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Views: 7902 Added: 04/14/2009 Updated: 04/14/2009
A statement of sophistication and whimsy, this Queen Anne architectural corner cupboard illustrates the divergent styles used by Connecticut cabinetmakers of the 18th century. The design of the facade is a tribute to balance and restraint, seeking sophistication with elegance and simplicity. It features the formal elements of a complex keystone and large molded cornice, conforming raised panels and an arched glass door. The interior displays the creativity and whimsy that Connecticut craftsmen were known for imbuing in their pieces. The finely crafted domed back is decorated with strings of carved vines connected to three delicately carved rosettes, two of which are supported by engaged pilasters. With the addition of butterfly shaped shelves, the interior features all the unique character that could be expected. Constructed with thorough attention to detail, this corner cupboard also has the distinction of being signed by an important Connecticut cabinetmaker. The glazed arched door features a small double pane window which holds a piece of 18th century paper, dated and signed by the maker, “September 29th 1755, Oliver Spicer, Fecit.”

Oliver Spicer (1726 - 1804) was born in Groton, Connecticut, the son of John Spicer (1698 - 1743) and Mary Geer (1701 - ca.1730). From a well established and active family, five members of the Spicer family are known to have been woodworkers. Among them are Oliver Spicer and his two brothers, John (1724 - 1769) and Abel (1736 - 1784). The three brothers were descendants of Peter Spicer (d.1695), one of the original settlers of Groton. Peter Spicer was part of the small group who left Boston with the future Governor of Connecticut, John Winthrop, Jr., to settle on the Thames River around 1650. Oliver Spicer was married in North Groton in 1749 to Alethia Allyn, the descendant of another early settler, Robert Allyn (d. 1683).

Additional information illustrates the deep connections between the Spicers and other Eastern Connecticut cabinetmakers. Oliver Spicer’s father, John

Spicer, was married to Mary Geer in Groton about 1720. Mary was the sister of Ebenezer Geer (1709 - 1763), who in turn was the father of John Wheeler Geer (1753 - 1828). A first cousin to Oliver Spicer, John Wheeler Geer was a noted cabinetmaker from Preston, Connecticut. A chest on chest attributed to John Wheeler Geer is on loan to the Lyman Allen Museum and is illustrated in “New London County Furniture,” Lyman Allen Museum, figure 64. Interestingly, the chest on chest features carved rosette which are quite similar to the rosettes found on the Oliver Spicer corner cupboard. A connection to another noted cabinetmaker is found through Oliver Spicer’s daughter, Mary Spicer (b.1752). In 1774, Mary was married to Abishai Woodward (1752 - 1809), also of Preston. Woodward is credited with the construction of an impressive Chippendale mahogany tall case clock in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art and illustrated in “New London County Furniture”, figure 62. The clock and the connection to the Spicer family is also discussed in Antiques Magazine, June 1965, “Thomas Harland’s clock - whose case?” by Ada R. Chase and Houghton Bulkeley. Continuing the connection, the base of the Woodward clock displays a five part scrolled apron similar to that which is found on the John Wheeler Geer chest on chest.

Oliver Spicer’s name first appears in the Groton Tax Records in 1753, then again in 1763 and 1767. The sophistication and quality craftsmanship found in the corner cupboard make clear that Oliver Spicer’s career was well on its way by 1755. A roster of soldiers serving under Capt. Thomas Fanning in 1775 lists one “Amos Park, prentice to Lieut. O. Spicer - 18”. This note of an apprentice also illustrates the fact that Oliver Spicer’s workshop was well established by 1775. The apprentice system was an important influence on Connecticut cabinetmakers, spreading knowledge and style throughout the area. Following the close family connections, it is possible that John Wheeler Geer and Abishai Woodward apprenticed to Oliver Spicer or one of the other Spicer brothers. It is interesting to note that the Oliver Spicer corner cupboard, the John Wheeler Geer chest on chest and the Abishai Woodward clock case, all share the same type of delicately carved rosettes with a raised center.

Following the Revolutionary War, Oliver and his brother Abel were both given the distinguished title of Captain. The first clear written record acknowledging Captain Oliver Spicer as a woodworker is found in the North Groton Tax Records for 1784. Next to his annual tax assessment his occupation is listed as “Carpenter.” The terms “carpenter” and “joiner” are both used in the tax records to distinguish different types of cabinetmakers. The note for Oliver Spicer as “Carpenter” may indicate that he was more involved in architectural construction, such as this signed corner cupboard. The term “joiner” is more often used for cabinetmakers involved in furniture production. However, it is also known that upon Oliver Spicer’s death in 1804 his inventory lists $20 worth of “Carpenters & Joiners Tools.”

Unfortunately, it is not known for whose home the Oliver Spicer corner cupboard was constructed. Nathan Liverant and Son recently acquired the piece from a collection formed by Julian Williams of Norwich, Connecticut. According to tradition, the corner cupboard was brought to Williams by a man who needed money for his daughter’s wedding. It is believed the cupboard was originally built for a home in the Preston or Plainfield area, not far from Oliver Spicer’s home in North Groton.

Author:   Kevin J. Tulimieri
Phone: (860) 537-2409
E-mail: Ask for Details

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