During Americana Week 2008, Sotheby’s New York will offer Property from the Estate of J. Welles Henderson, a distinguished admiralty attorney, a passionate and informed collector, a sophisticated speaker and writer and a man of deep faith, on January 19th. The Estate has a number of notable items most purchased from the Israel Sack, Inc. firm of New York.

A highlight of the collection is a very fine and rare Chippendale carved and figured mahogany bonnet-top high chest of drawers, Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1770 (pictured above, est. $200/400,000). The carving on the knees relates it to a small select group of exemplary case pieces made in Salem. The Estate also includes a very fine and rare Federal inlaid and figured mahogany work table labeled by Oliver Parsell of New Brunswick, New Jersey, circa 1805 (est. $10/15,000) that is a very rare document of New Jersey early 19th century furniture and a Salem Massachusetts, very fine and rare Federal Inlaid and Figured Mahogany Breakfront, circa 1805 (pictured here, est. $50/100,000), as well as a fine and rare Chippendale carved birchwood and maple blocked-end reverse serpentine desk-and-bookcase, probably from New Hampshire, circa 1790 (pictured below, est. $40/60,000).

The Dartmouth College museum has a desk-and-bookcase from the cabinetmaking shop. The eleven lots will be on view beginning Saturday, January 12th (check for times).

J. Welles Henderson

While he was a student at Princeton University, the young Welles Henderson spent a summer on the Philadelphia waterfront working as a longshoreman and then graduated from Harvard Law School. It was then and there that Philadelphia’s maritime history became this college student’s lifelong passion. Welles was part of a past generation, committed to scholarly exhibitions, and particularly to building museum collections. Through the 1950s his nascent maritime collection was exhibited in the Philadelphia Athenaeum and the Free Library Company in Philadelphia and the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts. In 1960 he personally drafted the charitable trust document that founded the Philadelphia Maritime Museum.

The museum opened its doors to the public in rented exhibition space at the Athenaeum in that same year, moving later in 1964 to rented space on Chestnut Street. A search for permanent space was launched in the late 1960s and, finally, the museum purchased 321 Chestnut Street for one hundred thousand dollars as its new home. By 1979 the museum received its professional status by accreditation by the American Association of Museums. Under Welles’s leadership, the museum moved in 1993 to the Port of History Building at Penn’s Landing along the waterfront and negotiated a lease with the City of Philadelphia. The museum then successfully raised fifteen million dollars for renovations and changed its name to Independence Seaport Museum to reflect the broadened scope of the collections and interpretive program of the institution.