With the return of Charles II from France in 1660 and the arrival of Protestant Huguenot craftsmen escaping religious persecution in France, antique furniture making in England became much more sophisticated. With the advent of much finer cabinetry and the use of walnut rather than oak, new pieces of very fine furniture such as the bureau-bookcase were coming into being.
To begin with, the bureau-bookcase was essentially a writing table and slope with a fold down flap. Initially the table was supported on legs but gradually a solid set of drawers or chest of drawers was placed underneath. By the beginning of the 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne, an antique cabinet was being placed on top of the desk flap. The cabinet usually had two doors and was often mirrored which worked to reflect light onto the desk flap when it was folded out for writing. The top of the cabinet took on an architectural structure which could be domed or pedimented.
The bureau-bookcase at this time was made of walnut, but by 1730 walnut was beginning to disappear due to blight and export embargoes from France. Mahogany imported from the Spanish colony of San Domingo superseded walnut as the wood of choice for antique cabinet makers. However, although much tougher than walnut, mahogany did not have the attractive figuring for which walnut is renowned.
The bureau-bookcase has remained popular throughout and there exists many period and Victorian and Edwardian revival pieces for sale at auctions and through dealerships today. If you are looking for an antique bookcase, Lancashire antiques dealers will be able to show you some very fine examples.
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