From all the foregoing it will be seen that the study of genuine old furniture, especially of that anterior to the last century, is not altogether an easy matter, and the young cabinet-maker must be specially careful not to be deceived by the sham carving. The best way to study the real is by means of specimens in museums,and in existing parts of old buildings. Many pieces of furniture which purport to be old he can, however, unhesitatingly pronounce to be more or less false, when he finds them got up as 'carved antique oak.' Common sense will often be a sufficient guide. For instance, no one could by any possibility expect to find a hat and umbrella-stand dated back to the reign of Queen Bess, while most of the carved bureaus which are seen can generally be attributed to modern skill. To sum up this part of the subject, the variety of articles of furniture made in this country till well within the last two hundred years was limited, and comparatively little of that used was decorated. Then, as now, the finest work belonged to the well-to-do.
One has almost got into the habit of regarding all the woodwork, the furniture of the period alluded to, as having been oak, and undoubtedly it was the principal timber employed, though other native kinds were used.
By the latter part of the seventeenth century the importance of furniture as a separate business had considerably increased, though there was comparatively little alteration in its general style till after the accession of William of Orange. It may be interesting to note here a sentence from the diary of gossipy old Pepys, under date January I, 1669. He writes: 'To the cabinet shops to look out, and did agree for a cabinet .... and I did buy one, cost IIl., which is very pretty, of walnut-tree.' This is noteworthy as showing that cabinet-making was recognised as a separate trade, and that oak was not exclusively used.
During the reigns of William and his successor the style of furniture altered considerably, domestic arts and architecture having received considerable impetus. The construction became lighter, if not more beautiful, though this is a good deal a matter of taste. The style, it must be confessed, was somewhat nondescript, and on it the modern ' Queen Anne' is more or less founded. Although, doubtless, much of what we roughly call Elizabethan style continued to be made, for fashions did not rapidly alter in those days of slow travelling, a distinct advance was made. The old kind of work did well enough for the country joiner or cabinet-maker, but those with any pretensions to fashion wanted the latest thing out- just as they do now. The principal difference now is that the fashion spreads more quickly.
During the reigns of Queen Anne and George I., furniture-making developed into an important industry, fostered, among other things, by the introduction of mahogany, as well as by improved ideas of domestic comfort and luxury. I am inclined, however, to think that the introduction of mahogany gave a stimulus, perhaps, greater than anything else to the designing and production of furniture. It marks an epoch.
The story of its introduction is as follows: - Some pieces were given to a Dr. Gibbons by his brother, a captain in the merchant service. The doctor, who was at the time having a house built, wished the wood to be used in connexion with it, but the joiners declined to work it, on the plea that it was too hard for their tools. Ultimately a cabinet-maker named Wollaston took it in hand, and made a candle-box, a piece of furniture now obsolete in good houses, from some of it. Apparently, the beauty of this box was much admired, for, as an earlier writer on the subject says, 'it outshone all the other furniture of the doctor, who gave Wollaston the remainder' of the wood. From this Wollaston made two bureaus, one of which belonged to Dr. Gibbons, and the other to the Duchess of Buckingham. From this time (circa 1724) the use of mahogany rapidly spread, though if the dates attributed to more than one well-authenticated piece of furniture are to be relied on, mahogany must have been used occasionally from an earlier date. Thus, the Worshipful Companies of Ironmongers and Carpenters each possess chairs said to have been made about 1700.
Naturally the construction of mahogany furniture led to alterations in style and methods of working it, till towards the middle of the eighteenth century we find the style now generally recognised as Chippendale had gradually developed, though hardly at its height till a few years later. It may be explained that Chippendale was a cabinet-maker, a man of undoubted ability as a designer, and of considerable position in his trade. As maker to the Court, it may at once be conceded that his work was fashionable and of good quality, both as regards workmanship and materials. That the style generally associated with his name was originated by him is, however, more than I for one can think. He undoubtedly did much to popularise it, even to improve on the lines of his contemporaries and immediate forerunners, but probably nothing more. He, as one of the leading cabinet-makers of his day, no doubt had an influence, but for the rest he probably followed the prevailing fashion. The prominence given to his name now is chiefly owing to his book of designs, first published in 1754. In it, of course, we get the purest 'Chippendale,' and if the designs were all made by himself we cannot but admire his versatility, although the style is not all that could be desired, indeed mostly quite the reverse. It is rather a conglomeration of styles than anything else, for we find Gothic, Chinese, or what was supposed to be such, rococo, etc, in strange medley. As a rule, the simplest of his designs are the best, and in the later editions of his work there can be little doubt that he was assisted in his productions by others.
Strictly, the term Chippendale could only be applied to furniture made by him, or perhaps it should rather be said under his superintendence, or from his own designs, but it is commonly used in connexion with any furniture of similar style. To trace the causes which led to the development of the so-called Chippendale style would be an interesting task, but unfortunately space forbids, and it must suffice to state that those who wish to study it cannot do better than consult his book of designs. It is somewhat rare, but can be seen in the South Kensington and other important art libraries. Another book of designs, Manwaring's, published about 1766, shows furniture of precisely the same style, but more florid and without the refinement of Chippendale's. There are also several other books of the same kind, all proving that whether Chippendale originated the style known by his name or not, he certainly did not enjoy a monopoly of it. The work was principally in mahogany, and is noted for its careful finish; but it is extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, to say with certainty whether much that is called by his name was made in his workshops or in those of his contemporaries. Naturally these combined made more than he did.