Carved billethead attributed to the Skillin shop in Boston most likely by John Skillin (1745-1800) or Simeon Skillin Jr. (1756-1806), circa 1795. This billethead has a beautifully detailed scroll at the top with a carved floral detail at the center. The rest of the billethead is profusely carved with scrolled foliation of various patterns. This billethead along with two others was found in an old cottage in Great Island, Cape Cod and retains its original buff colored primer paint and was never mounted on a vessel. Billethead carvings were found on American ships during the late 18th and early 19th century. (FA-1020)
Provenance: This billethead has descended in the family of Malcolm Chace for several generations. Mr. Chace purchased an approximately 550 acre island in 1914 known as Great Island in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts where the billethead was found in an old cottage. The Chace family owned textile mills and by the 1950s Warren Buffet was buying shares in the Chace family company known as Berkshire Hathaway. By the 1960s Buffet offered the family a 14 million dollar buy out; rather than taking the money the Chaces accepted shares in Berkshire Hathaway and their shares today are worth hundreds of millions. At Mr. Chase's death this billethead was left to his sister, Elizabeth Chase, and remained on the island. At her death they were inherited by her grandson Christopher Burden who kept them in the same house until he sold them in 2014.
Condition: The billethead has typical age cracks and checking. There are a few minor wood losses; the paint surface is original and untouched. There are few minor scattered losses to the paint surface.
Reference: Sotheby's Catalogue, 'Important Americana: The Bertram K. Little and Nina Fletcher Little Collection, Part I', Lot 214. These two very similar billethead models shown in this catalogue were inherited by Simeon Skillin III. These billetheads although much smaller than the one described above are very similar in their carving, their primer paint, and it is our opinion, that they are from the same Skillin shop. These billetheads are 'handsomely carved ornaments whose traditional form combines conventional leafage with repeated scrolls. Because they were a stock in trade of most ship carvers, few billetheads can now be traced to their original source, but these two can be traced as part of the inheritance of the grandson, Simeon Skillin III of New York City. Son of Samuel Skillin of Philadelphia and grandson of the famous Simeon Skillin of Boston, Simeon III was one of a noted family of ship carvers whose work spanned a seventy-five year period, starting in the mid-eighteenth century. Simeon III's name first appeared in the New York City directories in 1789 and continuously, thereafter, at various addresses until his death in 1830. Skillin charged $16.66 for a billethead and trailboard. These billetheads are obviously small in scale and were no doubt intended as models for full-sized carvings. They are finished with a priming coat of buff paint and display evident marks of age...'
Note: The frigate Constitution began construction in 1794, the same period as the Skillin carving described above. The Constitution at its bow had a carved figurehead by Simeon and John Skillin of Boston which was replaced by a carved billethead.
Dimensions: Height 24 inches; Depth 13 inches; Length 42 inches.