trade at all. Most laboured for long hours at home surrounded by handles, locks and hinges, pots of glue and polish, strips of glass-paper and rosewood, walnut, oak and satinwood veneers. Many used rare-wood scraps acquired from great masters and piano makers as raw material.
Fancy cabinet makers also created intricately designed functional pieces evocative of cabinets from previous eras. Fold-down writing desks featured convenient slots and cubby-holes for paper, pens and stamps, while mirrored toilette-tables bore nests of drawers. In addition to drawers, massive fine-wood secretaires often featured cupboards, hinged trays, shelves, and glass-fronted bookcases.
General cabinet makers, in contrast, created large, simple, utilitarian pieces like dining room tables, wardrobes, chiffoniers and sideboards. To ease workloads, many hired apprentices and paid them a pittance.
Mastering the craft
Apprentices mastered the trade by moving from one cabinetry shop to the next, although this might take years. Up to 1819, a an apprenticeship of seven years was typical. Afterwards, many became journeymen, tasked to create pieces independently from start to finish. This entailed cutting project components according to sketched designs (while hiding defects in the wood and highlighting their attractive qualities), then planing, molding, carving, joining, gluing and veneering their work as needed. On completing their internships and acquiring basic tools, journeymen often opened their own shops.
Some then worked exclusively as sawyers, carvers, turners, engravers or French polishers, either completing the work of others or mass-producing furniture components. Others, less skilled perhaps, massproduced specific pieces of furniture over and over again. Bedstead makers, for instance, joined pre-carved or pre-turned ‘posters’ to simple mahogany or birch wood frames.
Chair makers, catering to all palates and pockets, produced not only carved, painted, stained, and ‘ japanned’ frames, but bases for cabriole-legged and ‘s’-shaped tête-à-tête sofas. Others were drawer, loo-table, gipsy-table, or looking-glass frame makers.
Many cabinet makers ‘scamped’ wares in great haste, supplying them to ‘slaughter houses’ or ‘ linen drapers’ – retailers who hawked them at rock-bottom prices. Because quantity usually replaced quality, scampers, within the trade, were known as ‘slop’ workers. They also hired low-cost apprentices who, as they became independent, hired apprentices of their own.
By 1861, this glut of inferior workers not only lowered general wages, but undercut profits of highly skilled craftsmen.
Because general cabinetry products varied in so many ways, their prices varied as well. In the 1880s, for example, simple hall-tables sold for £ 2 each, while mahogany toilette-tables,
Cabinet makers creating Cotswold- style furniture, 1923