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Library desk serving as a pier table, XF267, by John Robins (1776-1828), late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, mahogany with cedar, plate glass, mirror glass and brass handles and castors.©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.
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  • image Image 2 for XF267
  • image Image 3 for XF267

John Robbins (1776 - 1828)

Library desk serving as a pier table, by John Robins (1776-1828), late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, mahogany with cedar, plate glass, mirror glass and brass handles and castors

Height: 76.5cm
Width: 118cm
Depth: 84cm

Museum number: XF267

Curatorial note

With cupboards at both ends each with a pair of glazed doors originally fitted with brass grilles; the glass is backed with modern green damask. The cupboard at the right-hand end is very deep; that at the left-hand end much shallower. The left-hand cupboard doors are full-height and incorporate false drawers in the upper part, each with an angular handle matching those on the front of the desk; the right-hand door, with keyhole, is numbered 30 in white paint (modern) below an in-filled recess for an ivory disc. The cupboard at the right-hand end has brass bolts at top and bottom of the left-hand door; the right-hand door is numbered 31 the brass-lined keyhole. Above the cupboard at the right-hand end is a full-depth drawer on runners in the form of three small brass wheels each side; the drawer has one broken brass bail handle which do not match the angular handles on the front and left-hand sides of the desk; the drawer has an inset ivory disc numbered 101; the drawer front is solid mahogany. The desk has a centre front extension supported on tapering fluted legs with their capitals terminating in a triple bead; a brass strut runs from the foot to the front of the desk; both legs on brass castors; small cedar drawers at either end of the front extension, each drawer with a hole in the base for an inkpot; two angular handles to front of extension, matching those on the left-hand cupboard; either side of extension two pieces of mirror glass set into front of desk; at the back of the kneehole a canted mirror incorporated into the depth of the structure without impinging on the deep cupboard; the base of the desk is distinguished by a single horizontal moulding and there is a concave frieze around the top of the desk.

This desk has been identified with that which was in the Breakfast Room at No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields and is shown in the Gandy view of that room of 1798. It was thought to have been taken to the house which Soane occupied in his role as Surveyor to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and to have been brought back to No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1812-13.

However, from 1804 Soane owned two of these Library desks. A bill from John Robins dated 1 November 1804 and endorsed ‘for Lincoln’s Inn Fields’ is for a desk matching this description:

A good Jamaica Mahogany Library Table with Solid top & Reeded Edge, folding doors at each end with fix’d Partitions for Portfolios, a square projecting front in the middle with Drawers, turned and fluted front legs and on Brass Socket Casters the front and back Pannells to represent doors & fixing on your Locks £18.18s’.1

The bill goes on to specify taking out a window to bring in the new table and ‘removing your old Library Table into Back Office.’ The old Library table is the seemingly identical one shown in a Gandy watercolour. An early design plan for the layout of the Library at No. 13, dating from 1812, confirms that Soane owned two identical desks. It shows one of the desks in plan at the south end of the room with the note ‘Table in lower office / or that in the long room at Chelsea’.2

Whether this desk is the one that was in No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1798 or the one Robins made for Soane in 1804, it seems that the mirrors were added to the front when it was installed in the Library in 1812-13, to reflect the carpets and the Cawdor Vase on the window sill at the opposite end of the room. The desk then began its second incarnation as a pier table. The Gandy view also confirms that the angled handles which survive to the front and left-hand end of this desk are the originals and the bail handles later replacements.

1 Archive XVI.A.4.1.
2 SM 32/3/34, ground plan dated 16 July 1812.

Literature

J. Soane Description of the Residence of John Soane, Architect, London, 1830, p. 21
J. Soane Description of the Residence of John Soane, Architect, London, 1835, p. 6
Exh. cat., John Soane Architect: Master of Space and Light, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1999, p.172, no. 80


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