The Hygra Antique Boxes at the Sign of the Hygra
2 Middleton Road, London, E8 4BL, UK.
(by appointment only)   
PHONE: 00 44 (0)20 7254 7074 
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at the Sign of the Hygra
2 Middleton Road
London E8 4BL
Tel: 00 44 (0)20 7 254 7074
Fax: 00 44 (0) 870 1257669

Antique Boxes in English Society
1760 -1900







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The highly skilled cabinet makers who made boxes in the 18th and 19th centuries also made table cabinets. These small versions of furniture were made to stand on tables, desks, in alcoves and  on shelves. They were used both for storing a variety of items and for enhancing dull corners.

Most table cabinets consist of a set of drawers enclosed by two doors. Some have a lift up lid which when opened reveals the contents of the top tray and some have a pull out writing slope on the bottom drawer.

The styles of the table cabinets follow in the footsteps of furniture and boxes of the parallel periods with the exception that the sides are always straight. The tops however are sometimes domed or stepped as in Regency period boxes. They sometimes stand on pediments or feet and have side handles.

18th century table cabinets are rectangular in figured mahogany veneers edged in boxwood. Occasionally they are inlaid in the motifs found on tea caddies of the period.

Chinoiserie and penwork table cabinets were also made in the eighteen century.


 In the early part of the 19th century cabinets were decorated in many of the fashions of the time.


Penwork cabinets were sometimes made with domed or stepped tops and were decorated both on the outside and the inside drawers. They were often made to contain sewing tools on the top section which opened from the top like a box. The rest of the drawers were usually empty.


Chinoiserie and Painted cabinets followed similar patterns.

Tunbridge Ware

Tunbridge Ware cabinets dating from this period are magnificently decorated with parquetry and vandyke patterns. The large surfaces gave the maker the opportunity to show off not only his skill but the wonderful range of timbers he had at his disposal.

Chinese Lacquer

Wonderful Chinese lacquer cabinets were imported by the beginning of the 19th century. The decoration on these is of very fine quality. They usually stand on a pedestal and have two doors. The top is shaped in proportion with the base. Inside there are four five or six drawers with turned ivory knobs. The drawers too are decorated with designs in gold.
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A few Chinese cabinets were made in the English arrangement, that is with the top opening like the lid of a box. Even fewer with the additional writing slope pulling out of the bottom drawer. These are of the highest quality and are now very rare.


By the end of the Regency period in the 1830s another style of table cabinet superseded the English wooden cabinets.

These table cabinets often referred to as William IV, are in figured rosewood with elaborate mother of pearl inlays. They stand on stepped pedestals and have architecturally structured tops which open like box lids. The top section is fitted like a work box  or sewing box of the period. The second or third drawer has a tray fitted for holding jewellery and the fourth (last) drawer pulls out and opens up to a writing slope. There are of course variations but on the whole all of these table cabinets are very impressive.

Papier Mâchè

Papier mâchè table cabinets of this period follow the decorative patterns of work boxes. They were made in both forms, that is as a set of drawers enclosed by doors, or the top opening up separately and fitted with sewing equipment. The tops are flat, domed or stepped with surrounds in fluid rounded forms. The bases are quite deep and shaped


By this time, table cabinets in wood became simpler. They were made in figured walnut or coromandel in rectangular shapes. Straight doors enclosed brass handled drawers. Sometimes the cabinets were surrounded in brass, or had brass corners in the fashion of writing boxes of the period.

Tunbridge Ware

Tunbridge Ware cabinets were now decorated with designs of castles, flowers, ruins etc in wood mosaic. They were mostly smaller than the earlier cabinets.

Papier Mâchè

Papier mâchè cabinets continued very much in the earlier tradition but with more prominent mother of pearl decoration. A notable addition was the Gothic revival cabinets made in rounded and peaked shapes. Papier mâchè lent itself to being moulded in plastic shapes and this quality together with the mother of pearl decoration enabled the makers to interpret this new fashion very effectively.

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