DAR Museum Welcomes Important Piece of American History

Written by: Patrick Sheary, Curator of Furnishings and Historic Interiors and Katie Cannon, Curator of Education
January 10, 2020

The DAR Museum is thrilled to announce one of the finest additions to its collection in the history of the National Society. Owned by the same family for more than 200 years, the magnificent desk and its companion bookcase delivered this week will soon be on display to the public for the first time since their creation sometime between 1755 and 1780. The furniture was made for Richard Waln (1737-1809), a pacifist and abolitionist Quaker in Philadelphia. During the American Revolution, he pledged to the Pennsylvania governor that although he would not bear arms, he would be a good subject. After the war, he became an ardent abolitionist.  The furniture remained in his family for more than two centuries.

The remarkable condition of this desk makes its exceptionally rare among 18th-century Philadelphia case furniture, as it retains its original central cartouche and flame urn finials. Few institutions possess furniture of similar merit— among them are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Winterthur Museum and Garden, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art— and now, the DAR Museum joins this impressive list.

Philadelphia cabinetmakers created some of the most expressive furniture in the rococo style during the colonial period. As the largest city in Colonial America, Philadelphia supported many important cabinetmakers of English, German and Irish descent who influenced design there. Though the desk exhibits English characteristics, the carved rococo styling and massive proportions also represent German traditions. Such a piece would have been expensive when new, particularly with the extra carving and use of imported mahogany. 

Check out the video on the DAR Museum Facebook page and the National Headquarters Facebook page to learn more about this new acquisition.

After Richard Waln’s death, the desk and bookcase passed to his youngest son, who married the granddaughter of Captain Samuel Morris, commander of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry during the American Revolution. It next passed to Richard’s grandson, who married the granddaughter of Robert Morris, known as the “financier of the revolution” and a founding father. It continued to pass through the family until acquired by the DAR Museum, and yesterday it arrived in its new home.

The desk and bookcase will soon be on exhibit in the DAR Museum’s study gallery, available for viewing any time the museum is open. Its purchase was made possible by the generosity of DAR members who donate to the Museum Keeper Fund and Friends of the DAR Museum. We hope that you will schedule a visit in order to experience this fine furniture for yourself.

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