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 Cellaret, Annapolis, Maryland C. 1795-1800

Maker: Attributed to John Shaw (1745-1829) Scottish-American
Wood: Mahogany, Tulip Poplar, Yellow Pine
F169 Exchange with the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in 1977

Cellarets like this elegant piece often were found, along with a sideboard, in the drawing rooms of public taverns and the homes of the wealthy. The form began in Europe as far back as the 15th century with the purpose of holding wine, whiskey, and other liquors under lock and key.
Very popular in England, the cellaret became prevalent in America in the late 18th century, especially in the years following the Revolution. Cellarets were often made in the popular neoclassical style. While there are known examples in New England, the form was most popular in the American south. Early Marylanders were particularly fond of a good cellaret; Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of Declaration of Independence, owned a similar one.

Numerous Anne Arundel County household inventories from that period list cellarets in different rooms of the house. Scottish-born cabinetmaker John Shaw likely kept cellarets in stock at his shop on State Circle in Annapolis. Relatively simple in construction, the piece could be repeated easily by apprentices. The case itself is a rectangular form with false drawers. The top opens up and that is where the wine was stored. Delicate string inlay along with curated mahogany veneer pieces on the false drawers and rounded tops of the interior partition make for a simple yet stylish piece. This example at the Hammond-Harwood House is very similar to image 32 in the Baltimore Museum of Art 1983 John Shaw exhibition catalogue.

When the Loockermans were living in the Hammond-Harwood House in the early 19th century they likely had a cellaret, possibly by Shaw, to accompany their sideboard also made by Shaw, which is now in the dining room. Wines were stored in the cellar to keep cool. For meals they were selected and then decanted and placed in the cellaret. Census records indicate there were no male enslaved servants living in the Loockerman household, so the wine was probably selected by Richard Loockerman himself, as wine selection was a masculine job. The wines might have included sweet wines from Lisbon, claret (a red wine similar to a Bordeaux), and after dinner, Madeira.

This particular cellaret came to the museum in an interesting way. Originally, the Hammond-Harwood Association had collected another cellaret that was made in North Carolina by an unknown cabinetmaker, then identified as WH for the letters he carved into his pieces. The cellaret was loaned to Colonial Williamsburg in 1952 for their exhibition “Furniture of the Old South 1640-1820.” At that time Frank Horton, founder and director of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), who was doing research on the WH cabinetmaker, spotted the piece for their collection. Over the course of the next two decades MESDA offered Hammond-Harwood House a number of items in trade for the WH cellaret, including a tall case clock and sugar case. In April 1977 MESDA offered this cellaret attributed to John Shaw, and the exchange was made. Later research by Thomas R. J. Newbern and James R. Melchor identified the WH cabinetmaker as William Seay of Bertie County, North Carolina.

Inside the cellaret

By Rachel Lovett, Curator

Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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