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8.


Discussion


Although a Library Step Chair design was patented by Robert Campbell in 1774 there is little evidence of manufacture until the second decade of the nineteenth century. In 1793, Thomas Sheraton (Sheraton, 1972, p. 186) suggested how an infringement of Campbell‟s patent could be avoided71 but it was not until the neo- classical form was combined with the mechanical simplicity of a front-hinged design that a popular version of the chair was developed. In 1811, Rudolph Ackermann featured this new design in „The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics‟. Referring to the device as the Metamorphic Library Chair, Ackermann declared that it was „the best and handsomest article ever yet invented‟. The design became so popular that Gillows was still manufacturing a version of the chair in 1834. By this time, the Metamorphic Library Chair had become a fashionable feature in hundreds of libraries throughout the United Kingdom.


During the first few years of the nineteenth century, over three thousand cabinet- makers were competing for business within a few miles of London‟s city centre. The Industrial Revolution was well under way and museums of curiosity exhibiting mechanical automata were a popular attraction in the capital. Aristocratic families and the new „champions of industry‟, fresh from their grand tours, were keen to share their ideas and eager for change. Entrepreneurial cabinet-makers such as Morgan & Sanders seized the opportunity and started to manufacture novel, space-saving, multi-purpose furniture. Competition was fierce and new designs were frequently copied by rival firms. Some protected their ideas with patents and a small group of patent furniture manufacturers assembled around Catherine Street and the Strand. To these cabinet-makers mechanical and metamorphic furniture production came naturally. They were familiar with the mix of engineering and cabinet-making skills necessary to succeed having worked on knock-down furniture for the military campaigns and grand tours of the eighteenth century. For the larger, traditional firms mechanical furniture had been treated as a sideline and represented only a small fraction of their total output. To avoid disrupting the flow of their busy workshops Gillows, in common with their peers, relied on journeymen to master the mechanics and meet the market demand. Domestic versions of the campaign pieces became hugely popular and within a few years two distinct markets had been created.


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