Historic Deerfield acquires unique desk

  • Historic Deerfield has acquired a rare desk/table combination, once owned by the Rev. Nehemiah Bull, a prominent minister whose son resided in Deerfield.

  • The Rev. Nehemiah Bull’s signature can be seen on the bottom of one of the desk/table’s drawers. Historic Deerfield recently acquired the rare piece of furniture from a private collector.

For the Gazette
Friday, April 15, 2016

OLD DEERFIELD — Historic Deerfield Inc. has acquired a one-of-a-kind combination table desk once owned by a prominent Westfield minister, the Rev. Nehemiah Bull.

Christine Ritok, Historic Deerfield’s associate curator, said the circa-1700 piece of furniture is unique because of the way it is constructed and the manner in which it was likely used, and the fact that Bull’s signature can be seen on the desk in two places.

The museum was able to use Bull’s account book and journal, both owned by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, to verify the signature, Ritok said.

The desk has two drawers on the front and one on each side, which she said would have allowed Bull to spread out papers and write on the surface without impeding his access to reference books.

That, she said, would have required a special commission and may have been passed down to Bull by his mentor, the Rev. Edward Taylor of Westfield.

“This was made for a specific person in a specific profession, someone who writes and needs access to books,” Ritok said. “Everything is original: the finish, the wood, the nails. The fact that this has survived speaks to how well constructed it is.”

It was likely made in Springfield. Ritok admitted that while the desk is not the most aesthetically pleasing piece of furniture, its “incredible history” speaks to its rarity.

She said the desk could be placed on the same level of rarity as a Hadley chest — exquisitely designed chests from the Connecticut River Valley, one of which sold at auction for over $1 million at Christie’s earlier this year, she said.

Ritok said the desk’s private owner contacted the museum over a year ago about selling it, noting that he would prefer that it return to and be displayed at the place from which it had originally came.

“He understood that Historic Deerfield as an institution was the correct fit; this piece came from the area,” she said. “If it had gone to auction, there’s no way we would have been able to afford it.”

Ritok said Historic Deerfield does not disclose the value of items in its collection.

The museum will put the piece on display in the Ashley House, since the Rev. John Ashley and Bull were contemporaries, and Ashley was also born in Westfield, she said. Bull’s son, John Patridge Bull, was a Deerfield blacksmith and gunsmith.

“It will be on view in perpetuity,” she said.

Ritok said the desk has had only two owners since 1926, including the seller.