A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest – Part One

Some years ago we moved into a larger house and to help furnish a small bedroom, we bought a no-frills pine open-bookcase atop a chest of drawers.

Aside from being unutterably ugly, the issue I have had with the piece since carrying it through the front door is the unenclosed shelves. The shelves are home to a motley collection of catalogues, folders, odd-sized books and orphaned objects that can’t be found a home for elsewhere. And the dust!

Hideous as it is, the pine bookcase-on-chest is now a veteran of several house moves simply because it is such a practical piece of furniture. With William Morris’ words “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ever in the forefront of my mind, I think the time has come to replace the useful bookcase with, hopefully, a beautiful version. In a rare afflatus I have decided on enclosed shelves – not the more commonly glazed doors, but solid panelled doors – to hide the eyesore contained within.

This arrangement of an enclosed bookcase or cupboard over a chest of drawers (actually termed a ‘cabinet-on-chest’) is relatively rare in Georgian furniture; bookcase doors are usually glazed and reside on secretaire-chests (fig. 1) or occasionally plain chests of drawers (fig. 2).

Fig. 1. George III mahogany secretaire-bookcase, c. 1780.

Fig. 2. George III mahogany bookcase-on-chest, c. 1780.

A close relative of the cabinet-on-chest is the linen press; basically a wide chest of drawers (or cupboard) with a full depth press on top (fig. 3), usually fitted with drawer-like linen shelves (fig. 4).

Fig. 3. George III mahogany linen press, c. 1760. (Millington Adams)

Fig. 4. Interior showing the slide-out linen shelves. (Millington Adams)

Lying somewhere between the secretaire-bookcase and the linen press is the estate cabinet (fig. 5); typically found in estate managers’ offices for storing deeds, maps, inventories and other documents.

Fig. 5.George III mahogany estate cabinet, c. 1770. (Jamb Ltd.)

I came across a rather smart Chippendale cabinet-on-chest (fig. 6) on which to base my exemplar.

Fig. 6. George III mahogany cabinet-on-chest, c.1775. (Christie’s)

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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