The Collector’s Minute: Hepplewhite Style

A Hepplewhite-style butler’s desk—called such because it could be used standing up by household staff.

The piece pictured here is a mahogany butler’s desk. It’s in the “Hepplewhite style,” which was popular from the late 18th century through the 1820s.

Desks like this got their name because they could be used by household staff while standing up, as butlers would—the desk containing what was needed to run the day-to-day business of the household.

Dating these desks is difficult without actually examining them, as they have been reproduced since the last quarter of the 19th century. Most, like this one, are of the period that tends to be constructed of mahogany with pine or basswood as a secondary wood used for drawer bottoms and interior construction.

Some examples by more rural cabinet shops tended to make use of more local hardwoods, such as walnut, cherry, maple or birch, the birch and maple varieties often with a high grain, such flame birch or tiger or bird’s-eye maple.

Very little is known about George Hepplewhite, himself. Some sources list no birth information, however some list a date of birth in 1727 in Ryton Parish, County Durham, England. His main claim to fame is his design book, published after his death by his wife, Alice.

In 1788, Alice published “The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Guide,” which contained about 300 of his designs, with two other editions published in 1789 and 1790. These design books were widely used on both sides of the Atlantic by cabinetmakers until the 1820s.

Values for these pieces depend a great deal on the maker and provenance, but most by unknown makers and in need of some minor restoration, like this one, currently sell at auction in the $1,500-to-$2,500 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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