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You didn’t think you were done with your magnifying glass and sleuthing kits, did you? There is another mystery involving the White Water Shaker cupboard: Were there feet on this cupboard? That question has caused many conversations around the office.

When we were first shown the cupboard, something stood out as different. The base was sitting flat to the floor, and it didn’t look right to me. My immediate thought was that the feet were ended out, cut off due to damage or rot. But the “clean-up”, if you will, was severe. Generally, you’ll see a portion of the feet sliced off, not the entire foot.

However, another surprise waited. As we flipped the lower case on its back, we got a good look at the underside. It appears that there were never any feet attached to this case. There were no nails or nail holes apparent. Of course, bracket feet, which would have been appropriate for a cupboard with this design, could have been attached with glue blocks only. And those glue blocks could have worked loose over the years only to eventually fail. At that time, the feet could have been removed. But there was another piece of information that tossed the proverbial monkey wrench into this idea.

At the front two corners of the frame that the base cupboard sits on, are two holes drilled through the frame and partially into the case bottom. Upon a quick first look, the holes weren’t seen. There was a small patch, a tin plate, attached to the frame covering the holes. With a corner of the tin pulled away, you see the hole. On the opposite side of the cupboard, not only was the tin gone, but the frame that was attached to the base, and onto which any bracket foot would have been attached, fell off. That gave us a clear view of the hole. Now if we only new what to make of all this information?

Here are my thoughts. I have a hard time with the idea that this cupboard sat on the floor. There are examples of Shaker case pieces that sit directly on the floor, but not so many from White Water or Union Village. Study the pieces built in the Mt. Lebanon community and you’ll find numerous examples. You’ll see many large cupboards built in this manner, but primarily the examples are found on counters.

I lean toward the design originally having bracket feet. You find many pieces of Ohio Shaker communities (White Water, Union Village and South Union) built with bracket feet. Small frames were added to the underside of case pieces , which the White Water cupboard has , and the feet were attached to that frame. That’s fairly typical construction. Here’s a rendition of three such designs taken from The Encyclopedia of Shaker Furniture (Schiffer), written by Timothy Rieman and Jean M. Burk.

But what about the fact that there is no indication that feet were ever attached? One answer could be the piece was slid on the floor so often that any evidence of the glue blocks would be erased. Check out how rough the bottom face of the frame is in the photo above.

OK, what about the holes in the frame? I have two thoughts for you to consider. First, a simple turned foot as shown in the drawing at the bottom of Part 1 (click here) would not have been used. Shaker craftsmanship is known to be of good quality and any foot, such as this, attached to the cupboard via a dowel connection, would not hold under normal use. Simply leaning against the cupboard could cause the feet to collapse as the dowels pulled from the holes. Also, in most Shaker furniture, a turned foot is a continuation of a corner post used in post-and-frame construction. As an example, take a look at Megan’s Shaker Step Back cupboard in the February 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine, (issue #174).

Second, the holes must have been there for a reason. The cupboard, due to its size, would be difficult to move, especially if the majority of the members in the village were women, as it was during the latter years of White Water. To that end, maybe casters were added at a later date to allow the Sisters to roll the piece away from the wall to permit better cleaning. Now don’t laugh. There are examples of Shaker pieces with shop-made wooden casters and some with commercially-made metal casters.

So what do you think? After reading my reasoning and rationalizations, would you leave the cupboard sitting on the floor, raise it up on bracket feet or stick casters on it? Please take a minute to vote, and please leave a comment if you have another idea.

If you haven’t yet read the first mystery dealing with this cupboard, click here.

– Glen D. Huey

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Showing 8 comments
  • cmhcissell

    You say that they would not have used a simple turned foot because it wouldn’t last. Maybe they did and maybe it didn’t.

  • jacob

    I’d second gdblake’s observation about a board. Could have been a simple sledge type runner at each end? It all depends on what was on the original floor. If at all damp then the feet could have been simple and sacrificial – often replaced.
    Did Shaker buildings have stone or beaten earth floors, as found in Britain at that time?

  • gdblake

    The photo of the bottom front left corner showing the tin plate also looks to have the outline of the edge of a board running front to back. This suggests a plinth base. Casters would have been needed on the rear corners as well, an evidence to suggest this?


  • Jeremiah Rodriguez

    Some sort of bracket feet. It just looks odd without them.

  • Andy

    If the cupboard was sitting on the floor, I don’t see what purpose would be served by covering the holes with tin.

    If the cupboard was raised off the floor, perhaps the tin was used to cover the holes to keep mice out.

    Maybe the cupboard sat on a plinth with pins that would register in the holes in the bottom of the cupboard.

  • Bill Dalton

    <i>I stick by my comment on the first post that I think bracket feet are the most potentially correct fix. I haven’t spent any time at the Ohio communities but have spent time at the Sabbath Day Lake and New Lebanon communities and seeing their furniture. I know that Ohio is a different locale but the designs are very similar. Also I looked through most of my books and come up with the same answer. The casters I’ve seen on shaker furniture run the gamut from custom made to purchased casters. Shakers were all about the latest and greatest innovations contrary to what some may think. Casters would have made it much easier to clean, although I don’t see anyone moving that cupboard around much.</i>


  • Mike Hamilton

    Maybe you’ve stumbled onto evidence of the first "built in cabinet levelers"….. Any screwdriver nicks on the inside of the cabinet?


  • Jeff

    This is a tough one. I looked in my copy of "Illustrated Guide to Shaker Furniture" by Robert F.W. Meader and I would say that of the pieces with a crown of some sort, some had feet and some didn’t, and as you say, most were cut out of the sides, part of the face frame or the corner posts. I voted for no feet at all.

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