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'Furniture Attributions & Associations'






In 2016, Siri has all the answers... right?
"Who was Thomas Chippendale?"
"What is the Georgian period?"
"Will that old ink stain show through a new coat of wax?"
"Who made this piece of furniture?"

Good question!
We live in a time of information abundance - available at the speed of thought.
However, the internet is filled with opinions disguised as facts, resulting in many "published" inaccuracies.
Scholarship also continually changes as new facts are documented.
So how can one answer that question :"who made this piece of furniture?"

Silver - God bless the British assay offices - has been meticulously marked for identification since the 1400's.
While journals recording Britain's 'cabinetmakers' have been compiled only since the late 1700's,
 attributions or associations can often be made by looking at construction methods, material, and 'style'.
 However, 'style' is complicated by prominent names :
i.e. Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton
were so popular in their time that they each inspired their own 'style'!

(As a note, Hepplewhite and Sheraton were designers only - not documented as actual cabinetmakers!)

When Thomas Chippendale produced the first Gentleman's and Cabinet Maker's Director in 1754, 

 he introduced the printed device for other cabinetmakers and designers (as Hepplewhite and Sheraton)

to also make public - and freely available to anyone - theirown 'style' and trademark designs.



To further complicate matters :

a 'stylistic' timeline was well established by the 19th century - as people began to deal in 18th century antiques.

There arose a custom wherein retailers attached names of famous designers

(as with Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton) to furniture visually similar in 'style'.

We know this thanks to evolving scholarship. This practice often remains - erroneously.

Eventually, only the name of the reigning monarch was assigned to the 'style' popular at the time.


Herewith, we will 'attempt' to clarify some furniture attribution / association categories -

an area in which even the most astute auction houses tread lightly :


Note : All examples below are in stock and available for purchase. 

Click the images or titles for the 'full detail pages'.






Inscribed, branded, labeled, stenciled, or chalked with the name of the maker.

A signature is generally the highest level of certainty when tracing a furniture maker.

French cabinetmakers after 1743 were required to stamp their pieces, and the guild-related JME

(Jurande des Menuisiers-Ébénistes) would add their stamp,

once the piece had passed examination for quality standards.
Under 10% of American cabinet makers 'marked' their pieces prior to 1830.
In Britain, there were no such requirements or traditions for cabinetmakers. **

Therefore, it is exceedingly rare to find marked British furniture - but possible.


Some cabinet makers - more so in the 19th century - did mark their furniture.
This exquisite library table, for instance, is stamped "W. WHITEHEAD" to one drawer.
(This table is fitted with a rare eight working drawers - as opposed to the usual 4, with 4 dummy drawers.
Every drawer or piece would not necessarily be stamped.)
A family of Whitehead cabinetmakers, including William Whitehead,

 is documented as working in the Lancaster area during the first half of the 19th century,.
The design and construction methods of this table date it to c.1815.
So, we may assign this with certainty to the William Whitehead of Lancaster, c1815



Regency Mahogany Drum Table, c1815, signed W. Whitehead

 and Having 8 Functional Drawers


**  The Worshipful Clockmakers Company, established in 1631 by Royal Charter,
required clock makers to sign their work.






Attribute suggests less tentativeness than ascribe - less definiteness than assign.
An "attribution" identifies common design, construction, or quality elements with a certain maker.
"Attributed to" is the closest one can come to identification
without definitive and literal signature markings.
Therefore, furniture examples as this Commode
(termed "bedside cabinet" in Chippendale's Director)
are "attributed to Thomas Chippendale",
meaning we can be reasonably sure of its origin even without a signature.

It is interesting to note that Chippendale never signed his furniture.
Construction details, original invoices, and household inventories have traditionally been used for his attributions.

We further attribute to makers based upon a study of known examples of their work.

In the case of Thomas Chippendale, houses that still contain

original documentation for furniture directly delivered from the maker -

as Dumfries House, Harewood Hall, and Nostell Priory -
provide a strong and extensive basis for scholars.


Fine Early George III Cuban Mahogany Bedside Commode
Attributed to Thomas Chippendale, England, c1765

The Process :

Any claimed attribution should be able to point to multiple specific physical elements.
For this commode, the overall quality of design and use of heavy Cuban mahogany was not enough.

Three definitive components were characteristic of Chippendale's workshop :

1. Red wash : A watered down red paint was

sometimes applied to the back and underside of
very fine furniture, as the iron oxide acted as a
bug repellant to protect unfinished woods.
Thomas Chippendale, Mayhew and Ince,
as well as other top-tier makers
were known to use this technique
So it intimates a fine maker,
but cannot stand alone as a basis for an attribution.












2. Laminated feet : The inside construction of all four feet comprises layers of wood stacked vertically
and cut to a molded D-shape, as opposed
 to one solid block of wood.
This construction method is known to have been
used by Thomas Chippendale's workshop,
Again, the laminated feet alone are not conclusive.













3. Brasses : This rocaille design of fire-gilt bails and
back plates were used by Chippendale on
cabinetry as featured by Christopher Gilbert in

The Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale, Volume II,
including : below right, fig. 270, detail from
a commode from Goldsborough Hall, (p.127);
also a clothes-press from Harewood House (p. 139);
and library table from Dumfries House (p. 236).


















A phrase found in the "body of a catalog description" -

a motif that can be associated with known examples.

Absence of any empirical evidence - it cannot be currently attributed.


Below, is a Cuban mahogany adjustable reading table of very fine quality -

featuring rarely found pierced legs

The craftsmanship needed to carry the weight and movement on this openwork requires a master cabinetmaker. 

Thomas Chippendale and Mayhew & Ince are documented as employing

this difficult tripod on anything larger than a kettle stand, tea table or fire screen

( Mayhew and Ince kettle stands are pictured in the illustration at the top).


Due to the combination of known neoclassical designs used and superior technical skill required,

Mayhew and Ince are more likely to be credited - yet not specifically attributed. 


Therefore, this reading table is "Associated With" the body of work of Mayhew and Ince.



Fine Early George III Adjustable Reading Table

England, c1765, with ratcheted top and pierced legs, extending to 45.5" in height



"Reading or Music Desks", Plate XXVI, Mayhew & Ince,

"Universal System of Household Furniture" (1762-3)






Lacking definitive markings and enough concrete characteristics for a full attribution,

but portraying similar artistic or construction elements as known pieces by a named maker or period.
Thus, "in the manner of" usually implies a time period contemporary to the credited maker.

While elements are common to a certain maker,

they are not exclusive enough to rule out the possibility of others -

so less definitive than "Associated With"

Specific physical examples should be available to point to characteristics used in the identification. 

The below set of fine rosewood and mahogany nesting tables, for example, are described as

"In the manner of George Smith (1808)".

The tops with ebonized rims and inlaid with satinwood,

the legs raised on carved overscroll bases ending in turned toupie feet,

this particular form with toupie feet shown in George Smith's 1808 catalog "Household Furniture".  

It is possible that further investigation could prove these tables to be

"Associated With", or even "Attributed To".


Fine George III Rosewood &Mahogany Quartetto Nest of Tables

England, c1810


Note :
"Quartetto tables" were shown in both Thomas Sheraton's Cabinet Makers’ Dictionary of Design (1805) ,

 where they were suggested for sewing usage,

and George Smith's Household Furniture (1808), as 'refreshment tables' :



As illustrated in MacQuoid & Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, Tables, Fig, 22






In the very fine mouse-type at the end of most major auction house catalogs:
"(In our) qualified opinion the piece is an intentional copy of an earlier design."

There can be a large difference in very small words :

something offered as "Queen Anne" is not at all the same as "Queen Anne Style".

Style will always be outside of the period it is mimicking.

The piece was not created to deceive or 'made up' out of older woods,

but was simply built using those tried and true designs from older makers

to create contemporary pieces at a lower cost.

The challenge is that after 100 years, these Georgian-style pieces have
gained enough patina to pass a cursory inspection - are thought to be 18th century.
They are therefore bought and sold as such.






The history of ownership of a valued object.

The first known use of the term was in the late 18th century.
Simply put – provenance is the documented history of the piece.

While provenance alone does not determine the value of a piece, it can add to (or subtract from)

the desirability and value of a piece regardless of maker.

After all, isn't Liberace's piano more interesting than my neighbor Fred's piano??

Provenance is beneficial for collectors since it can add to the reputation of a piece.

It can also assure a buyer that other museums or collectors with well-respected qualifications have approved it.

Provenance may be offered in a number of ways : armorials and coats of arms are common in silver or glass.

Furniture provenance may be claimed by referencing bills of sale, original delivery labels,

older catalogs, pictures of pieces in a certain collection or home,

or even "by repute" via word of mouth, or duration of family ownership.

However, much caution should be taken :

 "original bills of sale" may simply be printed on older paper,

labels may be moved from one piece to another,

and length of time in a certain family may be embellished.

This elegant walnut open armchair (England, c1720) carries 80 years of

documented history as part of the Colonial Williamsburg Collection,

bearing the 1936 museum acquisition inventory number 1936-291

(verified onsite in Williamsburg's archived inventory books).



Colonial Williamsburg archived documents reflect purchase of this chair

from Christie's London in 1936, with subsequent exhibition locations of

Governors Palace, Burt House, and Lightfoot House.



George I Walnut Open Armchair

England, c1720

Provenance : Colonial Williamsburg Collection
bearing museum acquisition label, 1936-291



Some provenance is merely "by repute", meaning there is no written documentation.
Perhaps the history is only verbal, perhaps a portion of the pages were lost at some time.
Older catalogs had only descriptive text - no images were used, adding to the difficulty.

A good example of "by repute" :
Provenance : The Earls Fitzwilliam, Wentworth, Woodhouse, Yorkshire, by Repute,;
 accompanied by an old advertising "paste up", bearing that seller's price - ours is quite different!;
Estate of David H. Wilson, NY / NJ



George II Mahogany & Parcel Gilt Bureau Cabinet

England, 1745
Provenance : Wentworth Woodhouse, by Repute







But the majority of the time, we cannot know any of the above details about a piece of furniture.

We can tell you the wood. We can even tell you the secondary wood.

We can look at construction and give you the approximate date.

(Incidentally, "circa" includes 10 years on either side of the date given, so c1730 is between 1720 and 1740)

We can describe the surfaces and any metal mounts - give you the condition - spell it all correctly.

Beyond that, 9 times out of 10 we cannot know much more.


And that's OK.


Not everything can be known...

and really, isn't that possibility part of the fascination

 Part of the mystery?

Part of this addiction?

 Trying to learn 'just that one more thing'?


                           Caroline Kelly

                                                  for M. Ford Creech Antiques 



click the above images or titles for more information and images.


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Should you have additional questions,

please do not hesitate to email or call.


Millicent Creech

Caroline Kelly

Keith Rainer



901-761-1163 (gallery) / 901-827-4668 (cell)



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mfcreech@bellsouth.net  or  mfordcreech@gmail.com



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What's In A Name? / British Furniture Attribution & Association