The Regency Wardrobe - research & making - Bejewelled
The Melbourne Cabinets
Standing in the Upstairs Drawing room at Firle Place, Sussex is a pair of cabinets attributed to Thomas Chippendale the Elder, c 1771. They are the most important pieces in the room; two ambitious marquetry cabinets in the Neoclassical style, originally paired with a commode that is now at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire. The pieces were probably made for the use of Elizabeth, wife of the 1st Viscount Melbourne, in 1771, for their London townhouse, Melbourne House in Piccadilly, considered one of the grandest townhouses in Regency London.
This is what they look like today:
“The cabinets passed by descent to Lord Melbourne’s daughter Emily Lamb (1787-1869), and thence to the Cowpers of Panshanger, Hertfordshire, by Emily’s marriage to Peter Clavering-Cowper, 5 Earl Cowper of Panshanger (1778-1837). After the death of the childless 7th Earl Cowper in 1905 the cabinets passed to his niece Imogen Grenfell (1905-69), who married Henry, 6th Viscount Gage in 1931. When Panshanger was sold in 1952 some of its contents, including the cabinets, were brought to the home of the Gage family, Firle Place, Sussex.”.
- Burlington Magazine June 2019
But they didn't always look like they do today. Here is a paragraph again from the Burlington magazine:
"As on other Chippendale furniture of the 1770s, the marquetry is made from a combination of naturally coloured and artificially dyed woods. The dominant veneer is holly (Ilex aquifolium), both in its natural white state (for the ground) and dyed in colours (for the detail). Because of the generally small size of holly trees, and because of the difficulty of obtaining unblemished white wood, the veneers used for the ground are narrow, and multiple sections were needed to make up the wider pieces. Holly was the marqueteurs’ preferred wood because its whiteness allows dyes to produce true and intense colour, while at the same time it is dense enough to work cleanly and to engrave well, but not so hard as to be difficult. The next most abundant veneer is what the French call bois satiné (Brosimum rubescens), used here for the crossbandings and mouldings. This provides a lively, somewhat variegated, red/pink/orange framing to the panels of white holly. Other self-coloured woods are South American purple wood (Peltogyne spp.), padouk (Pterocarpus spp._ from Asia or Africa, European barberry (Berberis vulgaris), boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and mulberry (Morus nigra). The colours produced with dyed holly were reds and pinks of various hues, blue, yellow, orange and three shades of green. The dyes used were the same as those used to dye cloth. The reds, pinks and orange were dyed with brazil wood or madder. Indigo was used for blue and to make green,, indigo was mixed with fustic (wig tree, Rhus continus) in different proportions to make different shades. Plain yellow was made with fustic alone. Where shadow was wanted to create shade and perspective the edges of the veneers were dipped into hot sand to darken them."
This is a digitally rendered impression of what it is now believed the cabinets would originally have looked like, in the 18th century, the veneers have darkened and changed over the centuries, until becoming as we view them today
The Sevres Melbourne dessert service is displayed inside the cabinets
Images and text from the Burlington magazine 2019
To read more about the Melbourne cabinets at Firle Place please click here
Miniature cabinets and beautiful boxes in the Regency era
Having been introduced to the Melbourne cabinets and knowing already that I wanted to make a piece, as part of The Regency Wardrobe collection, directly inspired by an attribute of the house and its contents I realised I wanted to make a piece of furniture, the first attempted by The House of Embroidered Paper. I had to look to something smaller than a cabinet meant to display a Sevres dinner service but research showed that, during the Regency, cabinets weren't all taller than people.
A collector for example might have stored his fossils and mineral specimens in a beautiful miniature.
Regency inlaid figured mahogany collector's cabinet with 20 drawers, 18¼'' x 8½'', 24½'' high
But equally a lady might have stored her jewels in a jewellery box similarly designed with doors and drawers, often even more skilfully and decoratively rendered as an example of the furniture makers' art.
(Below top) "Superb and very rare Regency, rosewood and mother of pearl inlaid antique antique jewellery box with writing slope of sarcophagus design. The hinged domed top which opens to reveal small compartments above panelled inlaid doors enclosing 3 inlaid drawers. The bottom drawer is a leather surface writing slope with ink wells and pen tray."
(Above bottom) "Regency Rosewood Jewellery box of sarcophygus form. This lovely larger than usual jewellery box dates to a time of pure elegance and sophistication, Regency England. A time when furniture was being influenced by architecture, all things nautical and Egypt. This box is of sarcophygus outline...The whole is of lovely Rosewood and highly figured with mother of pearl decoration. It opens to reveal a fitted interior with lift out section in original red silk with various compartments for different pieces of jewellery. The lid has a lovely fold out compartment again lined in red silk where letters or documents would have been stored. The whole provided with a fully working lock and key." - http://www.harbourantiques.com/MISC223.htm
And here is another beautiful example:
And in the Regency such decorative boxes were used not only for jewellery but also for keepsakes and often for craft materials. For example:
"English Regency 19th Century Tortoiseshell, Bone, Mother-of-Pearl, Abalone, and Sterling Silver Sewing Box, complete with a mirrored interior lid along with the original sewing accoutrements including awls, thread, thimbles, seam rippers, spools, original pearl, brass, abalone and semi-precious stone buttons, a bodkin, a sterling tape measure with silk tape, and charming mementos including a tiny silver metal candlestick and slipper, cufflinks and other personal treasures belonging to the original owner" - https://cmarianiantiques.com/item-4212/?print=pdf
On this site http://emilyhendrickson.net/regency/regency-crafts-and-pastimes/ the list of crafts mentioned as having been practised during the Regency includes several references to materials having often been stored in a special box. Likewise the tea drunk by the wealthy would have been stored in lovely wooden boxes; so that it could be locked, because of the value of tea in the 18th century
For more examples of jewellery boxes, tea caddies etc from the period please see my Pinterest account:
I acknowledge that the Georgian and Victorian examples of decorative boxes that follow are at the top end of production but it's interesting to compare the types of decoration used pre and post Regency. The latter, as shown above, tend toward painted effects or inlay - using, for example, mother-of-pearl - whilst the more elaborate use of raised metal work and veneer on the two examples that follow is not only quite extraordinarily ornate but also reflective of how fashion likewise changed, broadly from decoration (frills and layers), to a more minimal look, then returning to even more decoration, between these three periods.
For occasions such as The Great Exhibition of 1851 Victorian craftspeople were capable of true magnificence; this piece has such an interesting back story that I had to include some of it below:
Dressing Case from Asprey, Displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851
"This large antique dressing case is