Antique desk conceals centuries-old gossip

Photo credit: Brunk Auctions

It could be said that auction houses specialize in scarcity and rareness. But occasionally, they may come across a piece so unique, so peculiar even, that it garners national attention. Such was the case for Lot 0447, an inlaid Federal desk that sold for $354,000 at Asheville’s Brunk Auctions’ November sale. The piece picked up the attention of the New York Times antiques columnist Eve M. Kahn, who featured the desk in her Friday, Dec. 27, column “In Obscure Objects, The Unexpected Thrill of Discovery.”

The desk arrived at Brunk, via a private estate from Asheville, by way of New Jersey. It was made by John Shearer, a Virginian cabinetmaker widely-known in the Southern antiques community for his craftsmanship, but also for his penchant for hiding secretive, accusatory and gossip-riddled notes about area residents inside his pieces. Given Shearer’s reputation for leaving such notes, the staff immediately began searching. After removing the back paneling, the staff found a handwritten message pasted on the side of a drawer slot. It reads:

“I made this desk for an honest Dutchman of the name of Philip Stover in Frederick County Maryland Close by the river in the year 1808 — the same year that I made John Mitchell’s desk close by Late’s Mill (?) In the same county, but a bigger Rascle as well as fool is not to be found in this county than this John Mitchell. The running doors that is in this desk was made for this very Rascle’s Desk Jno. Mitchell. My name is John Shearer joiner from Edinburgh North Britan Not forgetting Sarah Skags the biggest Whore in this county lived there at that time.”

Here’s an excert from Kahn’s NY Times article:

“The 19th-century American cabinetmaker John Shearer, known for tucking irascible messages into furniture crannies, had strong feelings about his customers. An 1808 walnut desk that turned up a few months ago in North Carolina concealed a note in Shearer’s handwriting describing the desk’s original owner, one Philip Stover, as an ‘Honest Dutchman’ in Maryland. The paper scrap also rages against another Maryland client, John Mitchell, as a ‘Rascle as well as fool’ and denounces one Sarah Skags.”

To read the full article, click here.

For more info on the desk, click here.

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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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One thought on “Antique desk conceals centuries-old gossip

  1. Foto-Jennic

    That is hilarious. I hope some of our local artists & craft people take note and pass on this tradition ;-)

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