There is, of course, a good deal to be said both for and against this subdivision of labour, which certainly does not meet with the approval of those who, ignoring the conditions of modern trade, would have us revert to the custom at one time prevalent, or supposed to have been so, of the same workman making and finishing a thing outright It is not, however, unreasonable to assume that even in the days of auld lang syne the joiner or cabinet-maker would not disdain the aid of his fellow-craftsman who had made himself more than ordinarily expert in carving or other decorative work, to adorn his own crude and plain construction. There is little or no evidence to show that old-time workers did everything themselves instead of getting those specially skilled in particular branches to help them, when they could. We must, of course, remember that cabinet-making, as understood nowadays, is a comparatively modern development, and that our present furniture is very different from that of a couple of hundred years ago. ' Yes,' says Cynic,' it undoubtedly is, for then it was sound, substantial, and artistic, while now it is _____' I will finish the sentence by adding, 'just what cynic and other art-cranks like to pay for.'
That much, very much, bad furniture is made, of the jerriest construction and of the poorest materials, cannot be denied, but such defective work is to attributed only in a very small degree to the subdivision of labour, if, indeed, this is the cause of any of it. I would instead be inclined to say that the demand for cheap, or, rather, low-priced furniture, has originated much of the excessive subdivision which exists, and so great is the competition that the tendency is increasing in this direction. Many of the men called by courtesy, or popularly considered, cabinet-makers, are not so; they are specialists who make one article or class of article only, and are entirely ignorant both of the construction of other pieces of furniture and of the general principles of cabinet-making. This is particularly the case in London, whence a very large proportion of the furniture used throughout Great Britain emanates. Made under trade conditions there, much of it is utterly bad; so bad, that were the material any better than it is, one would be inclined to look on it as a waste of wood. Nevertheless, there is considerable sale for such rubbish, the manufacture of which would otherwise soon cease, and we find that the perverted ingenuity of many of the so-called cabinet-makers has enabled them to put together with the smallest amount of labour, and in utter defiance of all constructive considerations, beyond that of low price, things which to those who have no more than a superficial or ordinary acquaintance with furniture look and seem all right, while new. As soon as they get used, their quality is clear enough even to the most unsophisticated. If, then, furniture of the class alluded to is to cease from occupying the prominent place it does, the purchaser must be willing to pay a reasonable price for good work. There is no difficulty in obtaining it. Some of that done by special makers even is good, especially considering the conditions under which it is made. In case it may be thought that I am unduly severe on London cabinet - makers, it may be said that no one is more willing to admit the skill of many of them, perhaps even of the great majority, although there are far too many who might well be spared in the interests of good furniture production. Even among the small classes into which cabinet-makers are divided, there are some who are good all-round men, but the inevitable tendency among those who make only one kind of thing is towards inefficiency in making anything else. They get out of the run, as it were, of being general cabinet-makers, and instead become limited in their sphere. We thus find men who are makers of sideboards, wardrobes, toilet-tables, dining - tables, writing-tables, chests of drawers, bookcases, as well as the miscellaneous odds and ends known as fancy cabinet articles. Of course, in their own special lines these men are generally expert, and can work much more speedily, and therefore more cheaply, than those cabinet-makers who are able to undertake to make any article of furniture. Such specialism is not, however, of advantage to the worker, and cannot be considered conducive to the development of skill. A specialist rarely gets far from his own groove, whereas the man who has a good general knowledge of construction can have no great difficulty in turning his attention to any class of work which may demand it. From a trade or commercial point of view, subdivision of the general cabinet-making industry into a number of smaller ones may be a necessity, but I strongly urge the beginner to endeavour, as far as possible, to qualify himself for general work. If a ' carcase' worker, he will, at any rate, be none the worse off for being able to make a dining - table or anything else. Although London has been mentioned as the headquarters of specialism, the tendency towards it is more or less evident in large towns, though not to the same extent. From the nature of things it cannot be, so that on the whole the provincial cabinet-maker may almost be regarded as a more competent all-round worker than his metropolitan confrere. I am afraid this view of the matter may not be agreeable to all, but it is the result of many years' observation, and I may say I have no desire to exalt the country worker at the expense of the other. At the same time, I certainly cannot agree with so many Londoners who assume that the headquarters of cabinet-making skill are in and about the Curtain Road. For cleverness in making up cheap work its neighbourhood has the pre-eminence, for no cabinet-maker elsewhere could pretend to turn out such furniture. It will be understood that only a few of the subdivisions have been named, for there is hardly an article of furniture which has not its special makers. They make more or less in quantities, or, perhaps it will be better to say, as many of the masters are only in a small way of business, never make anything out of their ordinary run, and it is no uncommon thing to find methods adopted which are not generally practised, and cannot be spoken of with praise. It is, in fact, an approach to machine work; good, sometimes, in itself when not abused and within limits, but not suitable for the amateur, nor beneficial to the individual worker, nor conducive to general excellence.