This bureau-cabinet is attributed to the St Paul's Churchyard cabinet-maker John Coxed (1711-1718) who was established at The White Swan workshop in 1711. He was succeeded there in 1719 by his widow Grace Coxed and Thomas Woster, a relative by marriage of John Coxed. The workshop seems to have specialized in the making of bureau and bureau-cabinets, and the partnership is often associated with the erroneous term 'mulberry' furniture. This is, in fact, furniture veneered in maple or elm stained to produce a rich golden tone, possibly to resemble tortoiseshell or marble or perhaps simply decorative in its own right. The use of pewter or some white metal inlay was often also used.
The present example shares an unusual feature with other documented Coxed and Woster bureau bookcases: the top of the bureau section is veneered rather than fitted with a waist molding to receive the upper section. Adam Bowett has suggested that John Coxed manufactured bureau and bureau-cabinets using a common lower carcase and therefore it is not unusual to see such veneering. (see A. Bowett & L. Lindey, 'Labelled Furniture from The White Swan Workshop in St Paul's Churchyard (1711-35)', Furniture History, 2003, pp. 74).
A similar, labeled example with bracket feet and exterior hinges to the doors is illustrated C. Gilbert, Pictoral Dictionary of Marked London Furniture, Leeds, 1996, p. 157, pl. 242 and was offered anonymously, Christie's, London, 27 June 1985, lot 179. Another with Coxed and Woster's trade label is illustrated in R. Edwards and P. Macquoid, The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev. edn., 1954, vol. I, p. 138, fig. 33.
The process of creating this veneer is derived from two methods outlined in Stalker and Parker's Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing of 1688. The chosen veneer (often ash, elm or most commonly, maple), is stained yellow with Aqua fortis (nitric acid) and then rubbed with 'lampblack' (soot). The acid penetrates deeply into areas of soft grain which the lampblack colors richly, giving rise to a three-dimensional effect. The final stage is to pare back the surface until the desired contrast of light and dark is achieved. For a full discussion of the technique and many of the myths surrounding the fashion of stained ash, elm or maple veneering at this date, see A. Bowett, 'Myths of English Furniture History: Mulberry Wood Furniture by Coxed and Woster', Antique Collecting, October 1998, pp. 32-35.