Some might be tempted to put a New York attribution on this Neo-Grec cabinet, including myself, but not so fast this time.
This one was made in Manchester, Massachusetts by John Bigwood in 1875. We know this because he took the time to sign it as such in a hard-to-reach spot in a hidden compartment in the top. After I write this, I’m going downstairs to my credenza and looking for hidden compartments.
It was owned by the same family for over 100 years and made the trip from Massachusetts to San Francisco in 1890 by boat – the long way …
… around Cape Horn.
I’m guessing that it arrived at the same time the Panama Canal was finished in 1914. I’m also thinking a trip around two continents cost about $200 and the cabinet cost the same.
John James and Susan Bigwood lived in Manchester, Mass and he was 26 at the time of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census as seen below. He was recorded as a “chair maker”. He was from Frome, England but he apparently met his wife in Manchester as is shown from this record. John Jr. was 9 months old at the time.
However, by the time of the census in 1860 when he was 37, Susan was no longer in the picture and he was married to a 23 year old Irish woman. Thomas was a new addition to the family and is 4 at the time. John Jr. is now 11.
By 1870 there were 2 more children, Charles and Benj (sic). The tick marks in the columns after country of birth below represent “father of foreign birth” and “mother of foreign birth”. Notice that 13-year old Thomas is the sole child with a non-foreign mother. He must have been a son by Susan and not Mary.
John Jr. is now living in Danvers, MA working as a cabinetmaker and is married to Adelia.
So, the natural question is whether John Jr. made the cabinet or whether John Sr. did. I’m guessing that John Sr. made it, otherwise it would have had Jr’s town inscribed in it instead of Manchester. Unless Jr made the trek to Manchester to work each day…
John and Mary are the only ones listed in the household by 1880. John Jr. is in Danvers, MA. and Thomas is a cabinet maker in Chelsea.
Now that we have this cabinet for reference I think we can take away a few of the carving and incising details for reference on future cabinet identification adventures. The feet/base area has some unique elements; as does the acanthus, palmette and bell flowers on the corners; the rope around the door, etc. Not the mere presence of them, but how they are done.
However, the inlaid panels cannot be used for identification purposes. I’ve seen them elsewhere on cabinets by other makers, especially the narrow ones along the underside of the top.
Big thanks to David Monk for sharing his great John Bigwood cabinet with us. Anyone else have some interesting pieces with stories? Please share.
I’ve enhanced the signature darkness so that it is more visible