One of the antique tables in a Gloucestershire saleroom posed a bit of a fire risk – it was made from coal. Possibly created for the offices of a Victorian coal company, it made £9,000 with the buyer’s premium, against an estimate of £400 – 600. There is no news yet of any matching Victorian dining chairs .
Preston residents familiar with the TV show Antiques Road Trip may remember Grosvenor Galleries, Cheltenham, as the home of Mallams auctioneers. They are well used to unusual items coming up for sale – though nothing quite as unusual as this early Victorian dining table. In Cumbria, anthracite furniture of this kind occasionally turns up at auction, as it is made from parrot coal, which was mined exclusively near Fife, Scotland for the Victorian gas and oil industry. Also called cannel coal, it got its name from the odd clicking noise it made while being burnt, said to sound like a parrot’s beak.
The table was undoubtedly the work of Thomas Williamson (1817-60), a stonemason from the Wemyss area of Fife, where most parrot coal was destined to be used. Less brittle than household coal, it could be carved like marble. There was a short-lived craze for unusual furniture during the mid-Victorian era, and a handful of Fife craftsmen, including Williamson, carved parrot coal inkstands, tables and even Victorian dining chairs.
Cumbrian visitors can see a beautiful Williamson dining set at the Kirkcaldy Museum. It looks more like fine mahogany (or perhaps ash) than industrial anthracite. To get the style, ask antique dealers in Preston for Victorian dining chairs with an ebonised finish – as handsome to the eye as coal, but far more common.
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