At some point, likely between 1831 and 1840, Andrew Jackson bought a sideboard for his home at The Hermitage outside of Nashville. While the sideboard remains in the same room he placed it, information about where it originated has been lost.
The sideboard is featured on page 405 of the recent book Philadelphia Empire Furniture. The text in the book indicates the design of this sideboard closely follows sketch 13 in the Anthony Quervelle sketchbook. Marsha Mullin, Vice President Museum Services and Chief Curator at The Hermitage, read my recent post on Pittsburgh sideboards and sent an email about the sideboard at the Hermitage.
“I was especially intrigued by comments you made about lack of gilding and less elaborate hardware on Pittsburgh sideboards,” Mullin wrote. “Several years ago Donald Fenimore from Winterthur commented that our sideboard had Philadelphia and especially Anthony Quervelle features, but wasn’t quite right – an observation you made about Pittsburgh sideboards as well.”
Looking at the Quervelle sketch, there are similarities between it and the sideboard at the Hermitage, most notably the cylindrical or basile ends as the book calls them. The design for the feet in the sketch is also similar to those on the sideboard. However, the actual sideboard is larger and contains a third foot. It also contains center cupboards, compared to the sketch where the area between the cylinders was open.
The circular pedestals at either end open with sliding doors to reveal lazy susans for decanter storage. The star panel in the front slides up and back. The back of the inside is mirrored. The two panels on either side of the star panel are meant to slide toward the pillars.
Mullin wondered if the sideboard may have been crafted in Pittsburgh. So I started to think about it.
One of the early drivers of the Pittsburgh furniture industry was the difficulty of travel over the Allegheny Mountains. It was much easier to bring a skilled cabinetmaker over the mountains, craft furniture in Pittsburgh, and ship it down the Ohio River. By 1834 a canal system was in place that made transportation across Pennsylvania much easier. The date of 1831 was chosen because an enlarged dining room was added to The Hermitage in 1831. Furnishing purchases seem to end after a second remodeling of the house was completed in 1837. I think it’s safe to conclude that date before 1834 favors Pittsburgh and a date after the opening of the canal favors Philadelphia. The date span overlaps the canal opening date making guesswork all the more difficult.
There is another sideboard in the Missouri Governor’s Mansion that is nearly identical to the one at the Hermitage. Its origins are unfortunately also unknown, except that it has a long history of being in the Governor’s Mansion.
The star shape on the front of the Hermitage and Missouri sideboards is known to have been used by Anthony Quervelle. There’s a center table in the Smithsonian American Art Museum that features a similar star shape, and one in the Philadelphia furniture book. The star shape on the Hermitage sideboard has six points, and the one on the Smithsonian table, five. The candy cane shapes, for lack of a better description, on the far ends of the carving are also seen on lots of furniture attributed to Quervelle.
The cylindrical shape of the Hermitage sideboard is unique. Most of the sideboards thought to be Pittsburgh are quite square.
One other curiosity is the wooden pulls. All of the other sideboards attributed to Quervelle in the Philadelphia book (my feeling is many of them could have Pittsburgh origins) have glass pulls. The only one with wooden pulls is attributed to Charles White of Philadelphia. Mullin said the drawer pulls may have originally been glass.
“We have a glass pull in our collection that was acquired in the 1920s that has as its only documentation ‘stolen from the Hermitage dining room,’” she wrote. “If it is actually a Hermitage item, I suspect it may be from the sideboard.” However, the Missouri Governor’s Mansion sideboard has plain wooden pulls like those on the Hermitage sideboard.
If I had to place a bet on it, I’d go with Quervelle, or someone very familiar with his work. There are only three identifiable Pittsburgh sideboards that I know of and this one is more complex and different in form than all three. However, without a signature, date or other documentation, it’s impossible to know for sure. I’m wondering if there are other sideboards like this out there.