That is the question and I believe the evidence is all there. When I first acquired this extraordinary Secretaire Reading Table, it felt familiar. Over the past 45 years that I have been in this business I have handled a number of pieces stamped by Gillows or provenanced back to this most illustrious firm and there was a very definite house style. Features which occur on one proven example may be seen on others and help to make their makers’ identities known.
The first hint to authorship is often design. In so far as Chippendale would supply everything from a Butler’s tray to a grand Breakfront Bookcase, Gillows also produced a wide range of furniture. This table could so easily have been plain mahogany as a utilitarian item but because it is by Gillows, only the finest timbers were used.
Every where on this the exuberance of the highly figured choicest mahogany is apparent. But it doesn’t stop there – everywhere you look there are tell-tale signs such as the use of contrasting inlaid ovals to the main drawer front with conforming line inlay ovals to the sides. Another pointer is the line inlay going right down the legs all of which are edged in boxwood stringing as is the top and waist.
I am indebted to Susan Stuart who’s wonderful 2 volume study of Gillows is something every good Antique Furniture lover should have in their reference library. Volume II page 335 has pictures of some of the handles commonly used by Gillows;
The oval handle and central boss shown at b. above are identical to those on the drawer front of this piece. Another great Gillows feature is the Rosewood crossbanding featured on the two internal drawers of the secretaire and all around the easel top.
Time and again however, when dealing with pieces by Gillows, it is the ingenuity used to solve problems which characterises their work. In this instance the way the book retaining ledge is applied is just so different to that used by others. Normally, a ledge like this is either on springs located under the flap and which cause it to retract when the stand is lowered to the horizontal position. I have seen this often on so-called architect’s tables. The other standard method is a ledge with two brass pins behind it which slot into two brass collars set into the top. This is the only time I have ever come across a ledge retained by the force of gravity acting on two metal springs under the top at each extreme edge.
From all the above I hope you can now see why I am sure this is a Gillows model but at the end of the day there is more to it. Just look at the whole piece either open or shut – to me it just shrieks “GILLOWS OF LANCASTER”. The consistency of their work allied to their choice timbers, faultless design and ingenuity speaks volumes.
David Harvey is a well known Antiques Dealer who owns WR Harvey & Co (Antiques) Ltd, in the bustling Cotswold market town of Witney, Oxfordshire. He has a life long passion for fine antique furniture and works of Art. You may very well see him at prominent Antiques Fairs up and down the UK but you will always be more than welcome to call in and see him at the shop. His other passions include rowing and down-hill skiing.