English Vernacular Furniture, 1750-1900


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Christopher Gilbert

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The vernacular furniture used by ordinary people has only recently been considered a subject worthy of study. In this magisterial book—the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of English vernacular furniture—Christopher Gilbert demonstrates that common furniture possesses as much interest as fashionable pieces made for country houses.


Gilbert investigates over twenty well-defined vernacular subgroups that have never previously been explored in detail, including furniture made for workhouses, schools, prisons, Quaker meetinghouses, army barracks, alehouses, lunatic asylums, shops, railway premises, and ships. He also discusses such facets of vernacular furniture making as regional differences in the production of chairs and beds; mainstream cottage and farmhouse domestic furniture; and traditional straw and wicker crafts. Although Gilbert’s main focus is on the English vernacular tradition, he also touches on furniture form Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the channel Islands. He makes extensive use of provincial Books of Price sand various Parliamentary Reports on living conditions that often contain splendidly detailed first hand evidence about domestic interiors, and he has provided numerous illustrations of securely provenanced items to support his text.

"A fine, scholarly, and readable book, copiously illustrated and covering every conceivable aspect from cottars' box bed (which slept the whole family) to regional chairmaking, and in his thoroughness Gilbert includes every category be it school, campaign or prison furniture. . . . A book as attractively produced and well researched as English Vernacular Furniture, 1750-1900 is bound to prove a winner."—James Yorke, Antique

"Christopher Gilbert brings the discipline of a seasoned professional to areas which have hitherto tended to be the province of the enthusiastic amateur and the result is essential background material for anyone interested in English furniture history. And yet, making excellent use of contemporary illustrations and publications, he has contrived to make essential reading highly diverting."—Mark Bridge, Antiques Trade Gazette

"In this book, with obvious relish for and deep knowledge of his subject, [Gilbert] digs into virgin soil. . . . [The book is] a great achievement. That it is scholarly (without . . . being for one moment boring) is indisputable. . . . The huge charm and total realness of this style of furniture—the furniture used by the broad mass of the population rather than the privileged few—will be apparent to anyone consulting this important work of reference. It is more than a book for collectors; it is also a social history of the one and a half centuries it covers."—Alistair Sampson, World of Interiors

"This is a very thorough catalog of ordinary, common, and anonymous furniture, refreshing to those of us exhausted by our reverence for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century decorative art. Included in this study is furniture made for meeting houses, asylums, prisons, mine shops, and barracks. There are beds and chairs and tables, of course, but there are also eel traps and peggy sticks and go-gins and chamber horses—wonderful and puzzling devices so little seen that one may never have heard of them and can hardly guess their purpose even from the photographs and engravings."—Susanna Moore, Connoisseur

"This finely produced and meticulously researched study explores not only household furniture, but also items used in institutions."—Anthony Lester, Oxford Times

"This splendid volume investigates vernacular furniture—that used by ordinary people—in greater depth than any previous scholarly book. . . . Most extensive fieldwork and research, and a clear, straightforward style make this an exceptional work. The 375 black-and-white illustrations, from many different sources, are most serviceable, and the 42 color plates are superior. The book is handsomely designed. . . . A glossary, notes, and a select bibliography close this fascinating history."—Choice

"Although fashionable country-house furniture has been well researched and documented, the vernacular tradition has suffered neglect from all but a few dedicated amateurs. Amends are now made with this magnificent volume by Christopher Gilbert, who . . . is well qualified to produce such a scholarly work. . . . Contemporary illustrations, which range from the boys' class at Lambeth Ragged School to the women's day room at St. James's workhouse, give an unexpected social dimension to the book. . . . This book, with over 400 pictures, is an invaluable addition to the history of English furniture and will be welcomed by scholars and interested laymen alike."—Goeffrey Lee, Historic House

"The vernacular furniture used by ordinary British people has only recently been considered a subject worthy of study. In this impressive book—the first comprehensive, scholarly analysis of English vernacular furniture—Christopher Gilbert studies common furniture with a passion and intensity previously reserved for the fashionable pieces made for Britain's great country houses."—Antiques and The Arts Weekly

"This is a marvellous book; it is highly enjoyable to browse through, and bristling with the well-written results of extraordinary research."—Luke Hughes, RSA Journal

"Each section of Gilbert's text vividly summarises the history and nature of the types of dwelling or institution and describes the kind of furniture in use, drawing on a seemingly limitless fund of information. . . . An excellent production. . . . This pioneering work firmly establishes the importance of the study of `ordinary' furniture for anyone attempting an historical understanding of the crafts and, therefore, of the life of the past."—Annette Carruthers, Crafts

"For bringing order to a mass of random information and providing the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of the subject, Christopher Gilbert is to be heartily congratulated."—Christopher Claxton Stevens, Regional Furniture Society Newsletter

"[Gilbert] describes in fascinating detail the kind of furniture lived with and used by ordinary people in their daily lives. . . . [His] wit and enthusiasm enliven the text of this scholarly and meticulously researched work making it enjoyably readable."—NADFAS News (newsletter of the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies)

"Both scholarly and fascinating, Gilbert's book is a wonderfully informative survey of furniture made for modest houses, alms-houses, alehouses, workhouses, asylums, prisons and ships."—Interior Design

"A pioneering overview of a broad field with much new research."—Simon Jervis, The Art Newspaper

Shortlisted for the 1992 Banister Fletcher Award
ISBN: 9780300047622
Publication Date: July 24, 1991
534 pages, x
300 b/w + 45 color illus.