The range of woods available to eighteenth century cabinetmakers had gradually increased
as trade with America, West Indies and the coasts of south America developed. In America itself, walnut, tulipwood, gumwood, cedar, cherry and mahogany as well as maple and walnut veneer were added to the cabinetmaker's repertoire. In England the fashionable taste for walnut encouraged the importation of Virginia black walnut to augment European supplies. Although the era is well known for the use of mahogany, walnut was still acceptable as a fashionable timber up to the 1750s. However, in 1721 the abolition of duty on mahogany encouraged the first major imports, which were mainly from Jamaica. Spanish mahogany (sometimes known as Baywood) from Cuba or Honduras was also shipped to England, and towards 1750 it came into general use. San Domingo shipped another variety, which was very hard and straight grained, and was ideal for carved designs that would require a crispness to them. All mahoganies were used extensively in the solid and in large boards (avoiding joined up panels for table
tops), as well as in veneer form. Apart from its rich colour and handsome figure, several other virtues established mahogany as an ideal cabinet wood that allowed the extraordinary designs in chair backs to be executed by Chippendale and his followers (Figure 1.18). It is strong, hard, tough, uniform in structure, dimensionally stable, durable and resistant to splitting. Mahogany remained important for the rest of the century. Satinwood was used in the second half of the century for its fine figuring and rich golden yellow colour. Supplied from both the West and East Indies, it was mainly used in veneer form. Robert Adam and Sheraton both incorporated it into their designs, as it suited the lighter touch furniture of the latter part of the century.
The trade in timber was international. In 1747 Campbell in his London Trades mentions '... deal from Norway, wainscot from Sweden, mahogany from Jamaica and wall-nut from Spain'. Yellow deal from the Baltic, and red cedar from North America (after 1750), were extensively used for carcasses. Many other foreign woods were used especially in veneer form for marquetry and banding. Calamander or Coromandel came from India and Ceylon. Woods from South America, especially from Brazil, included kingwood, partridge, zebra, and tulip woods. Amboyna came from the East Indies and red cedar from North America, whilst thuja was imported from Africa. Domestic woods were used to imitate the imported ones. Birch and horse chestnut were substituted for satinwood and acacia for tulip-wood. Harewood was produced by staining maple or sycamore, using salts of iron, which resulted in a green-grey tint. The Windsor chair used only indigenous timbers, usually elm for the seats, beech for the spindles and yew for the frames. In America these timbers were often hickory, ash, maple or tulip.
The principle woods used during this period in America were walnut, and a little later, mahogany. Maple was also used in New England and Pennsylvania, and cherry was used in New York.
Scagliola This was an imitation marble or rare stone material made from fine-ground plaster of Paris mixed with glue and colourings and marble or stone chips. It was originally made in Italy and was very popular for table tops. Although table and commode tops were often imported from Italy, by the second half of the century there were some makers in England supplying the needs of the furniture and carving trades.
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