Return Belden’s High Chest of Drawers and Dressing Table

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While the Queen Anne style arrived in the colonies in the 1720s, it did not prove popular until the 1740s and 1750s. Several Boston-area cabinetmakers relocated to the Connecticut River Valley in the 1730s, bringing with them the skills to make Queen Anne furniture. As it became en vogue in Boston, so the demand for the Queen Anne style rose among the Valley’s elite. The relocated cabinetmakers and their apprentices satisfied the demand for this new style of furniture. Return Belden (1721-1764) was an apprentice of William Manley, a cabinetmaker originally from Charlestown, MA. A dressing table and a matching high chest of drawers (which at some point in its life has had its delicate legs sawn off) in the museum are attributed to Belden.

While the dressing table functioned first and foremost as a table, the drawers added some extra storage space. The museum’s example has only one tier of drawers, while many urban examples have two. It has been suggested that provincially made dressing tables, such as this Belden piece, perpetuated the single tier of drawers that were popular in the earlier William and Mary dressing tables. Interestingly, this dressing table, like many, does not have locks on the drawers, suggesting that valuables were to be kept only in the lockable high chests.

Since the pieces are not listed in the inventory taken of Moses’s estate after his death in 1755, it is entirely possible that his widow, Elizabeth Pitkin Porter, ordered the set herself. From surviving records we know that Connecticut cabinetmakers, including Manley and Belden, sold matched sets of Queen Anne style furniture to wealthy families in locales such as Hatfield and Hadley. Though nearly sixty miles upriver from the place of manufacture, the Valley elite needed these pieces to maintain their position at the top of the social hierarchy, to be at the vanguard of the latest expensive urban fashions.


Sources: 

  • The Great River: Art & Society of the Connecticut Valley, 1635-1820. (Hartford: Meridan-Stinehour Press, 1985). 
  • Gleason, Tara Louise. The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family: The Social Position and Material Wealth of an Elite Family in Eighteenth-Century Hadley, Massachusetts. Amherst College Honors History Thesis, 1994. 
  • Jobe, Brock, and Kaye, Myrna. New England Furniture: The Colonial Era. (Boston Houghton Mifflin, 1984)