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image XF134
The 'Soane Case’, XF134, early nineteenth century and ?later, mahogany, oak and glass. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.

The 'Soane Case’, early nineteenth century and ?later

Mahogany and oak with ivory discs and glazed doors

Museum number: XF134

Curatorial note

Glazed mahogany bookcase in two sections, both upper and lower sections with glazed doors, those in the upper section each having eight panes with moulded astragals and those in the lower section each having four panes. This puzzling piece seems to have been part of the Research Library furnishings since the 1920s. The doors of the upper section have inlaid ivory discs ‘I’ and ‘K’ and the lower doors discs lettered ‘J’ and ‘L’. The front of the plain cornice has an inlaid frieze of a diamond quatrefoil pattern in a lighter wood – its oddly Gothic appearance out of keeping with the rest of the piece – and this may be an indication that the cornice is a later addition. The plinth is twentieth-century. The interior of both sections is fitted with identical oak shelves, faced with mahogany. The upper and lower parts are two separate carcases and the lower section is also constructed in two halves. The upper and lower sections have probably always been together although the centre vertical moulding to the lower section does not match that of the upper section (it could be a replacement following damage). The simple moulding running around the top of the lower section is cut on one side, probably to enable the cupboard to fit into a particular position in the past.

This bookcase must be a Regency piece, being made of superb mahogany, with the carcase top and the bottom boards made of quarter-sawn oak, and having original early nineteenth century glass. Although it has often been assumed to have belonged to Soane it does not appear on any plan of the Museum from his time or on the plans of the bookcases around the building produced just after his death and no bookcases lettered ‘I’, ‘K’, ‘J’ or ‘L’ are listed Soane period book catalogues of 1831 and 1837. It seems therefore that it may have been acquired by A.T. Bolton (Curator 1917 to 1945), for his Research Library, but there is no mention of it in the curatorial or Trustees records. The earliest photograph to show the bookcase in the Museum dates from 1929 when it is shown in Bolton’s front Research Library between the windows – in front of Soane’s tall arched inset mirror.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk