A tambour is a sliding door consisting of a series of narrow mouldings or reeds of wood glued side by side to a stout canvas backing. Once dry, the tambour is the then ‘cracked’, whereby the glue between between each reed is loosened in the hands, to allow it to curve into shape. One end of the tambour is then fitted into a groove on the inner side of the piece of furniture, thus guiding the top in the direction required.
Tambour doors first came into existence in France circa 1750, and then in England towards the end of the century. In Hepplewhite’s ‘Guide’ 1788, he describes them as ‘very convenient pieces of furniture’
Roll top bureaus (in which the top is enclosed beneath a curved sliding tambour), came into popularity at the turn of the 19th century. However, Sheraton criticised the use of tambour within larger items of furniture, labelling them ‘almost out of use being both insecure and liable to injury’. On smaller items of furniture the tambour is certainly strong and attractive feature. An example of this is on commodes and pot cupboards, which was commonplace in the mid nineteenth century. On commode doors the slats are generally quite fine, however larger pieces tended to have wider slats as the depth of the cabinet provides plenty of room for a gently curved track.
A fine example of the use of tambour doors, is on this 18th century Dutch mahogany side cabinet. It has a figured top and a pretty dentil moulded cornice over two doors that slide open to reveal an adjustable shelf; perfect for use as a drinks cabinet!