Object Record

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Catalog Number 01.C.75
Object Name Desk, Portable
Title Secretary's Writing Box, or Desk
Artist Unknown
Artist 2 Brown, John
Artist 3 Buchan, Henry David Erskine, Early of
Date ca. 1795
Description Shallow rectangular box comprised of colored woods. Hinged with lift-lid opening to expose an inset wood tray scooped with ten circular and oblong accessory receptacles. All compartments are empty but two, which hold inkwells. Labeled "Box of Yew." There is a 1795 portrait of Nicolas Copernicus by the Earl of Buchan on the outside of the lid, inscribed "R. D. Nicolo Copernico/Hanc Effigem Veram Nicolai Copernici/ D. S. Buchaniæ cames Posteritati Pinxit,/Ad Cænobium de Driburgh in Scotia." There is a 1792 portrait of John Napier by John Brown on the inside of the lid. Paper label: "Napier of Merchiston."
Label In 1795, David Stewart Erskine, the eleventh Earl of Buchan in Scotland, gave this box to David Rittenhouse "as President of the Philosophical Society at Philadelphia & to your Successors in Office as a Testimony of my high esteem for your Literary Character and for that of the Society over which you preside." In 1797, Rittenhouse's widow returned the box to the APS for the next president. Buchan, an APS member, was a founder of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. He published a biography of mathematician John Napier, whose portrait appears on this box. The box also includes Buchan's painting of Copernicus, the well-known astronomer who argued for a heliocentric view of the universe. The writing box, stored in the attic of Philosophical Hall, was largely forgotten until Henry Phillips Jr. displayed it and spoke of its history to APS members on 20 February 1885.
Medium Napier - graphite on card or ivory Copernicus - watercolor on paper or ve
Dimensions H-3.688 W-14.75 D-9.25 inches
Dimension Details Dimension of Napier portrait: 4.563x4.250

Dimension of Copernicus portrait: 4 x 2.875
Credit line American Philosophical Society. Gift of the Earl of Buchan, 15 May 1795.
Search Terms 18th century
eighteenth century
painting
furniture