Among the mid-century (18th century that is) style furnishings that will make their appearance in the Blue Room is a mahogany bureau dressing table, a Richmond-made reproduction of a Williamsburg-made original that once seamlessly translated British style to the colonies.

Custis-Washington dressing table at Mount Vernon, one of a pair made in 1754 by Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott. Purchase, 1939 (W-372)

The original dressing table for the Blue Room has not been identified, but research into the Washingtons limited acquisitions of case furniture indicated it may have been one of the pair which Mrs. Washington brought to Mount Vernon from her first marriage with Daniel Parke Custis. Only one of the pair survives and is currently on display in the Washington Bedchamber at Mount Vernon.

Remarkably, the original receipt for the pair also survives, making the Custis-Washington dressing tables the only documented example of furniture by Williamsburg cabinetmaker Peter Scott (c.1695-1775), a British cabinetmaker who had trained in London before immigrating to the colonies. Acquired in 1754, the dressing tables were first used by the Custis’ at their White House estate in New Kent County, Virginia.

Invoice from Peter Scott of Williamsburg, Virginia, to Daniel Parke Custis of New Kent County, Virginia, for work done in 1754 and 1755, dated June 9, 1756. (Courtesy, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo, Hans Lorenz.)Called “bureau dressing tables” in the Custis estate documents of 1759, the distinctive form featured multiple drawers and a recessed, knee-hole cabinet—a multipurpose form that could be used for dressing, writing, and securing jewelry, accessories, and other valuables. Its clean lines exemplified the spare but solid craftsmanship of good British furniture.

Cutting dovetails for the multiple drawers on the reproduction dressing table. Courtesy Harrison Higgins, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.

The reproduction dressing table, in progress, sits on the workbench to the side of the completed reproduction bedstead. Courtesy of Harrison Higgins, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.

The dressing tables were not the only pieces that Mrs. Washington brought from the Custis estate to Mount Vernon: there were two dressing glasses (small mirrors on stands) that paired with the tables, marble-topped sideboard tables, beds, linens, and even a chariot and horses that suddenly raised the standard of living at Mount Vernon. Over the next forty years, these furnishings would be winnowed as some fell into disrepair, out of fashion, or were given away, but the dressing tables appear to have remained in use. Now representing the second of the original pair, the dressing table in the Blue Room testifies to Mrs. Washington’s inheritance and her enduring part in creating Mount Vernon’s interiors.

The completed reproduction dressing table. Courtesy of Harrison Higgins, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.

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