In 1797 young Harriet Clark waxed enthusiastic over a tambour desk she had seen: "Dr. Prince has a new kind of desk and I wish Papa would permit me to have one like it—the lower desk that is a parcel of drawers hid with doors made in reeds to slip back and in the middle a plain door, 'tis the handsomest thing in the kind I ever saw.” This new furniture form, along with the work table, attests to the increasing prominence women were assuming in American society.

The Bayou Bend desk is reminiscent of Thomas Sheraton's design for “A Lady's Cabinet and Writing Table”; however, substituted for the doors is a pair of tambour shutters that more closely correspond to the diminutive French writing table called the bonheur du jour. Prior to the American Revolution French furniture was occasionally recorded in colonial households. Subsequently it found its way in increasing quantities through Americans returning from abroad or by emigres fleeing the turbulence of Revolution. For example, George Washington purchased a bonheur du jour from the Marquise de Brehan, who accompanied the comte de Moustier to New York when he served as ambassador to the young nation.

American versions of the European form were produced by cabinetmakers in New England and as far away as North Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio. The Bayou Bend desk is similar to one labeled by the Boston cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour. An attribution to their shop is given further credence by the discovery of the script initials TS or JS on the lower case. Although these relationships support an attribution, they are hardly sufficient to identify a specific craftsman, considering the collaborative system then in effect. Seymour’s own advertisements imply as much: “Useful, and Ornamental Cabinet Furniture all made by or under the direction of Thomas Seymour.”

Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, American, partnership 1794–1804
or Thomas Seymour's "Boston Furniture Warehouse"
Tambour Desk
c. 1794–1810
Mahogany and unidentified inlay; eastern white pine and red oak
41 3/8 × 37 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (105.1 × 95.3 × 49.5 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Current Location
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
Accession Number

Acquired by Miss Ima Hogg on October 1, 1928, from Collings & Collings, NYC