This diminutive, jewel-like cabinet, conceived to hold equally precious small objects, continues the tradition of the collector's cabinet that began in the Baroque era. These cabinets and their contents acted as a monument to the taste, sophistication and erudition of their owner. This fine cabinet's combination of materials and motifs relates to the work of John Mayhew and William Ince of Golden Square, London.
In 1762, Mayhew and Ince published The Universal System of Household Furniture, a pattern book of their designs. Many of them seem derived from Chippendale's famed Director, but their fretwork designs on the legs of chairs and tables evoke a sparser, more geometric feel that is clearly echoed in this cabinet's stand. Geoffrey Beard observes that, "[T]he most idiosyncratic and individual feature of the designs is the repeated use of a variety of symmetrically formed half-Gothic, half -Chinoiserie latticework panels, either pierced or applied to a solid ground." (G. Beard ed., The Dictionary of English Furniture-Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p.591).
The use of richly figured burr yew on the cabinet's case is another Mayhew and Ince hallmark, as they are the only currently known cabinet-making firm to use large pieces of burr yew veneers, often with ebonized borders, in their commissions. They include a commode for Alscot Park, a sideboard and pair of pedestals for the 3rd Earl of Kerry's residence at Portman Square, and a pair of card tables for Goodnestone Park commissioned by Sir Brook Bridges. (Ibid, p.593-4).
A further link with Mayhew and Ince is seen in the incorporation of pietra dura panels into the design of the cabinet. This technique of incorporating earlier elements into more contemporary designs seems to be another of the firm's unique trademarks. A marquetried cabinet-on stand executed by Mayhew and Ince in 1775 from a design by Robert Adam was made to feature a series of pietra dura landscape panels. This cabinet was for the Duchess of Kimbolton and is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museuem (M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, London, 1972, pp.104-5). Louis XIV marquetry panels were reused in the Warwick cabinet, now in the Bowes Museum, and a yew wood table with a 17th century marquetry top and ebonized borders was among the furniture supplied to the 7th Baron Digby for Sherborne Castle (Beard ed., p.593).
The vast majority of furniture from this period which feature pietra dura panels were often commissions by Grand Tourists, and it is certainly possible this cabinet was created for one such visitor. A closely related example was sold anonymously at Christies, London 24 April 1969, lot 24. Another cabinet in a private collection with a closely related stand and pietra paesina plaques is illustrated in G. Wills, English Furniture 1760-1900, New York, 1971, p.2).