started his company in Tottenham Court Road by purchasing number 155 in the 1820s. He was involved in supplying textiles to the burgeoning interior decoration market in London. He must have done well and quickly because he soon purchased numbers 154 and 156, either side of the original building. With his newly expanded premises, the shop was restructured and the stock was expanded. The new premises included a haberdashers and a carpet warehouse, as well as expanded accommodation for the stock of textiles, which included wool, silk and linen.
By the 1880s the company had expanded to such an extent that the business had to move again, this time into premises that functioned as an early department store. The new store was popular from the start. One aspect that proved popular with customers was the detailed displays of interior decorative schemes. Furniture, textiles, carpets and various accessories would be laid out as they would be seen in a real interior. This made it much easier for customers to perceive what their purchases would look like outside the constraints of the department store. It was also a good retail trick as it encouraged customers to buy whole ensembles, which they could reconstruct in their own home without having to hire an interior designer or sort out interior schemes themselves. This marketing trick is still used extensively today by such retail giants as Ikea.
By the 1870s, the company had started to design and manufacture their own furniture. This furniture, along with other interior accessories, were displayed in a series of catalogues that started to appear from about 1873 onwards. The catalogues were meant to expand the appeal of James Shoolbred & Co beyond their department store, and more importantly, beyond London.
Furniture design became an increasingly important aspect of the company and therefore played a large part in the catalogues that the company produced every year. All the major fashionable Revival movements were included, ranging from Gothic to Japanese, and included the numerous French styles.
Interestingly, because James Shoolbred & Co produced catalogues that were so detailed and wide ranging, many were used as literal pattern books in order to copy the latest London styles. This was a particular problem in far-flung British outposts like Australia and New Zealand where there was a brisk trade in James Shoolbred & Co furniture design, with details being worked out from the illustrations generously provided by the company. This furniture was then passed off as being part of a locally designed production.
The catalogues today are an intriguing view of interior tastes and styles of the later nineteenth century and are an invaluable tool, as are all catalogues, for any researcher, historian or anyone with an interest in the history of domestic interior design and decoration.
Despite James Shoolbred & Co’s popularity and market presence, the company struggled after the market crash of 1929 and closed for good in 1931.
Mahogany is probably one of the largest ‘families’ of hardwood, having many different varieties within its own species.
Mahogany has been used for centuries in ship building, house building, furniture making etc and is the core structure of just about every 19th century vanity box, dressing case or jewellery box. It became more of a Victorian trend to dress Mahogany with these decorative veneers, such as Rosewood, Kingwood, Burr Walnut and Coromandel, so that the actual Mahogany was almost hidden from view.
Mahogany itself is a rich reddish brown wood that can range from being plain in appearance to something that is so vibrant, figured and almost three dimensional in effect.
Although Mahogany was most often used in its solid form, it also provided some beautifully figured varieties of veneer like ‘Flame’ Mahogany and ‘Fiddleback’ Mahogany (named after its preferred use in the manufacture of fine musical instruments).
Cuban Mahogany was so sought after, that by the late 1850′s, this particular variety became all but extinct.
is a hard and durable wood with a satinlike sheen, much used in cabinetmaking, especially in marquetry. It comes from two tropical trees of the family Rutaceae (rue family). East Indian or Ceylon satinwood is the yellowish or dark-brown heartwood of Chloroxylon swietenia.
The lustrous, fine-grained, usually figured wood is used for furniture, cabinetwork, veneers, and backs of brushes. West Indian satinwood, sometimes called yellow wood, is considered superior. It is the golden yellow, lustrous, even-grained wood found in the Florida Keys and the West Indies.
It has long been valued for furniture. It is also used for musical instruments, veneers, and other purposes. Satinwood is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Sapindales, family Rutaceae.
is one of the most famous pieces of campaign furniture, which was named after the 1st Duke of Wellington. The campaign furniture were made for travel so they had to be very compact and practical. They are recogniseable because they had to be easy to dismantle and fold.
This type of chest was first seen in the 1820's and is characterised by their tall narrow shape, and usually with a locking flap on one side, which when closed, prevents any of the drawers from opening. They continued to be made in the Victorian period in mahogany, walnut and rosewood.
Some had a fitted secretaire occupying two drawer heights, but these are not considered as desirable as the all-drawer model. Due to their compact size, Wellington chests are keenly sought and command high prices. Watch for secretaire versions that have been converted back to full-drawer models, the give-away being the new drawer linings in two of the drawers.