11617 A LARGE FINELY FIGURED ROSEWOOD COLLECTOR’S CABINET OF UNUSUAL FORM English. Mid-Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 40″ (101.6 cm) Width: 44″ (111.7 cm) Depth: 24″ (60.9 cm).
Of Brazilian rosewood and mahogany. In two parts; the upper section with veneered top and shallow four-sided gallery and D-molded edge. Three paneled door fronts are divided by four projecting reeded corbels, the central door with keyhole brass escutcheon is detachable while the flanking doors are hinged. The doors and panel open to reveal a fully fitted interior of drawers and trays with paired brass knobs. The taller lower part topped by a D-molded edge above a plain slim single channel frieze. The front formed as a single detachable lift-out panel faced by conforming three panels divided by four reeded-edge corbels. The lower D-molded plinth above four bun feet. The single-section front panel detaches to reveal a further fully fitted interior comprising three graduated banks of drawers and trays. Minor repairs. Some of the internal drawers have been joined to create a single low-sided tray at some early point in the history of the cabinet. The façade of the upper part apparently once a single panel but hinged at sometime early in the cabinet’s history. Some brass knobs replaced.
The lower drawer of the bottom section painted in large letters:
The underside of a drawer in the lower section inscribed in pencil:
Charles Dickens and left 2
The lock to the upper section struck with R.C. & S. within a coronet and stamped Secure lever twice.
The lock to the lower section stamped Secure Lever
This unusual collector’s cabinet comprises two sections with five drawers in the upper section running the length of the cabinet, and two banks of eight drawers of graduated size to lower section. It is known to have housed a coin collection, perhaps in the shallow, velvet-lined drawers of the upper section. However, the underside of a drawer in the lower section is labeled “Charles Dickens,” suggesting that at one time the cabinet possibly also contained a collection of manuscripts.
The architectural exterior of the cabinet is paneled with finely figured rosewood, punctuated by projecting reeded corbels on each level. Most interestingly, however, the multitude of drawers is concealed mainly behind locked panels, rather than doors; the entire front of lower section must be removed for access, and, while the sides of the upper section have now been fashioned as doors, a central panel must also be removed in order to open any of the drawers (this section was also originally a single panel). The relative difficulty of access may have provided a level of security for the cabinet’s contents.
The locks to the upper and lower panels are struck with the stamps R.C. & S within a coronet, as well as “Secure Lever.” The lock manufactory firm of Richard Cooper was founded in Wolverhampton in 1817, and in 1835 he took his son, William into partnership. They advertised as the sole proprietor and manufacturer of lever locks, which generally began to be made circa 1855 and “possess[ed] great security (and such security as would defy any attempt to open them)” as well as affordability. The best class of leverwork did not use machinery, but was entirely forged by the workman himself.1 Such fine state of the art locks reinforces the view that the cabinet housed collections of high value.
Preeminent collector-connoisseurs of the day often had pieces designed specifically to contain their collections. Examples include an ebony cabinet mounted with precious stones dating from 1784 and belonging to Horace Walpole (1717–97), made for the display drawings by one of his favorite artists, Lady Diana Beauclerk. William Beckford of Fonthill Abbey and Landsdowne Tower owned a number of architecturally-inspired pieces “intended to house his most precious objects.”2 Two medal cabinets made as part of the “Grand Medal Case” were supplied to King George III by William Vile circa 1760. Each three-tiered cabinet contained 135 drawers and could house more than 6,000 coins and medals. Today they are separated and each forms part of the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Victoria and Albert museum. Finally, the library of Nostell Priory contains a built-in medal case by Thomas Chippendale circa 1767 for Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet.