A masterpiece of formal furniture attributed to cabinet-maker John Tulles of Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1825
Comprised of an upper bookcase featuring moulded cornice with arrow, dot and fleur-di-lis inlay on the frieze, over two wonderfully-glazed diamond and circle pattern doors flanked by quarter pilasters with ebony and maple inlays. Small herringbone rectangular inlays cap each end of the pilasters. The lower carcass features three narrow document drawers that can only be accessed when the fall-front has been opened and secret wooden latches are pressed to pop out each drawer. The fall-front writing drawer is backed with cubbies and eight small drawers with figured maple fronts as well as a small center cupboard. There are three graduated drawers below. The same inlays, pilasters, fleur-di-lis decorations, herringbone rectangles and frieze design are all echoed throughout the base. The compressed ball feet appear to be original. A few expected minor veneer losses and veneer repairs as well as some refinishing looks to have taken place over the course of its life.
This secretary-bookcase in mahogany has been in the previous owner's possession for the past 50 years and the owners prior to that were descendants of Halifax silversmith M.S. Brown. Brown was born too late to have been the original owner of this piece, but his mentor and fellow silversmith Peter Nordbeck would've been of the age and societal rank to own such a piece. Brown inherited a considerable number of Nordbeck's customers after the latter died in 1861. Secretary-bookcases were considered a luxury and were only owned by prominent figures, particularly in the maritimes where there was a smaller proportion of wealthy individuals compared to the Upper and Lower Canadas. To put this into context, Halifax only had a population of 10,000-15,000 people in 1825. It's not likely for Tulles to have made more than one or two of these cabinets in his lifetime. Tulles died in 1826, and interestingly, his 1927 estate papers included an account of his furniture that was sold at auction. The most significant pieces included a hair sofa, a secretary (or so-called butler's desk), two easy chairs, three chests of drawers, a Pembroke table, a set of dining tables, a corner cupboard, a liquor stand, and an eight-day (tall) clock.
A superb Canadian inlaid mahogany secretary bookcase attrib. John Tulles Halifax
POINTS FOR ATTRIBUTION:
1. There are only two known labeled pieces of Tulles furniture, one being a card table which includes several distinguishing features, particularly the graduated dot inlays. There is also often a combination of maple and satinwood and ebony inlays on Tulles-attributed pieces. These characteristics are visible on this secretary-bookcase.
2. The "Tulles Masterpiece Sofa" depicted in Heritage Furnishings of Atlantic Canada by Henry & Barbara Dobson exhibits very similar arrow and graduated dot inlays as this secretary-bookcase.
3. The Royal Ontario Museum's collection has a low bookcase confidently attributed to John Tulles. The ROM bookcase features stylized fleur-de-lis motif inlays, as does this secretary-bookcase.
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