Antiques Column: Canterbury tales and tribulations

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The Canterbury, in the most basic terms, is a low, open-top piece of furniture with partitions or slats for storing sheet music, often made with additional storage in the bottom in the form of a drawer – or, in modern terms, a magazine rack.

The Canterbury was made with short legs that stood on castors, making it easy to move around.

It is largely acknowledged that the name originated from the Archbishop of Canterbury who first commissioned one in the 1780s.

The Archbishop in question, Frederick Cornwallis who served from 1768 to 1783, had aristocratic associations and thus likely connections with prominent cabinet-makers of the time before his appointment to Archbishop, adding weight to the theory that the name came from him.

Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), an English cabinet-maker who is credited as having a significant influence over furniture design of the late 18th century, appears to be the first to use the name Canterbury in his 1803 book ‘The Cabinet Dictionary’.

Other key examples of Canterbury designs are included in George Smith’s ‘A collection of designs for household furniture and interior decoration’ from 1808 and John Claudius Loudon’s ‘The Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, Villa Architecture’ in 1834.

The Canterbury began life as a simple, functional piece of furniture but grew more elaborate with time and remained popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

It is also important to note that during this period, sheet music was made more widely available, due to new printing processes making it more affordable, and so the design of such a piece of furniture seems inevitable, to sit by the piano in the more wealthy of homes.