A highlight of our forthcoming Fine Furniture & Works of Art auction on 02 May in Edinburgh will be an impressive mid-19th century dining table, of exceptional quality and design, most likely the work of the pre-eminent London furniture maker Jackson & Graham.
The firm of Jackson & Graham, established in 1836, they were one of the leading cabinetmakers and decorators of the mid-19th century, exhibiting widely, showing at Paris in 1855, London again in 1862, and Paris in 1867 and 1878, and Vienna in 1873. Their clients included Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Grand Khedive at Cairo, and the Royal Palace in Siam, and would have appealed to Victorian industrialists and merchants to furnish their homes.
Constructed from an array of exotic hardwoods chosen for their contrasting colours and grains, and banded with ebonised moulding, it relies on decorative motifs consistent with the designs of Owen Jones, whose The Grammar of Ornament was a seminal manual for the applied and decorative arts from its publication in 1856. Jackson & Graham were unique in that they employed a resident design staff, and hired well-known designers for their more important pieces, including Bruce Talbert and Christopher Dresser. Jones worked closely with the firm, influencing their work with innovative designs, even planning their premises on Oxford Street in London. He contributed designs for ranges of carpets, wallpapers, textiles and other furnishings, and it is essentially his influence that defines the Jackson and Graham look. Jackson and Graham eventually succumbed to a weak financial outlook and ceased trading in 1885, absorbed by their competitor Collinson & Lock.
This dining table exhibits many of the characteristics of pieces made by the firm, including the remarkable engineering involved in its construction. Closed, it collapses to a neat circle with the legs evenly spaced, but when fully extended, the table only requires these six legs for support. The interior timbers are mahogany, an extravagance not typical of standard tables of the period which would have relied on the more prosaic oak. Integrated clips secure the leaves in place and are all patent stamped by the firm Cope and Collinson, who also provided the castors and were suppliers of hardware to the best cabinetmakers. The top is banded with a series of light and dark woods of varying thickness, with the outer moulded edge ebonised, a stylistic feature regularly used by Jackson & Graham.
The faceted tapered legs are inlaid with a series of classical motifs and are an amalgam of Etruscan and Greek designs popular in the mid-Victorian period, referenced to the series of ‘Greek’ designs for in Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament.
The Towers, Didsbury, designed by Thomas Worthington in the German Gothic style, was, as the architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner described, ‘the grandest of all Manchester mansions’. Built for John Edward Taylor, founder of the Manchester Guardian, Taylor’s ownership was short-lived and in 1874 the house was sold to the engineer Daniel Adamson. In June of 1882 Adamson arranged a meeting at The Towers, with sixty-eight prominent leaders, businessmen, and financiers in attendance, to propose the building of the The Manchester Ship Canal. During the Great War, the house was used as a recreation centre for war wounded and in 1920 it was sold to the British Cotton Industry Research Association, later called the Shirley Institute.
The table was a suitable choice for such a prestigious home. The dining room, which measures 30ft x 20ft, was described in the The Building News as having “joiner’s work … of the choicest wainscot”, and would have required an equally impressive table. The dining room became the boardroom of the Shirley Institute, and it was from there that it was acquired by the present owner’s father in the 1960s. Dating to the 1870s, it would have stayed with the house when it was sold for commercial use in 1920, probably because of its size, as it extends to nearly five and a half metres.