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image XF161
Chest or nest of drawers, XF161, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, probably for Sir John Soane, mahogany with ivory discs and brass inset ring-pull handles. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.

Chest or nest of drawers, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, probably for Sir John Soane

Mahogany with ivory discs and brass inset ring-pull handles

Height: 70.5cm
Width: 50.5cm
Depth: 33cm

Museum number: XF161

Curatorial note

Within a plain carcase; one tier of six drawers, stacked vertically; each drawer outlined with a simple scratch moulding and numbered with an ivory disc inset into a circular cut-out and fully flush with the surface; drawers numbered in descending order 16, 17, 18, 13, 21, 19; large screw holes in the front between drawers 16 and 17 where closet was sealed up (see note below); right-hand side of case has two horizontal rows of four slots to take the other half of the carcase (now missing).

This piece is half of what was once an identical unit to XF138 and sat alongside it. Two loose drawers in store at the Museum are from the missing half of this nest of drawers1 which would have contained drawers numbered 13-24 to complete the full number of drawers, 1-24, which were in the closet ‘K’ on the right of the passage leading from the Dressing Room through to the Museum in 1837.2 Drawer 21 is currently incorrectly installed out of sequence in cat. XF161. A similar piece is shown in the Breakfast Room a north-south section through the Dome and Breakfast Room, 1818, by Francis Copeland (Vol 3, 1), which is perhaps either XF138 or XF161.

In the 1837 Furniture and Fittings list cats XF138 and XF161 are described as ‘A nest of mahogany drawers in Recess opposite door of water closet (covered up)’ i.e. inside the closet, ‘K’. At the time of Soane’s death the drawers were full of papers and sealed up under the terms of Soane’s Will, with instructions that they were not to be opened for thirty years.3 In the draft of the Inventory of 1837 (known as the AA Inventory) of 1837 George Bailey included a note ‘Mem[o]: relating to the Drawers numbered from 25 to 129 / It is presumed that the drawers 1 to 24 are those in ‘the recess’ in ‘Dressing Room’ on the right hand going into the Museum, screwed up till 22nd November 1866 – Contents unknown’.4

With their small scale and inset brass ring-pull handles these pieces are reminiscent of Georgian and Regency military furniture and campaign chests.5 Although these are relatively small-scale pieces, simple and practical in appearance, they are beautifully made of solid mahogany. The ivory discs to XF138, which do not quite fit their holes properly, may be later replacements.

1 Two drawers numbered 20 and 14.
2 Three loose drawers are in store in the Larder: nos. 20, 14 and unnumbered.
3 They were opened on 22 November 1866 and found to contain office and miscellaneous papers. See A New Description of Sir John Soane’s Museum, 11th Revised Edition 2007, p.106.
4 SM Archive, AA Inventory 1837, f.n. p. 234, facing page.
5 See N. Brawer, British Campaign Furniture, London, 2001.

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