Cftpter XIII

Furniture Craft Plans

Furniture Craft Plans

Get Instant Access

Thomas Sheraton : His Style and his Work.

HOMAS SHERATON occupies an exceptional position in the history of English furniture, as, although his actual influence on the design of his day was very considerable, he has been popularly credited with so much which really does not belong to him at all. In the case of Thomas Chippendale we had to deal with a fashionable cabinet-maker, well-established, and employing some thirty or forty people in the realisation of his ideas. His published designs represented pieces which he had either actually made, or did make subsequently, or, at all events, were in the style which he followed in his productions. It was pointed out, at the time when his work was considered, that when a noted maker collected all the available designs which he could either create or borrow, it was in the nature of tilings that after the lapse of a century and a half his style should have a retrospective bearing—in other words, that when he copied pieces of some ten or twenty years previous to Iris day, or assimilated many of the designing peculiarities of that period, it became impossible, after a sufficient lapse of time, to differentiate between Iris work and the earlier models which he copied, and thus his style had to be extended to include other furniture, possibly made even before he commenced Iris business career. With Robert Adam we have not this retrospection, as the style associated with his name was such a novelty at the date of his return from Italy that it did not develop, even in his own hands, until some years later. In his case, however, we had to deal with a designer purely and simply—one who made no furniture himself, but employed the cabinet-makers of Iris day to a considerable extent, and thus acted as whilom mentor to those whom he patronised. With this education of cabinet-makers,—as Robert Adam was the final judge of all the furniture which they made to his order, and probably played the part of critic while the work was in progress,—it was not to be wondered at that after a time they became the real exponents of the "Adam style," influencing its creator to even a larger extent than he had affected them. The Adam style was, therefore, justifiably held to cover much more than the designs of the " Adelphi " or the work made to their order, and included all the furniture productions exhibiting the influence of the manner of which they were the pioneers.

With George Hepplewhite we had a practical cabinet-maker, an employer of labour, one either possessing considerable artistic skill or capable of retaining it in his employ, entering the field as the champion of inlay as against carving, and demonstrating the value of the lighter woods such as satinwood, tulip, sycamore and the like, as compared with mahogany. There is no furniture until the advent of the " English Empire " of Sheraton and Hope, at the very close of the century, the general style of which had not been accepted or anticipated by Chippendale, Adam, or Hepplewhite, to say nothing of the makers of lesser note such as Johnson, Crunden, Manwaring, Lock, Casement, Shearer and others. The question, therefore, arises, what can be placed to the credit of Thomas Sheraton ? If he worked as a cabinet-maker in London at all,—which is exceedingly doubtful,—it was certainly not as an employer of labour; he may have been a master working single-handed, but even this is not probable. As we have seen in the previous chapter, he came to London in 1790 ; he was dead at the end of the year 1806. We are dealing, therefore, with a period of only fifteen years, and as the scope of this book stops short at the inartistic barbarities of the so-called " English Empire," a style which Sheraton followed in his later designing work, we have to reduce this period by, at least, another five years. Now let us examine his career during this period. He figures as a preacher, a writer of tracts and treatises, a teacher of drawing, a designer, a publisher and a bookseller, but there are no records of him as a maker of furniture. He had no workshop worthy of the name at Davies Street, Wardour Street, or Broad Street, and if he produced any furniture at all, 110 records appear to have been preserved which are worthy of more than a mere cursory examination. So-called " Sheraton " pieces do exist, with pedigrees attached,—the writer has seen several during the past fifteen years,—but it is curious that either the workmanship and design of these pieces is obviously later, or beneath contempt, or the " pedigree " has obviously no relation to the article whose history it purports to relate. The puzzling question therefore remains : what credit is due to Thomas Sheraton, and what is the place he occupies in the history of English furniture designing ? and the reply must be, in the very forefront. We have been so inclined to overvalue the creator of styles, and to regard him as one who evolved, or rather created, new designs from no antecedent sources, that the greatest educator of our eighteenth century cabinet-makers has been in danger of being disregarded. The character of Sheraton himself may have accounted, in large measure, for this neglect. He was evidently possessed of a narrow and bigoted mind, assertive and unsuccessful—the two are often found in combination—cantankerous in Iiis poverty and gifted with a venomous tongue and pen, both of which he never hesitated to use in disparagement of those more successful than himself. He was unfortunate ; with his nature, had he started at the topmost rung of the commercial ladder, he would, doubtless, have remained there ; but for an age of pandering, of dallying in the antechambers of the wealthy, seeking patronage and meeting only with the gibes of lacqueys and underlings, Sheraton was distinctly ill-fitted. The world, then as now, disliked the poor man of many parts ; it was dangerous to encourage him. A wealthy patron to foster the cabinet-maker and to find that he has assisted a pamphleteer, a seditious man, unawares ! A poor man may be excellent at one thing ; he cannot be even a passable master of some half dozen ! And so poor Sheraton pined—or more probably reviled— in neglect. He had his victory, however, but alas ! it was a posthumous one. Our present age has the happy facility of appraising a genius-—providing he be comfortably laid in Iris grave for some half a century or so—by the measure of his misfortune, and Sheraton has been thus elevated, not below his real merit, possibly, but for qualities he did not possess, and for services to English furniture he did not perform, to the total neglect of those he did have, and exercised for the benefit of the cabinet-makers of his day.

It is often better to explain problems of this nature by analogy. To those who have studied the general lines of the furniture produced in London from 1895 to 1910 a great improvement is immediately apparent, not in design,—as in all essentials no particular change has taken place,—but in a better idea of the beauty of a line, the massing and use of ornament and the refinement of proportions. Not one but many designers have collectively influenced this result, one correcting a line here, another rectifying a proportion there. Here a cabinet-maker has discovered the decorative value of fine veneer, there mere commercial considerations have suppressed redundant ornament. These collective influences have resulted in a marked improvement in the general design of the furniture produced in our day, without any call for special creative effort on the part of any single individual. This appears to have been precisely the part which Thomas Sheraton played when he arrived in London. Although his drawings of furniture would be regarded, at the present day, as examples of poor draughtsmanship,—conventions in perspective being very pronounced during the eighteenth century,—they constituted a material advance on anything which had been hitherto attempted. Sheraton's Drawing Book had a considerable sale, especially among members of his own trade—he probably acted as a peddler of his own books—and its effect on the cabinet-makers of the time must have been relatively great. His designs of chairs show actual originality, but in general cabinet-work he acted rather as collector and editor of the models which were current at his day. The Drawing Book is, of course, the sole measure by which we can gauge the degree of Sheraton's designing skill, and before attempting a matured judgment, it is necessary to mentally translate his drawings into actuality. During the last twenty years, however, the taste for reproductions from the antique has resulted in nearly every one of Iris patterns being copied, and a careful study of these enables Sheraton's designs to be judged with a more just and critical eye than was possible before. The resulting verdict must be that Sheraton inaugurated a distinct style of his own, often characterised by minute differences of line and proportion from that of Hepplewhite, but in the main quite peculiar to himself. He suffers, in the actual pieces made during his lifetime, to his designs, but by other makers, from the fact that the resolving of Iris creations into wood was often beyond his direct control, but the system of long apprenticeship and " working through the shop " which was general during the last quarter of the eighteenth century resulted in the fostering of a natural taste among the workmen of that period, which was always capable of appreciating, if not of originating.

The purpose of the following review of the work of Thomas Sheraton, or rather that which was designed in his style, is to show these apparently trifling distinctions which enable us to differentiate between this and the earlier work from which he undoubtedly drew much, if not the whole, of his inspirations.

"The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book."*

F all the books of design published during the latter half of the eighteenth century, Sheraton's Drawing Book stands alone, in several important particulars. In the first place, those cabinet-makers who had published their designs before Sheraton came to London, had all one object in common—the advertisement of their wares and of themselves. Chippendale's Director, Ince & Mayhew's System, Manwaring's Real Friend, Hepplewhite's Guide, anil a host of similar books, were all really trade catalogues, intended to foster and assist the business of their authors or publishers. Sheraton, however, was the exception ; he had no business to advertise, unless it were that of a teacher of drawing. It is doubtful if he worked, even as a journeyman cabinetmaker, during his fifteen years of life in London ; he certainly never was a master-man. There is no book of this class which bears such indisputable internal evidences of the character of the author as the Drawing Book. Let us consider the circumstances attending its publication, for a moment. Sheraton did not leave his native place, Stockton-on-Tees, until 1790 ; the first quarto parts of the Drawing Book appeared in London within twelve months. Apart from the actual work of writing the text, making and engraving the plates and printing the parts, 717 advance subscribers were obtained in London and the provinces, accounting for 782 copies. Whether these all continued their subscriptions until the work was completed, is more than doubtful, as we shall see. These subscribers must, nearly all, have been procured by personal canvass, possibly by Sheraton himself; there was no other practicable method. Circularising was out of the question ; the postage would have been too expensive an item in 1790, and the appeal would have been ineffectual in so large a number of instances. Advertising, as it is understood at the present day, was impossible ; there were no journals of adequate circulation, even if Sheraton could have borne the expense. There is some evidence, in the list itself, that the canvass must have been a personal one ; many important towns are excluded ; others, such as Wakefield, yield nearly a dozen subscribers. London appears to have been thoroughly worked, although there are some significant exceptions, the names of Hepplewhite and Gillow both being absent. There is a legend extant that Sheraton designed furniture for Gillows, but had this been a fact their name would almost certainly have figured in this list.t Some notable names appear, such as Campbell and

Part of the subject matter of this chapter has already appeared in the form of an article in the Burlington Magazine, December 1911.

t One subscriber is given as "London House." This may refer to Gillows, as'these lists of subscribers were frequently very carelessly prepared.

Son, " Cabinet-makers to the Prince of Wales," Mary-le-bone Street, London ; Charles Elliott, " Upholsterer to His Majesty and Cabinet-maker to the Duke of York," New Bond Street ; and — France, "Cabinet-maker to His Majesty," St. [Martin's Lane. The names of others are instructive in themselves ; thus " Dillon, Cabinet-maker, Russia," subscribed for one copy. Some influence, more powerful and far-reaching than Sheraton's could have ever been, must have operated here. " Horwell, Sculptor," is another subscriber, described as of "College Street, Camden Town, near London." Lepard, Smith and Lepard, Paper Manufacturers, of Newgate Street, take a copy ; perhaps also the order for the paper. They ma}', also, have financed the undertaking ; if so, they have survived to the present day with no greater vicissitude than a removal of their business to Great Earl Street. "J. Lane, Knife-case maker, 44 St. Martin's-le-Grand," appears to show that the age of specialisation had already been reached in 1790, and " Peter Reid, Grocer and Tea Dealer, Whitehaven," suggests that Sheraton must have been an invincible canvasser for his own publications. To obtain 717 subscribers, of whom fully 90 per cent, were cabinet-makers or directly connected with the trade, was 110 mean achievement, even for a Baptist preacher, as money was hardly a superfluity among cabinet-makers at this date,—or even at the present day. It is somewhat pathetic to compare Chippendale's stately dedication to the Earl of Northumberland, and his subscription list containing many noble and historical names, and the books of Robert Adam, taken up almost exclusively by the nobility, with poor Sheraton's Drawing Book subscribed for almost entirely by members of his own trade, with an occasional sprinkling of grocers, mahogany merchants, engravers and teachers of drawing. Of the latter, the title of the book does not appear to have captivated many.

There appears to have been a fair demand, at this date, for designs of furniture; and Sheraton, in his preface and prospectus,—upon the strength of which most of his subscribers were obviously obtained, as the book was published in part form,—must have aroused great expectations. The title could have conveyed little ; it was the age when "Real Friends," "Systems," "Directors," and "Cabinet-makers' Darlings" were published. What the trade demanded, and expected, was new designs ; something to please their customers and bring new patronage ; what they got was actually a Drawing Book. Sheraton was too anxious to exhibit his abilities as a teacher,—of drawing, scripture, anything so long as he could occupy a rostrum,—to care much for popular demand. Thus six sections, 119 pages in all, are devoted to a preface,—in which Sheraton vents his spleen on other cabinet-makers, Hepplewhite in particular,—a list of subscribers, and a treatise 011 geometry; 56 more pages follow, dealing with the five orders of architecture,—a subject which had already been thrashed to death by many of the earlier design books. The scheme could hardly have satisfied the 717 subscribers,

nearly all of whom were tradesmen ; even the " Grocer and Tea Dealer " of Whitehaven must have been disappointed.

The second part, consisting of 173 pages, is devoted to perspective lessons, much needed even bv Sheraton himself, as the bookcase in Plate XXVI. is drawn, apparently, about fifteen feet high. Before the third part appeared, Sheraton must have received some broad hints from his patrons as to the kind of work they expected, as he devotes an introduction to pouring oil—in Sheraton's case it was more frequently vinegar— on troubled waters.

It shows the impractical character of Sheraton that he not only neglects the material advantage to himself either as a designer or a cabinet-maker, which might have accrued, by the publication of a book of designs of furniture intended to please the taste of wealthy patrons, but he also comments, in scornful language, on the fact that the books of other cabinet-makers before referred to, do not waste valuable space in idle treatises 011 geometry and perspective, to the neglect of the business aim for which they were specifically published.

Sheraton disdained the advantage of making friends, even among his own trade, upon which his livelihood presumably depended. The following extracts from the preface to the Drawing Book show the bid which he made for fame—and for popularity.

" .4s I have alluded to some books of designs, it may be proper here just to say something of them. I have seen one which seems to have been published before Chippendale's. I infer this from the antique appearance of the furniture, for there is 110 date to it ; but the title informs us that it was composed by a Society of Cabinetmakers in London. It gives no instructions for drawing in any form, but we may venture to say, that those who drew the designs wanted a good share of teaching themselves."

" Chippendale'shook seems to be the next in order to this, but the former is without comparison to it, either as to size or real merit. Chippendale's book has, it is true, given us the proportions of the Five Orders, and lines for two or three cases, which is all it pretends to relative to rules for drawing ; and as for the designs themselves, they arc now "wholly antiquated and hud aside, though possessed of great merit, according to the times in which they were executed. ..."

" In the year 1788 was published the ' Cabinet-maker's and Upholsterer's Guide,' in which are found no directions for drawing in any form, nor any pretensions to it. The whole merit of the performance rests on the designs, with a short description to each plate prefixed. Some of these designs are not without merit, although it is evident that the perspective is, in some instances, erroneous. But, notwithstanding the late date of

Hepplewhite's book, if we compare some of the designs, particularly the chairs, with the newest taste, we shall find that this work has already caught the decline, and perhaps, in a little time, will suddenly die in the disorder. This instance may serve to convince us of that fate which all books of the same kind ivill ever be subject to. Yet it must be owned, that books of this sort have their usefulness for a time ; and when through change of fashions they are become obsolete, they serve to show the taste of former times."

Considering that the preface to the Drawn ng Book was written m 1792, and that the latest edition of the Guide was within a year of the same date, this reference to the " taste of former times " is, to say the least, somewhat cool. But Sheraton had his spleen to vent, for some reason, on Hepplewhite, and in the next paragraph in the preface he refers to the Cabinet-maker's London Book of Prices,—in which, by the way, some of the plates are signed by Hepplewhite, and are presumably his work,—in the following terms. "... it certainly lays claim to merit, and does honour to the publishers. Whether they had the advantage * of seeing Hepplewhite's book before theirs ivas published I knoiv not ; but it may be observed, with justice, that their designs are more fashionable and useful than his, in proportion to their number."

Sheraton's lofty tone of superiority does not desert him, even when he is threatened with the loss of subscribers. Thus in the introduction to the third part, before referred to, he states : " The design of this Part of the Book is intended to exhibit the present taste of furniture, and at the same time to give the workman some assistance in the manufacturing part of it."

" I am sensible, however, that several persons who have already encouraged the icork, will not leant any help of this nature ; but it is presumed many will who are not much conversant in the business, and who have had no opportunity of seeing good pieces of furniture executed."

"For the advantage of such, it is hoped that the experienced workman will exercise candour and patience in reading the instructions intended, not for himself, but for those now mentioned."

" There are few but ivhat may, with propriety, reflect on their own past ignorance, even in things which afterwards become exceeding simple and easy by a little practice and experience. ..."

"... But in every branch there are found men who love to keep their inferiors of the same profession in ignorance, that themselves may have an opportunity of triumphing over them. From such I expect no praise, but the reverse. Their pride icill not suffer them to

* "This is not meant to insinuate any disrespectful idea of the abilities of those who drew the designs in the Cabinetmakers Book of Prices. 1 doubt not that they were capable of doing more than Hepplewhite has done, without the advantage of seeing his book ; and it may be, for anything I know, that the advantage was given on their side."

encourage any work which tends to make others us wise as themselves ; and therefore it is their fixed resolution to despise and pour contempt upon every attempt of this kind, in proportion as it is likelv to succeed. But those I will leave to themselves as unworthy of notice, who only live to love themselves, but not to assist others."

The above was probably Sheraton's reply to certain remarks made by a section of his public to the scheme of Iris book. The fact that they paid the piper, and were entitled, to some extent, to call the tune, did not occur to him. That some such strictures were passed is evident by the continuation.

" Here I would beg leave to observe, that it is natural for every man under a heavy burden to pour out his complaint to the first sympathizing friend he meets with. If the reader be one of these, I will pour out mine, by informing him of the difficult task I have had to please all, and to suit the various motives which different persons have for encouraging a publication like this."

"I find some have expected such designs as never were seen, heard of, nor conceived in the imagination of man ; whilst others have wanted them to suit a broker's shop, to save them the trouble of borrowing a bason-stand to shew to a customer. Some have expected it to furnish a country wareroom, to avoid the expencc of making up a good bureau, and double chest of drawers, with canted corners, &c., and though it is difficult to conceive how these different qualities could be united in a book of so small a compass, vet, according to some reports, the broker himself may find his account in it, and the country master will not be altogether disappointed ; whilst others say many of the designs are rather calculated to shew what may be done, than to exhibit what is or has been done in the trade. According to this, the designs turn out to be on a more general plan than what I intended them, and answer, beyond my expectation, the above various descriptions of subscribers. However, to be serious, it was my first plan, and has been my aim through the whole, to make the book in general as permanently useful as I could, and to unite with usefulness the taste of the times ; but I could never expect to please all in so narrow a compass : for to do this, it would be necessary to compose an entire book, for each class of subscribers, and after all there would be something wanting still."

In spite of the elephantine humour displayed in the above, it is evident that many of the subscribers to the Drawing Book expected something different to treatises on geometry, perspective, and the "Five Orders." With Sheraton, to ask was not to get, but the withholding of subscriptions was an argument which even he was forced to appreciate. The third part, therefore, is devoted to furniture designs, accompanied by a totally unnecessary description of the methods of manufacture, considering nearly all of his subscribers were practical tradesmen.

Further pressure from the same source was evidently responsible for the Appendix to the Drawing Book, consisting of 32 plates, with the descriptions, and technical lectures still further abridged. Sheraton's subscribers evidently wanted designs, not texts or sermons. From this point of view, the Guide of Hepplewhite must have been a much better investment than the Draining Book, and only 36 additional names of subscribers are given in the Appendix, which was published from his house at 106 Wardour Street, Soho, in 1793.

Many of Sheraton's descriptions of Iris illustrations are naïve, even to the point of absurdity. Thus, of the " Elliptic Bed," the first plate in the Appendix, he states : " yls fancifulncss seems most peculiar to the taste of females, I have therefore assigned the use of this bed for a single lady, although it will equally accommodate a single gentleman.'" One might almost have guessed this, although what sane person would prefer a bed of elliptical form to one of the ordinary rectangular shape, it is difficult to imagine. One is lost in wonder as to how the bed-clothes would be disposed 011 a bed of this shape. For sheer pompous absurdity the thirteen pages of description devoted to the " English State Bed " illustrated in Plate XIX. would be difficult to equal, although the explanation of the meaning of his frontispiece to the whole book may almost be bracketed with it.

It is idle to speculate, although it would be interesting to know, how many of the 7x7 original subscribers for the parts managed to survive Sheraton's rhetoric, and to eventually possess the complete book. Sheraton owes so much of his renown to his brother cabinet-makers, who adopted his designs and gave them a permanent existence in the flesh, or rather in the wood, that it is impossible to say whether or no the Drawing Book would have lived had the sale been entirely among the noble and wealthy classes of his day. That he did much for the improvement of English furniture is unquestionable, and it is the measure and value of this which it is proposed to consider, at some length, in the following chapter.

Before, however, finally leaving the subject of Sheraton's Drawing Book, it may be of some value to make an examination of certain of the designs, together with Sheraton's own description of them, and his directions for the cabinet-maker (these latter sure indications that he was designing for others, and not for a workshop of his own), and to see what available information can be thus gleaned. We can commence with the writing-table, Plate 30 in the Drawing Book, here reproduced in Fig. 249. Sheraton describes it thus :—

Oval Writing-Table

" This piece is intended for a gentleman to write on, or to stand or sit to read at, having

225 2 F

Fig. 248. "A LIBRARY TABLE."

Plate 30 of the thawing Book.

Fig. 248. "A LIBRARY TABLE."

Plate 30 of the thawing Book.

desk-drawers at each end, and is generally employed in studies or library-rooms. It has already been executed for the Duke of York, excepting the desk-drawers, which are here added as an improvement.

" The style of finishing it ought to be in the medium of that which may be termed plain or grand, as neither suits their situation. Mahogany is the most suitable wood, and the ornaments should be carved or inlaid, what little there is ; japanned ornaments are not suitable, as these tables frequently meet with a little harsh usage."

From the sense in which the term " japanned ornaments " is used in the above, it appears to have been the name given to applied ornament of composition, the "japanning" implying that the enrichment was painted or gilded, which, considering the nature of the material, would be a logical necessity. It is interesting to notice how this term, which in the earlier part of the eighteenth century applied exclusively to lacquer-work, had come to be employed to designate a covering surface of varnish-paint, or even gilding. We shall see at a later stage that japanned furniture was the name generally applied to that which was made from inferior wood, such as birch and beech, and painted over. Even at the present day, the inferioi painting and rough graining which is used in finishing rough kitchen or servants' bedroom furniture is known in the

trade as japanning, possibly a survival of the eighteenth-century name. Fig. 249 shows the table illustrated in the Drawing Book made in satinwood, and inlaid, which, with all respect to Sheraton, is the only logical wood for the design.

The next interesting pair of designs occurs on Plate 39 of the Drawing Book (Figs. 251 and 252), as there is sufficient evidence, to the eye of a cabinet-maker, to show that these knife-cases have been engraved from pre-existing models. Sheraton himself supplies the clue, thus :—

Note to Knife-case

" /Is these cases arc not made in regular cabinet shops, it may be of service to mention ivhere they are executed in the best taste, by one who makes it his main business ; i.e. John Lane, No. 44 St. Martin's-le-Grand, London."

If the above be not a mere vulgar trade puff, Sheraton must have been unacquainted with the manufacture of these knife-cases, as they were "not made in regular cabinet shops," and he was probably indebted to the said John Lane foi his ideas. The designs, however, are undoubtedly his own, and were probably furnished by Sheraton to Lane,

INLAID SATINWOOD TABLE. 4 ft. o ins. long ■ 2 ft. Si ins. deep • 2 ft. 6 ins. high. The same design as illustrated in Fig. 248.

INLAID SATINWOOD TABLE. 4 ft. o ins. long ■ 2 ft. Si ins. deep • 2 ft. 6 ins. high. The same design as illustrated in Fig. 248.

an original subscriber to the Drawing Book. The above is instructive, however, as supplying another item of positive evidence that Sheraton, during his London career, was a designer rather than a cabinet-maker. We find references to other makers, but never to himself in this capacity, an unthinkable omission 011 the part of Sheraton had he really possessed a workshop.

Sheraton's state beds are among Iris least original creations. One illustration is given, Plate 45 in the Drawing Book 'Fig. 252), which is representative of the others. It will be noticed that the influence of Robert Adam is very apparent in the general design, and a reproduction from the original sketch in the Soane Museum for the state bed made for Osterley Park is given in the next illustration (Fig. 253) for the purpose of comparison. The latter shows the intention of Robert Adam, and is therefore better for our present purpose than a photograph of the original bed would be, as the latter was considerably modified in the making.

" Beds of this kind have been' introduced of late with great success in England."

He nowhere hints that the bed was made to an order, either by himself or any of the " Upholders " whose names figure so largely in his list of subscribers, nor have we any suggestion as to his indebtedness to Adam.

There are several noticeable peculiarities in the plate of the cabinet illustrated in

Figs. 250 and 251. KNIFE-CASES.

l-'rom l'late 39 of the Drawing Book.

Figs. 250 and 251. KNIFE-CASES.

l-'rom l'late 39 of the Drawing Book.

Bedroom Fantasy Art


Reproduced from the original drawing in the Soane Museum.


Reproduced from the original drawing in the Soane Museum.

Fig. 254. In the Drawing Book it is unnumbered, placed between Nos. 49 and 50. It lacks the usual subscription, " Published as the Act directs by T. Sheraton," with the date, which is found under ever}7 other plate in the book, and even the " T. Sheraton del.," in the bottom left-hand corner, has the appearance of having been scratched in on the plate after it was engraved. It is referred to as No. 48 in the text, a piece " to accommodate a lady, with conveniences for writing, reading, and holding her trinkets, and other articles of that kind. The style of finishing them is elegant, being often richly japanned,

and veneered with the finest satinwood." The design itself is typically Sheraton, and is one of his most successful efforts.

The next illustration i Fig. 255) is the well-known "Carlton House Table," which has generally been attributed to Sheraton as his original creation. It would be out of place here, and would involve needless recapitulation at a later stage, to discuss the genesis of this design at any length, as in a later chapter on the work of " Gillows of London and Lancaster " this " Carlton House Table " will be again referred to. To Sheraton is probably due the credit of modifying the design by introducing the hollow flaps over the ink draweis on either side, although by so doing he has succeeded in doubling the work in the table, as compared with other variations of the same design which were made by Gillows, and which will be referred to at a later stage. Many of our present-day cabinet-makers have found this out to their cost. The legend that this table first acquired its name by being made for George IV. when Regent, must be dismissed ■ as a fable. Such a table may have been made for Carlton House, but the design, in modified form, was a well-known one many years before, as there is abundant evidence to show.


A design from Plate 60 of the Drawing Book.


A design from Plate 60 of the Drawing Book.

English Facade

Figs. 257 and 258. PIER TABLES.

Plate 4 in the Appendix to the Drawing Book.

Figs. 257 and 258. PIER TABLES.

Plate 4 in the Appendix to the Drawing Book.

Sheraton's style, in typical form, is well illustrated in the library bookcase shown in Fig. 256. The piped draperies 011 the rounded flanks (are they curtains, or organ pipes ?) and the vases above the cornice are the only disturbing features in the whole design. It will be noticed that Sheraton evades the usual pitfall of the furniture designers of this period, and the turned spiral pilasters on the lower carcase are fixed to the ends, and do not open with the doors. Sheraton gives no directions for manufacture, but this bookcase was probably intended for execution in mahogany, with fine curl wood in the panels of the lower doors, and marqueterie in the friezes of both carcases. Relief would probably have been obtained by bandings of tulip or rosewood, and lunettes of satin wood in the corners of the lower doors.

The fashion for filling the spaces between windows with pier tables surmounted by tall mirrors lasted throughout the eighteenth century. I11 Plate 4 of the Appendix to the Drawing Book, Sheraton gives two designs for pier tables, here reproduced in Figs. 257 and 258. The surmounting mirror-frames would probably be of gilt and carved wood, the tables themselves being of satinwood, with inlay of marqueterie and bandings of tulip.

Sheraton is the pioneer of the square-back " Parlour" or " Drawing-room " chair, one illustration, from Plate 6 of the Appendix, and another from an actual model, being shown in Figs. 259 and 2bo. The fashion for seat coverings of silk, elaborately worked with the needle, as shown in Fig. 259, was probably borrowed from Robert Adam. Sheraton evidently had some opportunity of inspecting many of the Adam creations, during the process of manufacture, in his peregrinations round the leading London workshops, while engaged in peddling his own publications. The central splat of the chair illustrated here, and the design of the front legs, indicate the influence of Robert Adam very strongly. That Sheraton failed to acknowledge his indebtedness was probably an intentional omission.

The wardrobe, Fig. 261, is another typical Sheraton design, although some modification during manufacture must have been necessary—that is, if it were ever made at the time—as if the fluted surbase moulding were carried round the drawers of the wings and the ends, the doors would not open. Sheraton's shop training was probably somewhat rusty at the period when this design was evolved.

Sheraton's keen sense of design and eye for proportion are well demonstrated in the two card-tables, Plate 11 in the Appendix, illustrated in Figs. 262 and 263. His extensive use of the water-leaf is shown 011 the right-hand example, for which he recommends that the ornamentation of the legs be carved, that 011 the framing being painted or "japanned." In satinwood of good figure, with the cloth-lipping of tulip, crossbanded and "feathered," both of these tables would make up very well. Sheraton's directions for


A design from I'late 6 of the Appendix to the Drawing Book.


A design from I'late 6 of the Appendix to the Drawing Book.

manufacture are worth quoting, as an answer to the general notion of the later eighteenth century being an age of fine workmanship. He says : " .4s to the method of managing the tops, I take it to be the best to rip up dry deal, or faulty mahoganv, into four-inch width£ and joint them up. It matters not whether the pieces are whole lengths, provided the jump joints be crossed. Some tongue the jump-joints for strength.

" After the tops are dry, hard mahogany is tongued into the ends of the deal, then slips are glued 011 the front and the back, that the whole may appear solid mahogany, if a moulding is to be worked on the edge; but if the edge be crossbanded, there is in this case no need for tonguing in mahogany."

Comment on the slioddiness of this method of construction is hardly necessary beyond a brief mention of the fact that Sheraton should have known that crossbanded veneer glued edgewise on the end grain of deal would fall off at the first slight shrinkage of the top.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
How To Sell Furniture

How To Sell Furniture

Types Of Furniture To Sell. There are many types of products you can sell. You just need to determine who your target market is and what specific item they want. Or you could sell a couple different ones in a package deal.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment