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TWO GEORGE III MAHOGANY LARGE BREAKFRONT BOOKCASES EN SUITE
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TWO GEORGE III MAHOGANY LARGE BREAKFRONT BOOKCASES EN SUITE

BY JOHN JOHNSTON, DATED 1780, ONE A BREAKFRONT BOOKCASE, THE OTHER A DOUBLE BREAKFRONT BOOKCASE, FROM THE SAME LIBRARY

Details
TWO GEORGE III MAHOGANY LARGE BREAKFRONT BOOKCASES EN SUITE
By John Johnston, dated 1780, One a breakfront bookcase, the other a double breakfront bookcase, from the same library
Each with rectangular moulded and cavetto cornice above a plain frieze and three pairs of glazed panelled doors each enclosing four adjustable shelves, the larger bookcase with a single glazed panelled outer section with glazed panelled door, above a panelled lower section with door enclosing three mahogany-lined drawers, the central doors enclosing six mahogany-lined drawers, flanked by a pair of doors enclosing two adjustable shelves, on a plinth base, the metalwork apparently original, restorations, including some mouldings and roundels replaced, the doors possibly originally with chicken wire, some locks and hinges stamped 'E. GASCOIGNE and E. GASCOIGNE INVENTER [sic]', the larger bookcase inscribed 'Large B No 1' throughout and the smaller bookcase inscribed 'Large B No 3' throughout, the smaller bookcase with depository label for 'J. SPENCER'S CABINET & UPHOLSTERY WAREHOUSE ... Humberstone Gate Leicester' attached to one plinth and inscribed 'The Earl of Harborough to be left at Saxby Station', the plinth of the larger bookcase with pencil inscription to one cross-strut 'John Johnston 1780', the other side of the same cross-strut inscribed 'John Johnston & Sons 1780'
The larger bookcase: 126 in. (320 cm.) high; 247 in. (627.38 cm.) wide; 29 in. (74 cm.) deep
The smaller bookcase: 126 in. (320 cm.) high; 175 in. (444.5 cm.) wide; 25½ in. (65 cm.) deep (2)
Provenance
Almost certainly supplied to Robert Sherard, 4th Earl of Harborough (1719-1799), for Stapleford Park, Leicestershire.
Bought by the present owner from Chevertons of Edenbridge, circa 1985.
Special Notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

It appears that these bookcases were moved in the 19th Century, this fact being supported by listings of hours spent working on them inscribed on the backboards. There is a possibility that they were adapted for relocation, and it is also possible that the smaller bookcase, marked 'No 3', was originally larger.

The bookcases were commissioned for Stapleford Hall, Leicestershire by Robert, 4th Earl of Harborough (1719-1799), cleric and builder of Stapleford Church, and are designed in the chaste George III 'antique' fashion of the late 1770s. Their 'commode' chest-of-drawers are embellished with ormolu handles, conceived in the French Grecian manner, and featuring laurel-wreathed libation-paterae that evoke lyric poetry and Apollo's triumph on Mount Parnassus.

The commode doors of beautiful flame-figured mahogany have pan-reeded frames, that are similarly enriched with paterae and French-hollowed corners. The bookcases' ornament and rectilinear form were popularised some ten years later, when Messrs. A. Hepplewhite & Co. issued their pattern-book, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788. They noted that Library Bookcases were usually made of the finest mahogany: the doors of fine waved or curled wood (plates 45-48).

The bookcases would have been made to harmonise with the 'antique' ornament that had been introduced to the house in the late 1760s under the direction of the architect George Richardson (d. 1813), who also served as 'architect' for the church that was built in the early 1780s. Richardson had been employed for a period of almost twenty years as 'designer and draughtsman' in the Office of Robert Adam (d. 1792), and he was also the author of various pattern-books such as A Book of Ceilings composed in the Stile of the Antique Grotesque, 1774-6 and Iconology, or a Collection of Emblematical Figures, 1779-1780. The bookcases bear the pencilled inscription of John Johnstone & Sons, which may be the same firm listed as 'Johnstone of London' as subscribed to Thomas Sheraton's Drawing Book, 1793 (The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 493). The fine ormolu handles correspond to patterns illustrated in some 18th Century metalwork books preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum's Collection of Metalwork Pattern Books, Furniture History, 1975, pp. 1-30 and figs. 35 and 36). They may have been supplied by the Bury Street firm run by Richard Gascoigne, as the bookcases are fitted with hinges bearing the brand of Richard's predecessor, Edward Gascoigne.
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