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Hepplewhite - The Cabinet Maker And Upholsterer's Guide

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In addition to those articles of furniture mentioned as indicating the characteristics of George Hepplewhite's style by which collectors and connoisseurs may identify their antiques, there are others which might be quoted as truly setting forth his handiwork. Many of the more important pieces designed by Hepplewhite, and in many instances executed in later years by his firm, are illustrated in " The Guide," and a description of their chief features applies just as much to the craftsmanship of the firm by whom " The Guide " was published, therefore they may appropriately be mentioned in a review of " the firm's " work, without in any way disparaging the work of its founder.

First of all reference must be made to " The Guide " itself, which it should be clearly understood was not published until after George Hepplewhite's death, which occurred in 1786. It was Hepplewhite's widow Alice and her partners who, under the firm style of A. Hepplewhite & Co. published " The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide " in 1788. Many of the designs, although taken, probably, from original sketches by George Hepplewhite, were not engraved until the year before the actual publication of the book, for they bear dates varying from July to October in the year 1787. Incidentally, the run on the book is indicated by the publication of a second edition in 1789, and again after a lapse of a few years, during which the Hepplewhite firm was gaining increased popularity, a final edition was published in 1794.

This remarkable book, to give it the full descriptive title appearing on the front page, was " The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide ; or, Repository of Designs for every Article of Household Furniture, in the Newest and Most Approved Taste." The authors then reiterated the chief contents of the work, which were as follows :—" Chairs, Stools, Sofas, Confidante, Duchesse, Sideboards, Pedestals and Vases, Cellarettes, Knife - cases, Desk and Book-cases, Secretary and Bookcases, Library Cases, Library Tables, Reading Desks, Chests of Drawers, Urn Stands, Tea Caddies, Tea Trays, Card Tables, Pier Tables, Pembroke Tables, Tambour Tables, Dressing Glasses, Dressing Tables and Drawers, Commodes, Rudd's Table, Bidets, Night Tables, Basin Stands, Wardrobes, Pot Cupboards, Brackets, Hanging Shelves, Fire Screens, Beds, Field Beds, Sweep Tops for ditto, Bed Pillars, Candle Stands, Lamps, Pier Glasses, Terms for Busts, Cornices for Library, Cases, Wardrobes, etc., at large, Ornamental Tops for Pier Tables, Pembroke Tables, Commodes, etc., etc."

After the manner of the day the publishers made an apology for their work, and also commented on the difficulties of the task they had undertaken, concluding with the following words : " To unite elegance and utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable, has ever been considered a difficult but an honourable task."

First of all A. Hepplewhite & Co., in publishing what is, perhaps, more than most of the other books of that day, a trade catalogue, endeavoured to explain the advantages of uniform and, as far as art entered into house furnishings in those days, artistic surroundings. They pointed out two of their plates illustrating the complete appointment of a room (copies of " The Guide " together with the design books of Chippendale, Sheraton, and others, are on view at the Print Room in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and may also be seen in the British Museum Library), about which they say : " Having gone through a complete series of suite of Household Furniture we were strongly advised to draw out a plan which should show the manner of properly disposing of the same : with this intent, aided by the advice of some experienced friends, we here show, at one view, the necessary and proper furniture for a Drawing-room, and also for a Dining-room or Parlour, subject to the following variations : If the object of this plan was a Drawing-room only—on each side the Chimney-piece there should be a sofa, and on the opposite side instead of a sofa, should be a confidante : the sideboard also should be removed, and an elegant commode substituted in the place : the remaining space may be filled up with chairs. For a Dining-room, instead of pier-tables, should be a set of dining-tables ; the rest of the furniture and the general ordonnance of the room is equally proper, except the glass over the sofa, which might be omitted : but this is a mere opinion, many of the Dining Parlours of our first nobility having full as much glass as here shown. The proper furniture for a Drawing-room, and for a Dining-room parlour being thus pointed out, it remains only to observe that the general appearance of the latter should be plain and neat, while the former, being considered a state room, should possess all the elegance embellishments can give."

It is quite evident that A. Hepplewhite & Co. at that time were wishful to secure Continental trade, and no doubt many of their lists, or more correctly copies of " The Guide," found their way to France and other countries. In an explanation of the view held by English makers, the authors of " The Guide " say : " English taste and workmanship have of late been much sought for by surrounding nations, and the mutability of all things, but more especially fashion, has rendered the labours of our predecessors in this line of little use ; nay, at this day, they can only tend to mislead those foreigners who seek a knowledge of English taste in the various articles of household furniture." There seems to have been an injudicious method of attracting attention by running down other maker's products, prevailing among the publishers of eighteenth-century catalogues. Sheraton, in his " Drawing Book," referred to in another chapter, has something to say about " The Guide," published by A. Hepplewhite & Co. Writing in a somewhat sarcastic and derogatory vein, he says, " This work (` The Guide ' ) has already caught the decline, and perhaps in a little time will suddenly die in the disorder." He then goes on to refer to another book published in the same year entitled " The Book of Prices," saying that the designs in that book were " more fashionable and useful " than those in " The Guide," " in proportion to their number." With such a book in the hands of their clients it is not surprising that Mrs Hepplewhite and her partners continued to progress, and that we have to-day so many beautiful pieces indicating the general- excellence of Hepplewhite's designs, and of the craftsmanship practised in his work-shops, notwithstanding the adverse criticism of other makers.

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