Three Species of Mahogany

There are three species of mahogany: — Common mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Swietenia febrifuga, and Swietenia chloroxylon: the first being a native of the West India Islands and the central parts of America, and the second and third natives of the East Indies. They all grow to be trees of considerable magnitude — the first and second being among the largest trees known. They are all excellent timber.

Swietenia mahagoni is, perhaps, the most majestic of trees; for though some rise to a greater height, this tree, like the oak and the cedar, impresses the spectator with the strongest feelings of its firmness and duration.
In the rich valleys among the mountains of Cuba, and those that open upon the bay of Honduras, the mahogany expands to so giant a trunk, divides into so many massy arms, and throws the shade of its shining green leaves, spotted with tufts of pearly flowers, over so vast an extent of surface, that it is difficult to imagine a vegetable production combining in such a degree the qualities of elegance and strength, of beauty and sublimity. The precise period of its growth is not accurately known; but as, when large, it changes but little during the life of a man, the time of its arriving at maturity is probably not less than two hundred years. Some idea of its size, and also of its commercial value, may be formed from the fact that a single log, imported at Liverpool, weighed nearly seven tons; was, in the first instance, sold for 378/; resold for 525/; and would, had the dealers been certain of its quality, have been worth 1000/.

The discovery of this beautiful timber was accidental, and its introduction into notice was slow. The first mention of it is that it was used in the repair of some of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ships, at Trinidad, in 1597.
Its finely-variegated tints were admired; but in that age the dream of El Dorado caused matters of more value to be neglected. The first that was brought to England was about the beginning of last century; a few planks having been sent to Dr. Gibbons, of London, by a brother who was a West India captain. The Doctor was erecting a house in King Street, Covent Garden, and gave the planks to the workmen, who rejected it as being too hard. The Doctor’s cabinet-maker, named Wollaston, was employed to make a candle-box of it, and as he was sawing up the plank he also complained of the hardness of the timber. But when the candle-box was finished, it out-shone in beauty all the Doctor’s other furniture, and became an object of curiosity and exhibition. The wood was then taken into favour: Dr. Gibbons had a bureau made of it, and the Duchess of Buckingham another; and the despised mahogany now became a prominent article of luxury, and at the same time raised the fortunes of the cabinet-maker by whom it had been at first so little regarded.[1]

Jack Plane

[1] A Description and History of Vegetable Substances, the Arts, Domestic Economy. Timber Trees: Fruits. Charles Knight, London, 1829, pp. 147-9.


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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2 Responses to Three Species of Mahogany

  1. Eric R says:

    To think that magnificent species was originally disliked…
    I think I’d like to have a big rack of original Mahogany more then a new car.


  2. Harun says:

    Thank you for sharing.


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