Thomas Day (c. 1801 – 1861) was a free black American furniture designer and cabinetmaker in Caswell County, North Carolina. Day’s furniture-making business became one of the largest of its kind in North Carolina, employing at one point up to twelve workers, and distributing furniture to wealthier customers throughout the state. Much of Day’s furniture was produced for prominent political leaders, the state government, and the University of North Carolina.
And HERE is a link to the Wikipedia article from which I borrowed the above paragraph.
I became aware of Thomas Day from my friend Jerome Bias. I met Jerome during the first year of Roy Underhill’s Woodwight’s School in Pittsboro, NC. That first year, Roy held Wednesday night seminars on various hand tool topics. Jerome saw me struggling with a card scraper and came over to bail me out. A friendship began that night.
On occasion, we will go to an auction preview, antiques show or museum exhibit. Often these events are related to Thomas Day. I have developed a deep appreciation for Mr. Day’s work and his incredible story.
On with the blog.
This is about variations on a design for a dresser from one shop. It may contain too many pictures but I think it’s worth it.
I saw this first one at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond:
Click to see the museum’s description.
And here is another view:
They wouldn’t let me open the drawers and take pictures of the dovetails.
Then last December, the local auction house had its quarterly catalog sale, always interesting. They were featuring several pieces of Thomas Day furniture. Among these were two dressers.
The red one.
And this one:
Not so red. The original color of either is unknown. Both have probably been refinished.
They are very similar yet very different.We can examine the variation in two similar pieces from the same shop. Although it was Thomas Day’s shop, it is unlikely he built much furniture as the shop grew. He had staff, paid and unpaid. These pieces might have been made years apart and by different craftsmen from changing designs of the day.
Look at the gallery drawers (The red one is always first):
Rabbeted drawer, rabbet to the outside of the drawer. Complex knob.
Half sliding dovetail to the inside of the drawers. Simple knob. Thicker walls.
The other end of drawers, dovetailed.
Two thin pins. Overcut slightly.
Two less thin pins.
Column capitals and drawers.
Shorted column. Capital is smaller and scrolled.
And another Day dresser from the auction that is different than the Museum dresser and the above auction dressers. Yet similar:
A distant cousin.
And the last Thomas Day dresser, from MESDA, the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem in Winston Salem, NC:
That’s Mr. Bias’s image in the mirror. The gallery was a little dark for this art shot.
And we close with my own private Thomas Day game table:
A Day piece I hope.
This table became available and choosing to believe it was genuine, I bought. Jerome was skeptical and gave it a 40% chance of being the real thing. Until we visited a dealer that had a large number of the Day pieces and we saw this one:
Tight spaces and I apparently I forgot how to use my camera. But the similarities are there.
Without knowing the detailed provenance of a piece, it’s difficult to definitely say where things are from. Designs are stolen. Craftsmen moved on taking skill and ideas with them. Customers want what they have seen and coveted. I choose to believe it is a Day piece.
Jerome wrote an article about Thomas Day for Popular Woodworking that you can read HERE, I hope. It is well worth the read.