A Colonial Past

This week we have in a truly unique piece of furniture: a late 18th century colonial chest of drawers, in solid rosewood. This beautiful piece, of South Asian origin, probably Indian, would have been constructed by local craftsmen to an English pattern: the design is basically English Georgian – a plain, unembellished chest of three graduated drawers – but there the similarity ends! An English chest would never have been constructed from solid rosewood at this period – this was an exotic hardwood, imported in very small quantities, and only used in veneer form [it was used in the solid in England much more widely from about 1820 onwards].

The drawer sides are made of cedar, which is not unusual, but the drawer bottoms are of solid teak – a timber unknown in England at that date. This, combined with the solid rosewood carcase, makes it the heaviest chest of drawers we have ever had!

Opening the drawers, there is more evidence of its origin – the dovetails are widely spaced and crudely cut, not the quality of craftsmanship that you see in English Georgian pieces. And even the graduated drawers are unusual – they graduate the other way, with the largest drawer at the top. The handles are the final clue – made in fretted brass and of wonderful quality, they are the local craftsman’s version of the classic design – with a distinctive Indian feel!

Indian rosewood is dark and quite straight grained, with a distinctive chocolaty stripe – but here it has faded to a beautiful soft colour with a lovely, untouched waxy patina: an usual  piece, of great character.

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