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Tuesday's Titillating Treasure: Marie Antoinette's Bookcase

Courtesy of the General Knox Museum
I found this picture of a mahogany shearer style bookcase with fitted interior on the official website of the General Knox Museum.  The museum claims the large, mirror fronted bookcase might have once belonged to Marie Antoinette. 

According to their website, "Henry Knox's grandson, Henry Knox Thatcher, claimed to a Knox biographer that this bookcase once belonged to Marie Antoinette. This is a common story attached to many period pieces on the Maine coast: A sea captain in Edgecomb claimed to have been part of a plot to help the endangered queen escape the French Revolution and come to the United States. His job was to transport her and her belongings to a house being set up for her. Obviously, the queen did not escape, but according to legend the boat, fully loaded with her belongings, made it to the coast of Maine, and from there her possessions were dispersed. James Swan, wealthy Boston tradesman and the owner of the boat, was a friend of Knox. He is on record as having sold French aristocratic furniture in the United States during and after the French Revolution, including pieces said to be Marie Antoinette's, making the story plausible. However, the bookcase is very English in style and construction."

Chances are Henry Knox Thatcher was telling a tall tale.  Furniture made for Marie Antoinette was stamped with her official seal.  If this bookcase belonged to the queen, I would think there would be some mark indicating it's owner and the palace in which it resided.  (The desk I saw during my behind-the-scenes tour of Fontainebleau had a mark under the tabletop of Marie Antoinette's crest for the palace of Saint Cloud) 


The site also indicates, "The secondary woods used - juniper, tulip poplar, white pine, and yellow pine - suggest that it was made in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. From Knox's financial papers we know that he shipped the bookcase from Philadelphia to Boston, then to Thomaston, in the spring and summer of 1796, which was followed up with repairs to the mirrors. It is likely that the bookcase is one of two purchased by Knox a month before he shipped his belongings. The bookcase appears on the probate inventories for Henry Knox, Lucy Flucker Knox, Caroline Holmes and Lucy Flucker Thatcher, and was subsequently passed down in the family. A fall front over the fitted interior and the silver plated candle sconces are not original to the piece."

I do not believe this bookcase was Marie Antoinette's, but the story of a boat load of her belongings being shipped to America is romantic and exciting, isn't it?

2 comments:

  1. Absolutely! Even more exciting would be to come across some of those "lost" pieces of furniture, oh my...Maybe one day at some yard sale, ya just never know! ;)

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  2. a while ago a harp was featured on antigues road show, it had the seal of Marie Antoinette and the royal household...I thought the expert was going to pass out with excitement...so there are some of her things here in private hands!

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