A satinwood, banded, fiddleback mahogany??? , marquetry and parcel gilt secretaire cabinet reconstructed from an important cabinet by Seddon, Sons & Shackleton of 1793 for Charles IV of Spain, the panels possibly by William Hamilton R.A
Lot 133*
A satinwood, mahogany, sycamore and marquetry and parcel gilt secretaire cabinet reconstructed from an important cabinet by Seddon, Son & Shackleton of 1793 reputedly for Charles IV of Spain, the panels possibly by William Hamilton R.A
Sold for £25,000 (US$ 41,456) inc. premium
Lot Details
A satinwood, mahogany, sycamore and marquetry and parcel gilt secretaire cabinet
reconstructed from an important cabinet by Seddon, Son & Shackleton of 1793 reputedly for Charles IV of Spain, the panels possibly by William Hamilton R.A
Inlaid with boxwood and ebonised lines, the upper section with pierced gilt metal fret and white marble pilasters, above a bowed central drawer and door painted with a vase of flowers, flanked by a pair of lozenge panelled doors also painted with floral sprays, each with leaf carved reeded and fluted turned pilasters and each enclosing four pigeonholes and a shelf, flanked by larger bowed panelled doors, one painted with the figure of 'Night', the other with probably 'Day', surmounted by domed plinths with gilt crown finials; above five frieze drawers, the lower part with inverted breakfront and central secretaire drawer with gilt bronze moulded panelling painted with a cherub flanked by reeded pilasters, enclosing a leather lined writing surface, two short drawers and ten compartments, flanked by a short panelled bowed drawers to each side, on six leaf carved and fluted tapering legs joined by a platform stretcher, on turned feet, the central Wedgwood plaque now missing, stamped several times '3258', the reverse marked, 'MGM 5 X7760', 'A605-495', 'UAP', 131cm wide, 49cm deep, 173cm high (51.5" wide, 19" deep, 68" high).


  • This secretaire on stand is a remarkable survival. Not only is it made from one of the most spectacular late eighteenth century English cabinets ever produced, but it also belonged to the MGM studios in Hollywood where it was used as a film prop. Although parts of its history remain obscured, the exceptional quality of both the cabinet work and the painted decoration are clear to be seen.

    The present secretaire comprises parts of the upper section of a magnificent cabinet believed to have been made by Seddon, Sons and Shackleton (active c.1790-1798), to designs by Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), with painted panels by William Hamilton RA (1751-1801). The cabinet was said to have been commissioned by King Carlos IV of Spain (1788-1808) in 1793.

    The cabinet was well-known amongst Edwardian connoisseurs and was illustrated and described in early twentieth-century books on English eighteenth-century furniture. It was exhibited twice, once at the Franco British Exhibition in London in 1908, and secondly in a selling exhibition held in the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1910.

    At some point during the twentieth century, the cabinet was broken up and made into separate pieces of furniture. A commode made from parts of the centre of the cabinet was sold twice at auction, first at Christie's in London, 19th November 1987, lot 125 and secondly at Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr & Mrs Saul P. Steinberg, 26 May 2000, lot 236. The fact that present secretaire was made from parts of the same cabinet was not known until it was recognised by Bonhams, London in 2011.

    Seddon Sons and Shackleton

    The most recent history of the firm of Seddon Sons & Shackleton was written by Christopher Gilbert in his 1997 article in Furniture History, in which he listed the documented pieces by the firm, as well as those which could be attributed on stylistic grounds.

    Seddons were probably one of the largest furniture manufacturers at the end of the eighteenth century, with premises on Aldersgate Street in the City of London, where they employed over four hundred men . The firm adopted different names, depending on which family members were working for the business; they were styled Seddon Sons and Shackleton for only eight years, from 1790 until Thomas Shackleton (George Seddon's son-in-law) left to go into partnership with George Oakley in 1798 . So far, three documented commissions during this partnership have been recorded. The first is a set of eighteen painted satinwood chairs and other furniture made in 1790 for D.Tupper of Hauteville House in Guernsey; the second is a group of furniture supplied to Richard Hall Clarke of Bridewell House, Dorset between 1790 and 1793. Finally a group of twenty eight items shipped to a Neils Aalls of Ulefos Manorhouse near Porsgrunn in Norway (Gilbert 1997, op.cit p.2).

    It seems very likely, given the precise early descriptions of the original cabinet, that it had a maker's label on it. Unfortunately there is no Seddon archive to consult for evidence of the commission, but it certainly shares some of the characteristics of documented pieces such as the sophisticated use of satinwood and the lozenge shaped panels on the drawer fronts. Indeed, the lady's dressing table in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Ac 19.66 – illustrated Gilbert 1997, fig.17) has a pair of panels to either side of the mirror which are identical to those on the side of the pedestals in the present secretaire.

    Early descriptions always mention an inscription: 'R.Newham, June 28, 1793' and it has always been assumed that this refers to a cabinet maker in Seddon's workshop. An analysis of names mentioned in George Seddon's will (27th January 1802) does not reveal anyone with this surname, but a Ralph Newham was listed as a juror at the Old Bailey on two occasions, the 31st October 1792 and 6 April 1796 which may be relevant.

    The Artist and the Architect – Hamilton and Chambers

    William Hamilton RA (1751- 1801) was a history and decorative painter. He lived in Italy from about 1766 for two years and studied in Rome under the painter Antonio Zucchi (1726–95) before being employed by Robert Adam as a decorative painter, working at Kedleston in Derbyshire and Highcliffe in Hampshire. He became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1789.

    Despite success as a painter, Hamilton worked frequently as a decorative artist. He produced a series of allegorical painted panels to decorate the Irish Lord Chancellor's Coach including putti and female figures, which are comparable to the painted panels on the secretaire, especially the round painted panel on the back of the coach, which shows two female figures and a putto depicting a 'Homage to George III'.
    Hamilton also painted many versions (later engraved by Bartolozzi) of the four Seasons always symbolized by women in classical robes.

    The quality of the painted figures on the secretaire, as well as similarities with Hamilton's documented style, support the attribution. However, the assertion that the famous English architect Sir William Chambers designed the cabinet is more problematic since it does not compare to other large cabinets by Chambers. It seems likely therefore that the presence of the domed turrets on the cabinet gave rise to the Chambers association since similarly shaped domes appear on so many of his buildings.

    A Cabinet for King Carlos IV?

    Although there is a lack of contemporary documentary evidence, the original cabinet had several decorative features which point to a Spanish royal patron. First, there is a profusion of carved 'royal' attributes, such as the crouching lions, the winged eagles and the two small crowns which top the two domed side turrets. Second, the larger crown on the central section of the cabinet appears to be made in the form of the Spanish Royal Crown. Other overtly 'Spanish' insignia include the badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece shown in the central painted panel, suspended on a ribbon held by a putto. The original cabinet had another similar painted panel, with the putto holding the Star of the Order of the Immaculate Conception. The numerous paintings of Carlos IV by his court artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) invariably show the King wearing clothes decorated with both Orders, most notably in the famous 'Portrait of the Family of King Carlos IV' (c.1800) now in the Museo Nacional del Prado.

    It was well known that Carlos IV was a great patron of the arts, spending lavishly on objects to decorate his palaces. However, he did not appear to commission many British artists and craftsmen, apart from the coach maker John Hatchett who in May 1789 produced a 'beautiful Coach' for the Spanish Court. Investigation into the Spanish Royal archives may reveal new information.

    Robert Partridge, the Cabinet becomes Famous

    The cabinet first came to the attention of the wider public in the Edwardian period, when it was acquired by the English Antique dealer Robert Partridge in or around 1905. The furniture historian Frederick Robinson illustrated it twice, both open and closed, in his 1905 book English Furniture (Robinson 1905, op.cit). It is worth quoting the accompanying text in full because it remains the most detailed description we have of the cabinet to date:

    ...when a Spanish King requires a grandiose piece, he has recourse to England for the fulfilment of his needs. The makers of this were Seddon, Sons and Shackleton .....It is a bureau, jewel case, dressing table and organ all in one. The design is by Sir W.Chambers and the painted decorations are by W.Hamilton R.A. The former died in 1796, and the date of this cabinet is well within the eighteenth century. It was made to the order of Charles IV of Spain, and was actually completed on June 28th, 1793. The principal cabinet maker belonging to the firm was in all probability R.Newham, whose name with the date quoted is also written inside. The height is nine feet, extreme breadth six feet and depth three feet. Upon it are painted representations of the order of the Golden Fleece and the Immaculate Conception in a riband carried by cupids. The other panels represent the Four Seasons, Fire and Water, Night and Morning, Juno in a car drawn by peacocks, Ceres in a car drawn by lions, and five cupids in separate small panels. In the domed top is an organ with outside case of ormolu and a Wedgwood plaque. Below this are pigeon holes concealed by cupboards. The mouldings and edgings are of fine ormolu. The side pedestals and cupboards below have plain interiors. The bureau and dressing-table has a large mirror and all kinds of fittings, either sliding or swinging on pivots. The chest of drawers below has cupboard doors. The carving of the figure work is extremely skilful, the main surface of the cabinet being satin-wood. It is in the possession of Mr R.W.Partridge, St James's Street.

    Robert Partridge took the cabinet to the Franco-British Exhibition at Shepherds Bush in 1908 where it received a great deal of publicity and attention. At the beginning of 1910 Robert Partridge moved to new premises at 180 New Bond Street. In August of the same year he went into partnership with picture dealers, Lewis and Simmons, and in October he sailed to New York on the Lusitania, taking the cabinet with him. He rented a suite of rooms on the second floor of the Plaza Hotel where he showed it throughout the winter season as part of a selling exhibition of 60 pieces of English furniture. Accompanying the exhibition was a lavishly illustrated catalogue entitled, 'The Furniture of Thomas Chippendale', where the great cabinet appears as no. 37 and is described as 'probably the most important piece of furniture made in this Country in the 18th century'.

    On the 28th of November, 1910 the New York Times reported: 'This Collection, the result of 20 years' unremitting search and careful selection, has the unqualified admiration and approval of New York's foremost critics and collectors. In quality of design and craftsmanship it far excels any collection ever shown in America'.

    The publicity attracted the attention of wealthy industrial magnates of the generation such as the art connoisseur, Henry E. Huntington, much of whose collection was acquired from Partridge for his new mansion in Pasadena. The cabinet was heavily advertised and illustrated in the New York press – the American Art News even gave it a full page spread in one of its issues and suggested that it should be acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (American Art News, 1910, op.cit). As of the 2nd of February 1911, the newspapers reported that the collection had been moved to the galleries of A.J.Crawford Co (253-255 5th Avenue). At this point the cabinet ceases to be mentioned in the list of exhibits from which it can be assumed it had either been sold or broken up. The following year Robert Partridge opened his own shop in 5th Avenue although by then his relationship with Lewis and Simmons had ended. At some point between 1913 and 1920 Robert Partridge moved to California where he set up a business and continued to sell furniture and objects to Henry Huntington.

    Transformation – the Secretaire and the MGM Studios

    If Robert Partridge still had the (by now broken up) cabinet, it was at this point that he must have sold it to the MGM studios who were very keen to acquire period furniture to use as stage props. On the back of the carcass of the secretaire is the studio reference number, 'MGM 5X7760'. It was common practice before the Second World War to use genuine antique furniture in film sets – a fact that is often forgotten, but which was explained in the following statement:

    Metro Goldwyn Mayers's award winning set decorators and designers travelled the world in pursuit of every conceivable item of furniture, vehicle, statuary, tapestry, weapon, rug, lamp and adornment calculated to give millions a sense of time and place and beauty they might otherwise never have experienced.

    The so-called 'Marot Table' which appeared on the market in the 1990's, is another example of a significant item of furniture which was used as a Hollywood film prop . In the case of this example, the table was sold in 1918 by the antique dealer Thomas B.Clark to Thomas Ince Productions (which was later taken over by the Cecil B. De Mille Studio).

    In 1970 the auctioneer David Weisz held a three week sale in order to clear seven of MGM's sound stages. A vast assortment of costumes, film props and related property from the studios dating from the 1920's were put into the sale including costumes, furniture, cars, trains, tanks, boats, ships, aircraft and space capsules that were previously incorporated into studio productions. Highlights were the full size ship from Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Elizabeth Taylor's wedding dress worn in Father of the Bride (1950), and items from The Wizard of Oz (1939) including the pair of ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland.

    In amongst almost 11,000 items of furniture which were auctioned is a lot which came up on the second day of the sale (4th May 1970) with the following description:

    Lot 2477 SECRETARY English, satinwood, painted panels, gilded columns, upper door fronts with fitted interior; lower desk section with fitted interior and column stretcher base (BABES IN ARMS).

    Although we cannot be certain, it does seem probable that this refers to the offered lot and that it confirms the final part of this extraordinary secretaire's history.

    This footnote was researched and compiled by Elizabeth Jamieson.

    Literature (in order of publication):
    Frederick S Robinson, English Furniture, London, 1905, pp.317-318, illustrated, frontispiece & plate CLVII .
    Frederick Litchfield, Illustrated History of Furniture, 4th ed. 1907, p.274.
    Burlington Magazine, 'The Franco British Exhibition', 13 July 1908, illustrated p.205.
    G.Owen Wheeler, Old English Furniture, London, 1909, pp.605-606, illustrated p.603.
    Partridge Lewis and Simmons, The Furniture of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1910, No.37 illustrated plate XIX.
    American Art News. Vol.9, no.8, 3rd December 1910, p.5, illustrated.
    Esther Singleton, Furniture, New York, 1911, p.136.
    Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol 14, No.5, May 1919, p.119-120.
    Old Furniture, Vol. 5, September – December 1928, p.32.
    Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1954, Vol. 3, p.69
    David Weisz Co, 3 - 13 May 1970 Antiques and Furniture, Day Two, Monday 4th May.
    Christopher Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds, 1996, pp.48-49, illustrated figs. 788 & 791.
    Christopher Gilbert, "Seddon, Sons & Shackleton", Furniture History, Vol XXXIII, 1997, pp.1-29, illustrated figs.13-16.

    See Christopher Gilbert and Lucy Wood, 'Sophie de la Roche at Seddon's', Furniture History, Vol XXXIII, 1997, p.33
    Reported in The Times,London, 20 September 1798.
    see www.oldbaileyonline.org
    See Lucy Wood, The Upholstered Furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Vol.II, London, 2009, pp.1002-1004.
    For further illustrations of Hamilton's allegorical work see Anne Campbell, 'A Scrapbook of Drawings by William Hamilton' Huntington Library Quarterly, vol.43, No.4, Autumn 1980, pp.327-334.
    See John Harris, Sir William Chambers, London, 1970, p.256.
    see R.Wackernagel, 'Carlton House Mews: The State Coach of the Prince of Wales', Furniture History, Vol XXX1I, 1995, p.57
    Patridge Lewis and Simmons, op.cit. No.37
    David Weisz Co, 3 - 13 May 1970 Antiques and Furniture
    Sotheby's London, 10 July 1998, lot 87
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