The ormolu-mounted bookcase, with its Etruscan-black inlay, is conceived in the French antique manner promoted by the connoisseur Thomas Hope (d. 1842) in the first decade of the 19th century. Reeded pillars, sunk in pilasters, support a temple frieze enriched with Doric triglyphs; while the 'commode', beneath an inlaid frieze of palms and a lozenge-framed star, displays bas-reliefs inspired by Greek coinage and symbolic of Wisdom. Palm-flowered myrtles wreath the name 'Athena' (Minerva) in the Greek letters of 'Alpha' and 'Theta' and owls, a common attribute of the deity that were often accompanied by books.
Owls and stars embellished the black marble chimneypiece of the Egyptian Room of Hope's Duchess Street mansion/museum, and this was illustrated in his Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807 (pl. XVI). The modelling of the bas-reliefs has been attributed to the bronze founder Alexis Decaix (d. 1811), whose work was praised by Hope in Household Furniture. They also feature on The Anglesey Desk, which has been attributed to Messrs. Marsh and Tatham of Mount Street (sold by the Executors of the late Sir John Musker, Christie's, London, 8 July 1993, lot 125).
This bookcase's pillars and palm-capped pilasters also appear on a bookcase that is thought to have been designed for London's Mansion House, while George Dance Junior (d. 1825) was Clerk of the City's Works. The bookcase bears the label of the Fleet Street cabinet-maker Robert Herring, who succeeded John Phillips as 'City Upholder' in 1817 and is recorded as supplying bookcases for the Mansion House (see C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds, 1996, p. 264 and S. Jeffery, The Mansion House, London, 1993, p. 210).