Miniature of the Month

1796 Kentucky Secretary by Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy replicated the 1796 secretary/bookcase, which sold at auction for almost half a million dollars. The original is the only identified Kentucky-made piece of its kind.

Appraisers, historians, antique dealers and furniture collectors all agreed when they discovered the existence of the 1796 Kentucky secretary and bookcase which inspired May’s Miniature of the Month. It was a rarity.

Called “the most significant piece of Kentucky furniture to ever come to market,” it shattered the sales record for furniture made in the Bluegrass State when it sold for $498,750 in 2017. In fact, the 8.5-foot-tall, 3.5-foot-wide walnut secretary was the second most expensive piece of Southern furniture ever sold at auction. The desk had previously belonged to the family of one of the Commonwealth’s first settlers, Captain John Cowan, whose six generations of descendants kept the heirloom piece in the family for over 220 years.

The important piece of Kentucky history was re-created in 1/12th scale by miniaturist Mark Murphy, who has many historic reproduction pieces in the KSB Miniatures Collection. Using only photographs, the IGMA Fellow handcrafted the secretary in cherry, which offers a better replication of wood grain in fine scale. The finished Chippendale piece in miniature measures 8.5 inches tall.

The story of the Kentucky secretary is one handed down through time—one without validation but plenty of appeal. According to relatives, the desk and bookcase were made by a “travelling cabinet maker” who fell ill and was nursed back to health on the John Cowan plantation. During his convalescence “a fine walnut tree was hewn, seasoned, and in the course of time made into the secretary.”

The original secretary contains nine secret drawers hidden behind the removable central document drawer.

Mark most certainly thought of the Cowans and the cabinetmaker while he meticulously re-created the piece. The original with fluted quarter columns, four graduated drawers, carved door detail and nine secret drawers (among other features) was a statement piece in the 18th century to say the least. Considering that bound books were relatively rare and expensive at the time, the fact that the owner could house literature in such an enormous and architecturally beautiful bookcase was exceptional in itself.

Love of history has long driven Mark in his fine-scale creations, which now focus on 18th and 19th century American, Arts and Crafts and Japanese reproductions. He became interested in furniture construction through his studies at the Philadelphia College of Art where he earned a BFA in woodworking and furniture design. After moving to San Francisco, he began creating fine-scale pieces. Now settled in Astoria, Oregon, Mark is a frequent instructor at the Guild School in Castine, Maine, as well as Guild Study programs across the US. His work includes collaborative pieces with several other noted miniaturists such has Mary Grady O’Brien (painting), Lee-Ann Wessel (ceramics) and Annelle Ferguson (needlework).

More of Mark’s work can be seen at


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KSB Miniatures Collection at The Kentucky Gateway Museum Center
215 Sutton Street, Maysville, Kentucky 41056 | 606-564-5865 |

Kentucky Gateway Museum Center