No Time for Timepieces?

When it comes to antique furniture, most devotees will concede to having a favourite genre, but none I have spoken to express a profound dislike for any. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that one of England’s most famous and highly accomplished designers of the late eighteenth-century, Thomas Sheraton, had an apparent disdain for longcase clocks.

In The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book (the three editions, published in 1793, 1794 and 1802), Sheraton engages the reader for over thirteen pages on the decoration, of all things, a State Bed, but in reference to the two abundantly ornate longcase clocks illustrated in Plate 29, he wasted not one epithet on them, merely stating they “… require no explanations; they are therefore omitted.

Clockcases by Thomas Sheraton, c. 1793.

In his latter years, Sheraton was ordained a Baptist lay minister and yet despite his well subscribed and not insignificant publications, he was a self-assertive, mean and impoverished individual.

The year following the last publication of his Drawing Book, Sheraton made the remarkable claim that longcase clocks were largely out of fashion in all but rural areas and again, omitted them from his 1803 publication, The Cabinet Dictionary.

“… as theſe pieces are almoſt obſolete in London, and having more neceſſary plates to inſert, I have given no deſign of any; but intend to do it in my large work,[1] to ſerve my country friends.” [2]

Jack Plane

[1] Presumably Sheraton’s incomplete magnum opus, The Cabinet Maker, Upholsterer and General Artists’ Encyclopedia, begun in 1804.

[2] Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet Dictionary Containing an Explanation of all the Terms Used in the Cabinet, Chair and Upholstery Branches, W. Smith, London, 1803, p. 336.

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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6 Responses to No Time for Timepieces?

  1. ecrusch says:

    Sounds to me like Mr Sheraton missed the boat on that one.
    The two long case clocks displayed alone in this blog post are worthy of ornamental description and notation.


  2. Rob says:

    Sheraton is one of those names I associate with things rather than thinking of him as a person, and your description of him as ‘a self-assertive, mean and impoverished individual’ is intriguing. Spill a little more about the man, if possible.


    • Jack Plane says:

      Although apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, Sheraton never rose higher than a journeyman and didn’t actually make any furniture (well, there’s some debate over one piece that bears the inconclusive initials ‘TS’). He largely supported himself by writing tediously on geometry and perspective and obscure theological works. In 1782 he published A Scriptural Illustration of the Doctrine of Regeneration and later, A Letter on the Subject of Baptism, describing himself on the title page as a “…mechanic, one who never had the advantage of a collegiate or academical education.”
      Sheraton moved to London in 1790 at the age of 39 and published his first book on furniture, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book in 1791.

      Adam Black (Memoirs of Adam Black) lodged with Sheraton in 1804 and wrote “Sheraton lived in a poor street in London, his house half shop, half dwelling-house, and himself looked like a worn-out Methodist minister, with threadbare black coat. I took tea with them one afternoon. There was a cup and saucer for the host, and another for his wife, and a little porringer for their daughter. The wife’s cup and saucer were given to me, and she had to put up with another little porringer. My host seemed a good man, with some talent. He had been a cabinetmaker, and was now author, publisher, and teacher of drawing, and, I believe, occasional preacher.
      This many-sided worn-out encyclopaedist and preacher is an interesting character… He is a man of talent and, I believe, of genuine piety. He understands the cabinet business – I believe was bred to it. He is a scholar, writes well, and, in my opinion, draws masterly – is an author, bookseller, stationer and teacher… I believe his abilities and resources are his ruin in this respect – by attempting to do everything he does nothing.”

      In 1805 Sheraton published A Discourse on the Character of God as Love. He died on October 22nd, 1806; his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine described him as “… a journeyman cabinet-maker, but since 1793 supported a wife and two children by authorship” and he had “left his family, it is feared, in distressed circumstances”.


  3. I was very please to have stumbled across your blog. I was looking into Sheraton and Regency designs and felt that Sheraton is a name that is often freely used out of context. Hope you don’t mind but I’ve used one of the quotes you unearthed in a description I’ve just written for a barometer of mine. Thanks, Neill.


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