanted to commission a dressing table. The lowboy he chose to have me copy is attributed to John Head of Philadelphia, and was made circa 1725. In order to ensure a proper replica, we received permission to examine the original. When we got the opportunity to get a close-up look, we found many interesting details, and some unexpected construction methods.

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