Mahogany may be said to have come into general use subsequent to 1720, and its introduction is asserted to have been due to the tenacity of purpose of a Dr. Gibbon, whose wife wanted a candle box, an article of common domestic use of the time. The Doctor, who had laid by in the garden of his house in King Street, Covent Garden, some planks sent to him by his brother, a West Indian captain, asked the joiner to use a part of the wood for this purpose; it was found too tough and hard for the tools of the period, but the Doctor was not to be thwarted, and insisted on harder-tempered tools being found, and the task completed; the result was the production of a candle box which was admired by every one. He then ordered a bureau of the same material, and when it was finished invited his friends to see the new work; amongst others, the Duchess of Buckingham begged a small piece of the precious wood, and it soon became the fashion. On account of its toughness, and peculiarity of grain, it was capable of treatment impossible with oak, and the high polish it took by oil and rubbing (not French polish, a later invention), caused it to come into great request. The term "putting one's knees under a friend's mahogany," probably dates from about this time.
Thomas Sheraton, who commenced work some 20 years later than Chippendale, and continued it until the early part of the nineteenth century, accomplished much excellent work in English furniture.
The fashion had now changed; instead of the rococo or rock work (literally rock-scroll) and shell (rocquaille et cocquaille) ornament, which had gone out, a simpler and more severe taste had come in. In Sheraton's cabinets, chairs, writing tables, and occasional pieces we have therefore no longer the cabriole leg or the carved ornament; but, as in the case of the brothers Adam, and the furniture designed by them for such houses as those in Portland Place, we have now square tapering legs, severe lines, and quiet ornament. Sheraton trusted almost entirely for decoration to his marqueterie. Some of this is very delicate and of excellent workmanship. He introduced occasionally animals with foliated extremities into his scrolls, and he also inlaid marqueterie trophies of musical instruments; but as a rule the decoration was in wreaths of flowers, husks, or drapery, in strict adherence to the fashion of the decorations to which allusion has been made. A characteristic feature of his cabinets was the swan-necked pediment surmounting the cornice, being a revival of an ornament fashionable during Queen Anne's reign. It was then chiefly found in stone, marble, or cut brickwork, but subsequently became prevalent in inlaid woodwork.
Sheraton was apparently a man very well educated for his time, whether self taught or not one cannot say; but that he was an excellent draughtsman, and had a complete knowledge of geometry, is evident from the wonderful drawings in his book, and the careful though rather verbose directions he gives for perspective drawing. Many of his numerous designs for furniture and ornamental items, are drawn to a scale with the geometrical nicety of an engineer's or architect's plan: he has drawn in elevation, plan, and minute detail, each of the five architectural orders.
The selection made here from his designs for the purposes of illustration, is not taken from his later work, which properly belongs to a future chapter, when we come to consider the influence of the French Revolution, and the translation of the "Empire" style to England. Sheraton published "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book" in 1793, and the list of subscribers whose names and addresses are given, throws much light on the subject of the furniture of his time.18 Amongst these are many of his aristocratic patrons and no less than 450 names and addresses of cabinet makers, chair makers and carvers, exclusive of harpsichord manufacturers, musical instrument makers, upholsterers, and other kindred trades. Included with these we find the names of firms who, from the appointments they held, it may be inferred, had a high reputation for good work and a leading position in the trade, but who, perhaps from the absence of a taste for " 'getting into print" and from the lack of any brand or mark by which their work can be identified, have passed into oblivion while their contemporaries are still famous. The following names taken from this list are probably those of men who had for many years conducted well known and old established businesses, but would now be but poor ones to "conjure" with, while those of Chippendale, Sheraton, or Hepplewhite, are a ready passport for a doubtful specimen. For instance:—France, Cabinet Maker to His Majesty, St. Martin's Lane; Charles Elliott, Upholder to His Majesty and Cabinet Maker to the Duke of York, Bond Street; Campbell and Sons, Cabinet Makers to the Prince of Wales, Mary-le-bone
Street, London. Besides those who held Royal appointments, there were other manufacturers of decorative furniture—Thomas Johnson, Copeland, Robert Davy, a French carver named Nicholas Collet, who settled in England, and many others.
In Mr. J.H. Pollen's larger work on furniture and woodwork, which includes a catalogue of the different examples in the South Kensington Museum, there is a list of the various artists and craftsmen who have been identified with the production of artistic furniture either as designers or manufacturers, and the writer has found this of considerable service. In the Appendix to this work, this list has been reproduced, with the addition of several names (particularly those of the French school) omitted by Mr. Pollen, and it will, it is hoped, prove a useful reference to the reader.
Although this chapter is somewhat long, on account of the endeavour to give more detailed information about English furniture of the latter half of last century, than of some other periods, in consequence of the prevailing taste for our National manufacture of this time, still, in concluding it, a few remarks about the "Sideboard" may be allowed.
The changes in form and fashion of this important article of domestic furniture are interesting, and to explain them a slight retrospect is necessary. The word "Buffet," sometimes translated "Sideboard," which was used to describe continental pieces of furniture of the 15th and 16th centuries, does not designate our Sideboard, which may be said to have been introduced by William III.; and of which kind there is a fair specimen in the South Kensington Museum; an illustration of it has been given in the chapter dealing with that period.
The term "stately sideboard" occurs in Milton's "Paradise Regained," which was published in 1671, and Dryden, in his translation of Juvenal, published in 1693, when contrasting the furniture of the classical period of which he was writing with that of his own time, uses the following line:—
"No sideboards then with gilded plate were dressed."
The fashion in those days of having symmetrical doors in a room, that is, false doors to correspond with the door used for exit, which one still finds in many old houses in the neighbourhood of Portland Place, and particularly in the palaces of St. James' and of Kensington, enabled our ancestors to have good cupboards for the storage of glass, crockery, and reserve wine. After the middle of the eighteenth century, however, these extra doors and the enclosed cupboard gradually disappeared, and soon after the mahogany side table came into fashion it became the custom to supplement this article of furniture by a pedestal cupboard on either side (instead of the cupboards alluded to), one for hot plates and the other for wine. Then, as the thin legs gave the table rather a lanky appearance, the garde de vin, or cellaret, was added in the form of an oval tub of mahogany with bands of brass, sometimes raised on low feet with castors for convenience, which was used as a wine cooler. A pair of urn-shaped mahogany vases stood on the pedestals, and these contained—the one hot water for the servants' use in washing the knives, forks and spoons, which being then much more valuable were limited in quantity, and the other held iced water for the guests' use.
A brass rail at the back of the side table with ornamental pillars and branches for candles was used, partly to enrich the furniture, and partly to form a support to the handsome pair of knife and spoon cases, which completed the garniture of a gentleman's sideboard of this period.
The full page illustrations will give the reader a good idea of this arrangement, and it would seem that the modern sideboard is the combination of these separate articles into one piece of furniture—at different times and in different fashions— first the pedestals joined to the table produced our "pedestal sideboard," then the mirror was joined to the back, the cellarette made part of the interior fittings, and the banishment of knife cases and urns to the realms of the curiosity hunter, or for conversion into spirit cases and stationery holders. The sarcophagus, often richly carved, of course succeeded the simpler cellaret of Sheraton's period.
Before we dismiss the furniture of the "dining room" of this period, it may interest some of our readers to know that until the first edition of "Johnson's Dictionary" was published in 1755, the term was not to be found in the vocabularies of our language designating its present use. In Barrat's "Alvearic," published in 1580, "parloir," or "parler," was described as "a place to sup in." Later, "Minsheu's Guide unto Tongues," in 1617, gave it as "an inner room to dine or to suppe in," but Johnson's definition is "a room in houses on the first floor, elegantly furnished for reception or entertainment."
To the latter part of the eighteenth century—the English furniture of which time has been discussed in this Chapter—belong the quaint little "urn stands" which were made to hold the urn with boiling water, while the tea pot was placed on the little slide which is drawn out from underneath the table top. In those days tea was an expensive luxury, and the urn stand, of which there is an illustration, inlaid in the fashion of the time, is a dainty relic of the past, together with the old mahogany or marqueterie tea caddy, which was sometimes the object of considerable skill and care. One of these designed by Chippendale is illustrated on p. 179, and another by Hepplewhite will be found on p. 194. They were fitted with two and sometimes three bottles or tea-pays of silver or Battersea enamel, to bTANn hold the black and green teas, and when really good examples of these daintily-fitted tea caddies are offered for sale, they bring large sums.
a sideboard tn mahogany with imlav of satinwood.
a sideboard tn mahogany with imlav of satinwood.
The "wine table" of this time deserves a word. These are now somewhat rare, and are only to be found in a few old houses, and in some of the Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. These were found with revolving tops, which had circles turned out to a slight depth for each glass to stand in, and they were sometimes shaped like the half of a flat ring. These latter were for placing in front of the fire, when the outer side of the table formed a convivial circle, round which the sitters gathered after they had left the dinner table.
One of these old tables is still to be seen in the Hall of Gray's Inn, and the writer was told that its fellow was broken and had been "sent away." They are nearly always of good rich mahogany, and have legs more or less ornamental according to circumstances.
A distinguishing feature of English furniture of the last century was the partiality for secret drawers and contrivances for hiding away papers or valued articles; and in old secretaires and writing tables we find a great many ingenious designs which remind us of the days when there were but few banks, and people kept money and deeds in their own custody.
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