A Very Fine Late 18th Century Satinwood and Snakewood Secretaire cabinet, Almost Certainly by George Simson of London c.1790

12th February 2024

In the manner of George Simson*. A fine George III satinwood and snakewood-veneered secretaire cabinet with boxwood and ebony stringing and purpleheart banding, the upper section with three-quarter gallery above two glazed doors with pointed arch astragals, the projecting base with a deep drawer containing pigeon holes and small drawers, an arched-front apron drawer below and on tapering square legs joined by an undershelf, 167cm high x 78cm wide.

Footnote: For further information on George Simson, see F.H.S. Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840 and Christopher Gilbert Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture1700-1840.

A fine late George III satinwood and snakewood secretaire cabinet, attributed to George Simson of London

The cabinet consisting of a pair of display doors with fine gothic astragal glazing bars above a pull-out secretaire drawer. The cabinet features a fine arched kneehole to allow comfortable seated access and, unusually for pieces in this group attributed to Simson (see below), it also features a finely made undertier or platform stretcher. The piece is inlaid with contrasting panels of finely figured snakewood, a very unusual choice of exotic timber and so-called because the wavy grain looks like a group of serpents.  The piece also employs purpleheart and ebonised stringing, including on the undertier, for a truly sophisticated look that would have been the envy of many a contemporary visitor to the home of the original purchaser. The piece utilises a fine pediment and gallery top, set back so that the top of the piece can be used for the display of vases or other items. The cabinet stands on tapering square legs. The secretaire drawer is finished in the manner that one would expect from a top quality London maker with three arched pigeon holes and numerous small drawers.

This fine secretaire cabinet is one a small number of pieces that can be given with some certainty to the London maker George Simson. The attribution rests on the similarity of these pieces to labelled pieces made by Simson and illustrated in Christopher Gilbert’s Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996), pp. 422-431. A very similar piece, lacking the undertier, was sold at Christie’s on the 18th of November 1993.

This piece of furniture can be described as a writing and display cabinet or simply a secretaire cabinet and was likely designed for the boudoir of a very wealthy and fashionable lady. Despite there being a number of labelled pieces by Simson that have survived, there are few records of the names of his clients and the extent of his commissions. Dr Brian Austen has suggested that he was likely the cabinet maker who made the series of secretaire cabinets, originally including timepieces in the pediments, that are now known as “Weeks cabinets” as pieces of this sort were supplied to Thomas Weeks’ Museum and shop in Tichborne Street, London.

It is rare to be able to attribute English furniture of this date with such confidence to a particular workshop and this is a real collector’s piece.

George Simson (1757-1840)

Based for his entire career in the St Paul’s Churchyard area of London, George Simson traded from a shop at No. 19 from 1787-1839. Surviving labelled pieces demonstrate that Simson made a very wide range of pieces from cutlery boxes to wardrobes and everything in between. Surviving insurance records give some indication of the size of Simson’s business which must have been a large and important one given the amount of cover that he required. Simson’s only confirmed customers at this point are the Grimston family (Gorhambury House in Hertfordshire) and the 2nd Viscount Palmerston, probably for furniture supplied to Broadlands House in Hampshire. If Dr Austen’s theory about Simson and the Weeks cabinets is correct then it may well be that much of Simson’s business was conducted through middlemen and retailers which would make tracing commissions all the more difficult. What is beyond dispute is that the quality of Simson’s output was consistently high and this piece, with its particularly exotic veneers, is remarkable even in that context.

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