HARTFORD, CONN. — The Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) has announced its acquisition of an oxbow chest of drawers signed by George Belden, a cabinetmaker from Hartford and Windsor, Conn. The Windsor auction house Nadeau’s sold the chest on April 11 for $48,000, including premium. Colchester, Conn., dealer Arthur Liverant executed the winning bid on behalf of CHS.
The almost imperceptible signature was discovered during preview. Kevin Ferrigno, an attorney who heads CHS’s collections committee, brought the signed piece to CHS’s attention.
Crafted between 1790 and 1805, the chest of drawers exhibits the characteristic features of the Eliphalet Chapin school, documented by Thomas and Alice Kugelman and Robert Lionetti in their 2005 book Connecticut Valley Furniture, published by CHS. Constructed of cherry and pine, the chest features the reverse serpentine shape that was fashionable in the Connecticut River Valley at the time, vertical proportions, bold ogee-bracket feet and a quadrant base.
George Belden was probably born in East Hartford on December 2, 1770, to Abigail and Nathan Belden. The Kugelmans and Lionetti believe that he apprenticed in the Aaron Chapin shop in Hartford, subsequently serving as a journeyman there before setting up his own shop in Windsor in 1793.
New research has recently established that Belden had a long career in Windsor from 1793 until the mid-1830s and that he was most likely Windsor’s preeminent cabinetmaker during this period when many furniture makers chose to quit the business and try to earn larger profits in other industries. Research on Belden’s career and shop output is ongoing.
“Although several pieces are now known to have been signed by Belden, we believe that this is the only fully-intact piece that he made that is in a public collection,” said Jody Blankenship, CHS’s executive director. Until this purchase, CHS did not own a signed version of this common form.
Liverant said that the late Bloomfield, Conn., collectors Sylvia and Sidney Leven were good friends who bought a number of fine pieces from the Colchester firm. They acquired the Belden chest of drawers from Liverant in the mid-1980s.
“The signature is distinct but faint. We didn’t see it until it came up at the sale,” said Liverant. He added, “Finding a signed piece is very meaningful. Belden is an important cabinetmaker and this gives us another piece of information. Documentation and provenance are key today. People want to know.”
Liverant bid by phone from Philadelphia, where he and assistant Kevin Tulimieri were preparing for the annual Antiques Dealers Association of America dinner. “Kevin and I were in the hotel room all day long buying things back that Liverant and Son sold to the Levens.”
The Connecticut Historical Society is at One Elizabeth Street. For information, 860-236-5621 or www.chs.org.