Intrigue over Frederick County Desk at Auction

Intrigue over Frederick County Desk at Auction

We have all heard that art and antiques can “talk” – that they speak to us about the craftsman who made them and the place they were made, and that they give us clues about the people who owned them and how they were used. For centuries, art historians have been weaving lovely stories about the makers and users of fine and beautiful objects.

At present there is a desk at Brunk Auctions that can speak – literally. It has spoken and what it has to say is shocking. Concealed inside the construction of this fall-front desk is a note that was pasted in by its maker, John Shearer, over 200 years ago. To read it one needs to take the back boards off, open the tambour slides in the front “just so” and use a special scanning camera that can take images in a narrow space. It’s all sounds like a network crime series. Even the world of antiques can be high-tech.

The note reads,

“I made this desk for an honest Dutchman of the name of Philip Stover in Frederick County Maryland Close by the river in the year 1808 – the same year that I made John Mitchel’s desk close by Late’s Mill ? In the same county, but a bigger Rascle as well as fool is not to be found in this county than this John Mitchell. The running doors that is in this desk was made for this very Rascle’s Desk Jno. Mitchell. My name is John Shearer joiner from North Britan Not forgetting Sarha Skags the biggest Who’re in this county lived there at that time.”

Oh dear, not very charitable Mr. Shearer. Your client must have done something that made you very mad!

John Shearer was a cabinet maker who worked in Virginia and Maryland at the turn of the 19th century, but very little is known about his life. His body of work is documented in a recent book by Elizabeth A. Davison, “The Furniture of John Shearer.” On a number of occasions, John Shearer pasted secret notes into his furniture and he was known to sign date and inscribe his work in multiple locations.

A very rare and previously undocumented desk, it was discovered in Asheville, NC.

It can be traced back to the family of Charles H. Folwell of Mount Holly, NJ in the 1930’s. It may have descended from the original owner (Philip Stuber) through the Neill family family of Hagerstown, MD.

It will be sold in Brunk Auctions’ November 15-17 auction.

Preview Friday November 15 or by appointment.

This auction will also feature over 1,500 lots of fine jewelry, paintings, silver, furniture, textiles, porcelain and decorative arts. View the fully illustrated catalog online at

Please contact with any inquiries: 828.254.6846