21st June 1786. The Big Three of 18thc Furniture Design.
Today George Hepplewhite died in 1786. Famous as a furniture designer he was to join two others from the north of England whose names still resonate.
Little is known of Hepplewhite, almost a contemporary of Thomas Chippendale, another furniture designer, except his death certificate, and no pieces of his making are known to exist, his name living-on in his distinctive style of the last quarter of the 18thc.
He was apprenticed at Gillows in Lancaster before moving to St Giles, Cripplegate, London where his distinctive features are slender, curvilinear, shorter, curved chair-arms, straight legs and shield-shaped backs.
On his death his widow Alice continued the business and in 1788 published a book of 300 designs in ‘The Cabinet Maker and Upholsters Guide’.
He followed in the footsteps of Thomas Chippendale, born in Otley, Yorkshire, whose 1754 Gentleman’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director, was the first of the three to publish, his Book of Design, showing his Rococo and mid-Georgian style.
Thomas Sheraton was the last of the three (1751-1806), being born, again born in the north, at Stockton on Tees, where he was apprenticed as a cabinet maker before, as the others, moving to London.
He was later to publish 4 volumes of the Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Drawing Book, but no furniture, as with the others, none traced to his hand.
Where does this leave people today keen to buy antique furniture? How does one know the difference between: Fake, Reproduction and Revival?
The short answer one can’t unless it has impeccable ‘Provinence’. With the ravages of time even genuine period furniture needs some restoration until what’s left is little of the original.
Clever fakists can fool any ‘expert’ and it is well to remember, for example, that on the centennial of Hepplewhite’s death in 1886, thousands of reproductions in his style were made, ironically now valued antiques. Caveat Emptor.