Diminutive Bottle Case on Stand. Petersburg or the Southern Piedmont of Virginia, 1790-1800. (FR2017033)
Mahogany and mahogany veneer, with light and dark wood inlays; brass and iron hardware; yellow pine secondary. Height 25 9/16”, Width 16”, Depth 12”.
This fine bottle case is notable for its small size and refined detail. Standing barely two feet high and sixteen inches wide, the small scale represents a popular aesthetic in the region. Indeed, cabinetmakers from the southern piedmont produced numerous such pieces, ranging from ornamented examples such as the one seen here, to ones of severely simple walnut (see page 3). The diversity indicates that even modestly prosperous planters and merchants from that region aspired to own an example of the form.
Although the bottles are now gone, the scale of the compartments, and the refined character of the woodwork, strongly suggest that it held clear glass decanters, rather than green glass case bottles, which were more commonly used for shipping. Indeed, inlaid stands such as this often held etched or cut glass decanters, sometimes with gilt details.
The maker took a practical approach to materials when constructing the piece, for this far inland, he had a difficult time acquiring precious mahogany. He constructed the dovetailed box with a solid board of mahogany for the front and each side, yet relied upon local yellow pine for the lid, and the back of the case which he then veneered with mahogany and cross-banding around the perimeter of all the primary surfaces—thus adding variety to the surfaces, yet concealing the dovetails on the corners of the box and lid.
The cabinetmaker chose solid wood for the legs, yet when making the rails that connected them, used mahogany veneer on pine—except for the back, where he left the pine exposed. He likely purchased the veneer, the stringing, and the decorative band of green-and-white diamonds for the legs from a specialist supplier. Chester sully—brother of the noted artist Thomas Sully — was among the best in the South. Born in Britain, Sully came to Norfolk in the late 18th century, and after a brief career as a cabinetmaker there and in Richmond, relocated to New Orleans, where he focused upon importing mahogany, slicing veneers and making inlays, and sold the products to artisans throughout the southern states.
The inlaid Virginia bottle stand survives in overall fine condition, with all of the principal elements intact. The veneer has expected cracks and minor patches, principally to the banding, yet the surface has rich color, with an early shellac finish that is textured with age. It retains the original hinges and escutcheon, though the lock and key are slightly smaller replacements that date from the era of the originals. A 1 ½” strip of pine running from left to right across the top of the back—directly beneath the hinges—is the only restoration of note.