A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase attributed to Peter Miller
Lot 20
A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase
attributed to Peter Miller
Sold for £ 97,250 (US$ 129,699) inc. premium

Lot Details
A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase attributed to Peter Miller A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase attributed to Peter Miller A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase attributed to Peter Miller
A George I walnut combined breakfront library bookcase and bureau bookcase
attributed to Peter Miller
The cavetto cornice above a central pair of bevelled panelled glazed doors enclosing eight oak adjustable shelves with walnut veneered edges, the bureau with a crossbanded fall revealing nine drawers and a replaced leather-lined writing surface, below is an arrangement of one long drawer panelled to simulate small drawers above twelve drawers, on bracket feet, the sides of the bureau section veneered and featherbanded, the bookcase sides each with two panelled, glazed astragal doors each enclosing five conforming adjustable shelves, the chests below with conforming arrangements of drawers, 345cm wide, 64cm deep, 245cm high (135.5in wide, 25in deep, 96in high).


  • Provenance: Walter W. Aspin and Mary Stuart Aspin (nee Mitchell), Broomhill, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, Scotland and thence by descent to:
    Rosemary Kennedy Aspin (1918-2009) at Broomhill and thence by descent to the vendor.

    The earlier provenance of the bookcase remains uncertain. Rosemary Kennedy Aspin's mother, Mary Stuart Mitchell (1879-1973) was a member of the prominent Mitchell family of Glasgow tobacco merchants. Her great uncle was Stephen Mitchell (1789-1874) who had expanded the family business and acquired a vast fortune and it was his legacy to the city of Glasgow that funded the creation of the Mitchell Library, now the largest public reference library in Europe.

    Following the death of her father Stephen Mitchell II (1847-1920), Mary Mitchell and her husband Walter Aspin purchased Broomhill in Grantown-on-Spey in 1924. The house had originally been built for Sir Alfred Booth (1872-1948) of the Cunard Line in 1915, taking advantage of a beautiful position in the Cairngorm National Park with spectacular southerly views across Strathspey towards the mountains beyond. The house was designed by the Edinburgh architects Balfour Paul and it was to the firm that the family turned to again in 1938 when a large extension was added to the house. The centrepiece of the extension which was the impressive forty one foot vaulted music room in to which a special niche was designed to accomodate the above bookcase. This room was notably an early and uncharacteristic work by the modernist architect Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) who was at this time working for the Balfour Paul firm.

    Mary Mitchell's brother Stephen Mitchell III (1884-1951) purchased Gilkerscleugh House in 1921 following his father's death and the family remained at Gilkerscleugh. It has been suggested that the bookcase may have been moved to Broomhill at this point as the Music room was certainly designed to specifically accommodate this large piece of furniture. Gilkerscleugh originally belonged to the Hamilton family, a cadet of the Hamilton of Crawfordjohn family from 1632. In the late 1700's the Hamilton's sold all their property in the parish and it was acquired by the Colebrooke family, the descendants of James Colebrooke (1681-1752) of Arnos Grove in Southgate and Chilham Castle in Kent. In 1907 the old house at Gilkerscleugh was thoroughly renovated and added to by the Colebrokes to be used as a shooting lodge while their main residence in Scotland remained Abington House in Lanarkshire. Gilkerscleugh House was sold after the premature death of Lord Edward Colebrooke's (1861-1939) only son Guy Colebrooke aged only 27 in 1921.

    A walnut veneered combination desk and bookcase attributed to Peter Miller
    by Dr. Adam Bowett

    This extraordinary combination desk-and-bookcase can confidently be attributed to the London cabinet-maker Peter Miller (d.1729). Miller's work is highly distinctive, and much of his known output has technical and stylistic features which are unique to his workshop.
    The design of the present piece is characteristically idiosyncratic and highly functional. It incorporates a central desk with its lower drawers arranged in three bays in the proportions of 3:4:3. Five other Miller pieces employ this drawer arrangement, four with the centre recessed in an arch and one with the centre flat, as in this case. In common with all others attributed to Miller, this piece is constructed entirely in walnut and top quality wainscot, with no deal being used. The locks are all high quality, with brass cases, evincing a concern with security that is typical of the maker, and perhaps of his clients. The plain oval escutcheons occur on four other Miller pieces.
    The carcase and drawer construction is conventional and typically English, executed with the precision that characterises Miller's work. The dovetailing on the main drawers is identical to that found on Miller's other pieces, and indicates that the same craftsman, probably Miller himself, was responsible. Equally characteristic is the construction of the small interior desk drawers, with their finely radiused edges and the mark of a chisel point on the undersides .
    As well as these features in common with other Miller pieces, this bookcase has some which are unique. It can be assembled either as a complete bookcase with a desk it its centre, or as three independent units, fully veneered at the sides. The surbase and base mouldings are designed to facilitate this flexible arrangement, while the feet are made flush with the carcase, to allow the lower cases to butt together. When arranged as three separate units it was intended to be used without the bookcases, since the tops of all the lower cases are veneered, while the exposed sides of the bookcases are not. It is conceivable, therefore, that the piece was originally made without bookcases, with these being added soon afterwards.
    Each of the lower cases has three blocks glued to the inside of the backboards, located by a large dowel. Each block is also pierced by a hole which passes through the backboard, and appears to have been intended for a bolt. The purpose of these blocks is unclear; it is possible that they were intended to fix the furniture into cases for transport; it is also possible that they were some kind of security measure, perhaps used to fix the carcases to the wall.

    Peter Miller's name first came to light in 1996 with the publication of Christopher Gilbert's Marked London Furniture, in which was a photograph of a walnut desk-and-bookcase, inscribed 'Peter Miller Cabenet Macker in the Savoy in London the 13 June Ao 1724' (Gilbert, Marked London Furniture, figs 646, 647; also illustrated in Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture, pls 2:30, 2:31). This piece is currently in an English private collection. Other pieces attributed to Miller on the basis of strong stylistic and technical analogies with the signed one are:

    i) Desk-and-bookcase, property of Bristol City Arts Galleries and Museums. Currently in the Red Lodge, Bristol.
    ii) Desk-and-bookcase, sold at auction by Encheres MSA, Pontoise, France, 11 June 2005. Recently exhibited by Frank Partridge Ltd (2010).
    iii) Desk in stock at various times in the 1970s with Hotspur and Phillips of Hitchin. Last heard of in a private American collection.
    iv) Desk-and-bookcase, sold Sotheby's London, 22 May 1998, lot 34. Present whereabouts unknown.
    v) Desk-and-cabinet, sold Christies, London, 13 November 1997, lot 160. Now in an American private collection.
    vi) Desk, made in London for Peter the Great of Russia, 1717 (illustrated in Guseva, Furniture History, XXX, fig. 4). Now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (This attribution has yet to be confirmed by detailed examination)

    As well as the above seven items there are at least two Dutch-made desks-and-bookcases which have clear similarities with Miller's work. One is in the Rijksmuseum (illus. Hayward, World Furniture, fig. 240.) and the other was sold by Bonhams & Butterfields, San Francisco, 30 October 2006, lot 1543, and is currently with Carlton Hobbs in New York. However, these Dutch pieces, while having strong visual similarities with Miller's work, have differences in construction and metalwork which indicates they were made in a Continental workshop. The nature of the connection between Miller and his putative Dutch colleagues is at present unclear.

    Peter Miller's origins, early life and training are obscure. His name does not appear in any Livery Company archives and this is one possible explanation for his presence in the Savoy. This enclave, sandwiched between the north bank of the Thames and the Strand, enjoyed a large degree of independence from the jurisdictions of the City, and among the freedoms enjoyed by its inhabitants was the absence of any oversight by the London Livery Companies. This is one reason why Miller is so hard to document. The first notice of his existence is a marriage allegation dated 28 May 1715, announcing the intention of Peter Miller, of the parish of St Mary le Savoy, to marry Anne Klug (or Clark) a widow of the nearby parish of St Martin in the Fields. Miller was about fifty years old, his prospective bride thirty-eight (1). Although Miller took out property insurance in 1723 (2), he was not listed on any of the hearth tax records for his parish, which means that he was not a property owner or leaseholder there. However, one John Miller was certainly resident between 1711 and 1718 and, as will become clear, it seems likely that Miller lived and possibly worked with this man, a close relative (3)

    The only other document relating to Miller's life is his will, written on 17 September 1729 (4). He died shortly after, aged about sixty-four, and the will was proved in October 1729. Miller left his business, tools and equipment to his 'kinsman' John Miller, providing he paid the probate price for them, as was the custom. To his stepson William Clark he left £5 'to buy him Morning' [sic] and to his other stepson Jonas Clark, one shilling. He was better disposed towards his servant Mary Steyning, to whom he left £10 together with all the bedding and furniture in her room. He also left a couple of small bequests to friends, but the rest of his estate went to his two daughters, Ann and Elizabeth Miller. They were still minors, so the money arising from the sale of his stock in trade, household goods and other assets was to be put out at interest to pay for their education until they either married or reached majority. Of Miller's wife Anne there is no mention; presumably she was already dead.

    Despite the high quality of his furniture, Miller was obviously not a rich man when he died, having just enough to provide a modest settlement for his two daughters. Given that John Miller was the leaseholder on the property in the Savoy, it seems likely that Peter and he shared a workshop. If John bought Peter's tools and business, including work in hand and existing clients, it is possible that in this sense Peter Miller's business continued after his death. Whether his kinsman John was able to match Peter's peerless quality and attention to detail remains to be discovered.

    BOWETT, Adam, Early Georgian Furniture, Woodbridge (2009).
    GILBERT, Christopher, Marked London Furniture, Leeds (1996).
    GUESEVA, Natalia Iurevna, 'Fedor Martynov, Russian Master Cabinet Maker,' Furniture History XXX (1994), pp. 92-99.
    HAYWARD, Helena, ed., World Furniture, London (1965)

    1.London Metropolitan Archive, St Martin in the Fields, Marriage Allegations, Vol. 35, fol. 60; see also Mormon IGI, marriage of Peter Miller and Anne Klug, .St Martin in the Fields, 28 May 1715.
    2.London Metropolitan Archive, GL Sun MSS, Vol. 15, 28208.
    3.London Metropolitan Archive, Poor Rates, Savoy Ward, Parish of St Clement Danes, Vol. B136.
    4.National Archives, PROB 11/632, sig 274.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the correct height of this bookcase is 254cm
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  1. Fine Furniture (UK)
    Auction administration - English Furniture and Works of Art
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