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Chippendale - Materials Used

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



It is recorded that Chippendale chose the best materials for his work. That we can readily understand, for the lasting qualities and beautiful workmanship of the genuine antiques of his day show no traces of careless selection of materials or of hurried workmanship: In his early days Thomas Chippendale was doubtless accustomed to carve the walnut then in vogue ; but when his matured experience was ripe for the newer style of design another and more suitable material was at hand. It was indeed an epoch-making event in the furniture trade when the first log of mahogany was shipped to this country. The story of its importation reads like a romance. In the year 1720 the logs of mahogany, an unknown wood to either builders or cabinet-makers, made their appearance. It seems ridiculous to us now, knowing the valuable uses to which mahogany has been put during the last two centuries, when we learn that a candle - box was the first domestic article manufactured of the new wood. It was made by a cabinet - maker named Wollaston for Dr Gibbon, whose brother, a West Indian sea captain, had brought the timber over. He had intended it for the beams of a new house his brother was building, but it was discarded by the builders as being unworkable, but eventually a piece of the wood was put to a practical purpose, as has been already suggested.

The incident related records the introduction of mahogany into this country, but it was some time afterwards before cabinet - makers discarded walnut in its favour. Chippendale was one of those who saw in the new wood a material well suited to the wood - carver's art. The mahogany at that time used for cabinet work, and especially for chair-making, was mostly obtained from Central America, the West Indian Islands, and Mexico. It was straight, hard - grained wood, free from knots, shakes, or sap, and did not warp. Such wood was exceedingly durable, and took a high polish. It varied, however, and gave the worker opportunity of selection—indeed, the selection of the wood according to its suitability for the work to be performed was a matter of importance. It was in this careful selection that Thomas Chippendale and his contemporaries excelled, and it is owing to their knowledge of timber and its possibilities that so many fine examples of Chippendale chairs and tables have come down to us in excellent condition, and free from the breakages which faults in the timber would have occasioned.

The preparation of mahogany required attention, such personal attention as Thomas Chippendale gave to the materials he used. The fine rich golden brown finish was obtained without staining, although where it was thought necessary it could be shaded from a red to brown-red black by using bichromate of potash in water. The mahogany of Chippendale, however, was nearly all left a natural colour and polished. It has become darker with age, and in many instances has lost the brilliance of. its original polish in course of the many cleanings it has undergone.

It should be noted that the finest old " Spanish" mahogany used in the later portion of the Chippendale period came from Cuba. The San Domingo curl and finely-figured mahogany was seldom used before 1775.



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