Picture This CXXIII

An old friend in Bury St Edmunds was interested in purchasing this bureau (figure 1) which came up for auction (twice in the past two weeks), in nearby Colchester in Essex. I wasn’t able to reply to him before the lot came up, so he didn’t bid on it.

Amidst the provincial auctioneer’s flowery babble, the bureau was described as being eighteenth-century walnut and with original brasses.

The bureau was bought for £100 by a dealer in neighbouring Suffolk who is now offering it for £3,400 and sadly, has benightedly perpetuated the auctioneer’s unlettered description in its entirety.

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Fig. 5.

Fig. 6.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.

Fig. 9.

Anyone care to suggest a date and offer an accurate description?

Jack Plane


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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22 Responses to Picture This CXXIII

  1. Paul Huckett says:

    I’ve never seen such crossbanding on the sides of a bureau or such construction of a bracket foot and base . The inlays on the fall for mine are wrong as well for a walnut piece. Could it be Restall, Brown and Clennell ? They were well-known for making such pieces and offering them quite honestly but after 100 years their provenance is now confused. I still have antique magazines from WW1 with their ads for walnut and mahogany furniture like this advertised as ‘historic’ It would be interesting to have it up on the bench with the drawers removed !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bloksav says:

    Could it be a Hepplewhite?
    I base this on the large veneered sun disc (likely not the correct name) in the center of the fall. I have seen one just like it on a page from Hepplewhite’s style guide from 1787, where a tea tray is decoarated in exactly the smae fashion.

    Beautiful piece by the way.


  3. potomacker says:

    I doesn’t look like walnut to my eye and something in fig. 6 suggests previous hardware. The feet also, if I dare say, are replacements since they are in better condition than the rest of the piece.


  4. Matthew Pease says:

    The timber looks like padouk, which fits with the drawer fronts suggesting a date of about 1740, and from the pinholes the original brasses were large, perhaps pierced rococo things? The inlay suggests a major facelift by about 1800 when the brasses were probably updated, so the present earlier brasses look like someone wants it to be taken for more like 1700. The feet are interesting – I like the wider base rail taking the place of the bottom cross banding of the sides. Pity about the inlay.


    • Jack Plane says:

      The entire thing is padauk, including the interior drawer linings. The exterior has been overly cleaned (probably scraped – when the inlay was added), so the shadows of the original handles have been lost, but they were most likely the typical circa 1735-40 single-pierced items.



  5. Not happy with any of it. Sides are European Walnut and from the main front of the drawers they are too. There is no evidence of the drawer construction in your blog or on the dealers website . The horrible feet and base moulding. This is showing to me all the signs of a period piece which has been over restored including reveneering even the drawer bottoms of the interior look to be Black Walnut? Not oak. It’s been lifted to make it more late Georgian. This is more than likely carried out a the turn of century when the demand out weighed supply. This is sad part of antiques trade today with the loss of knowledge and understanding. They don’t no the archaeology of period furniture and definitely not the value.


  6. Jonas Jensen says:

    The wood looks a bit like elm to me, but only the grain pattern, the colour is a bit too red, but that could be the varnish or stain.



  7. …some of the photos remind me of Elm stock that I’ve used…but not all. then again – I’m not that familiar with European Elm.



  8. potomacker says:

    Since the conclusion is that the main wood is Padouk /Padauk, I want to know whether it’s possible to clarify which Pterocarpus spp. it might likely be. South American, African, Far Eastern? I was told, misinformedly it now seems. that Padauks weren’t logged commercially until substantial roads were built because their density didn’t allow them to be floated in rivers, nor up to cargo ships. Is the rarity of Padauk from this era what might have confused the dealer, or is it simply marketing reflex to call anything walnut unless somebody disputes it?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Your guess is as good as mine. Evelyn says the wood was “… brought from both the Indies” (it’s the same tree around the globe), though Padauk was fallaciously known as ‘rosewood’ during the eighteenth-century: It didn’t gain the Padauk distinction until the early nineteenth-century.

      Padauk isn’t exactly rare; it was in use in the seventeenth-century and Bowett says there were two main periods of importation, 1726-40 and 1750-66 – which fit with the date of this bureau.



    • Paul Huckett says:

      This is fascinating . Pterocarpus sps are found across many areas, even in tropical Australia. Both Indies is possibly the best clue and with either West or East being huge resource areas for England, either is possible. I might lean to the timber coming out of India given the British presence there and knowing that vast amounts of what was essentially plunder was exported from India for over 300 years. A study of surviving examples of colonial period padouk wood furniture in India mught give the evidence. One of my other main interests is the study of botany and field naturalist topics so I’m now off on a search for the Pterocarpus sp. in northern Australia . It’s a member of the giant Fabaceae group, essentially the pea family, the nitrogen fixers .


  9. Paul Huckett says:

    Examples are listed growing in Queensland and NT, known locally as Burmese Bloodwoods or New Guinea Rosewoods. http://bie.ala.org.au/species/http://id.biodiversity.org.au/node/apni/2899562 .


  10. If this is Padauk, I’m surprised at the light color of the wood at this time. The padauk I’ve used has become quite dark with just a few months time under UV light. Is it the result of the significant years that it has become light again, or possibly something with the finish – either initially, or when it was reworked?



    • Jack Plane says:

      I have worked with red– and honey-coloured padauk. I sold an outstanding circa 1735 club-legged red padauk table about twenty years ago.

      Having said that, I have also restored pale coloured padauk chairs and chests that were much darker beneath the surface.

      Like cherry, some paler padauk darkens initially, but can eventually fade in exposed situations.



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