Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Metamorphic Library Chair

The prior post discusses the history of the metamorphic furniture of Morgan and Sanders. Like the Londoners of the early 19th century, I too caught the craze and built a chair that converts into a set of library steps.  Having a decent golf book collection extending up to a 9 foot ceiling, I was grabbing the kitchen stool each time to reach the top shelf. Certainly, with the amount of time I spent building the chair, I could have run back and forth to the kitchen over a thousand times. Did I really need to make this gadget? No. But, isn't a Morgan and Sanders style metamorphic library chair more hip than a kitchen stool?

The chair quickly transforms into a set of steps via hinges located along the top of the front legs.

In terms of the woodworking itself, the project was an exercise in mortise and tenon joinery. There are close to 40 of these joints, only a few of which were not angled or curved. Some of the mortise and tenons were hand cut completely, others were made with a router jig, some were in combination using power and hand tools. The crest rail was affixed using 1/2" dowels and smaller dowels were used to connect the back splat to the crest rail and rail below. The main lesson learned here is to consider the best timing to cut the joinery. Sometimes, the mortise and tenons should be cut while the stock is still square. Also, some of the curved pieces have flat sections to make the joinery simpler. For example, the back leg has a flat section at the level of the side rail as well as at the level of the arm rest. Similarly, there is a flat plateau along the top of the side rail to accept the support for the armrest support.

Flat sections on curved pieces simplifies the joinery.
Other parts of the chair do not allow for flattened surfaces. To make the angled curved shoulder for the bottom rail into the curved leg, the shoulder was cut on an angle tangent to the curve. A trace amount of the center of the shoulder was then hollowed out with sandpaper with trial and error. Some curves were so subtle that the shoulders were not hollowed out at all.

Old chair template. I did not intend to make a faithful reproduction of the Morgan and Sanders chair. I almost forgot that my dad had this old chair in a spare bedroom which he let me borrow to use to create the foundations of the template of the sides of the chair. Notice that the sides of this chair are coplanar. All of the rails that run side to side, rather than front to back, will need to be joined with angled mortise and tenons

Plywood template in the "chair" position.

Mimicking the side profile when the chair back is flipped for the stairs. The armrests needed to be shortened so that they would not hit the leg when the steps are used.

OK. I don't own a table saw. I am not recommending the use of your garage door rails as a hoist.

I worked with a large approx 14/4 slab of cherry. There were 5 different pieces for the sides of the chair. The final side thickness is 1 3/8". The left and right pieces were cut as one, shaped and sanded, and then ripped in half  to have a corresponding left and right.

This template jig prevented the blade from wandering too far off course. This type of jig has been described in the various woodworking magazines. 

Following the rough cutting with the band saw, the pieces were cleaned up with a spokeshave and then sanded.

I went with angled mortises rather than angled tenons. You can look at other sites about that debate. Sometimes the tenons were cut freehand, other times I used my Stanley 55 saw plane.

The key lesson for these joints: When I found myself scratching my head too long to figure out something, it was just easier to go old school. Our eyes, along with a bevel gauge, are more accurate than we can sometimes imagine.  7° was my working angle.

Here was my first significant boneheaded blunder. These hinges will help the back part of the chair flip over the front legs to expose the steps. Unfortunately, the hinge central axis as well as the rear of the front leg at the level of the hinge needed to be parallel to the rear of the front rail.  Why? While the hinge works smoothly before assembly, when the right and left hinges are installed and the chair is assembled, the angle of hinges will try to force the rails outward as the chair is converted to the steps. 

Note the difference after fixing things up a bit..
The central axis of the hinges are now colinear with the rear of the front seat rail.

Note that the side rail is not shaped until the mortise and tenons are completed.

Chair swung open in "steps" mode.

A router jig to create the mortise and tenons was used for many of the smaller pieces that support the treads of the steps.

Stair treads made of maple

I finally got to use my coach-makers router to fashion the grooves for the panel.

At this point, I had not glued anything in place.

This shows the mortise for the hinge. Since screws go into end grain, dowels were placed just deep to the mortise so that the screw can  have more grab. The second screw goes through a tenon.

 The side rails and other components are shaped . Then glue up is completed. Further finer shaping was performed with rasps and files after glue up.  Quirk beads are made with a scratch stock in a fairly tedious manner. The beads were worked on before gluing and then further finessed after gluing. Some issues with short grain tearout with the beading occurred as the upper rear of armrest joins the rear leg. The volutes were fashioned on lathe and applied to recessed holes.

This is the improvised locking mechanism when the chair-steps is used as a chair. The plate is located on the upper surface of the first step. There is a brass threaded insert in the larger hole. To lock the chair, the threaded brass pin runs through a brass lined hole on the fourth step (which sits on top of the first step) and the engages the insert. The original 1811 model used a lever under the first step with a hook that latched into a plate on the fourth step above.

The "emblem" is a standardized 1" golf ball marker recessed flush to the surface with a magnetic backing which can be easily exchanged. 

Maple steps with diamond inlay.

Note the 5th leg added under the center stretcher.

Ackermann's Repository , July 1811

The Metamorphic Furniture of Morgan and Sanders

At the start of the 19th century, there was a relatively short fascination with metamorphic furniture, in which the piece appears to have a single function but converts to another appearance and use with elegant ease. Patents for this kind of furniture peaked in the late 18th century and designs became more refined with the alternative function of the piece more cleverly concealed. The mechanical nature and incorporation of specialized hardware of the easily collapsible and transportable Army Navy equipage (campaign furniture), which became so popular in the latter decades of the 18th century, was the natural predecessor of metamorphic furniture. The pinnacle of metamorphic furniture production occurred for about a decade after 1805 in London.

Lord Nelson's Death Helps to Popularize a Furniture Line

Admiral Nelson
London, August 1805. Admiral Horatio Nelson has just returned home after several months and thousands of miles at sea chasing Admiral Villeneuve, who headed the combined French and Spanish fleet. Despite Nelson's failure to capture Villeneuve and because of his persistence, Nelson was greeted by the citizens of the England with a most enthusiastic welcome.

Merton Place

These years are the Admiral's happiest. After unwinding a bit, he and his friend, Emma Hamilton, plan for more entertaining and overnight guests at their newly renovated estate house at Merton. They would like to decorate the house with the most fashionable furniture. At this point, we could certainly imagine the pair taking a stroll in the West End of London along The Strand, replete with furniture makers. 

The Strand, London. Caleb Robert Stanley. 1824.  St. Mary-le-Strand in the middle distance. The viewpoint is very close to the intersection of The Strand and Catherine Street. The firm of Morgan and Sanders would have been just off to the left. (Compare to current Google maps view )

While window shopping, they enter inside Ackermann's Repository of Arts located on 101 The Strand. 

Ackermann's Repository of Art.

The gallery is like a museum with prints, original paintings and sculpture, all for purchase. Rudolph Ackermann introduces himself to Nelson. Nelson mentions that he was just out for a relaxing stroll down the Strand but was also looking for some fancy furniture which just might fit in well at his estate and provide a conversation piece. Ackermann directs him to the nearby business of Morgan and Sanders, located 3 doors off The Strand at 16 and 17 Catherine Street.

Morgan & Sanders 16 and 17 Catherine St

After entering the furniture manufactory lobby, Nelson notices some pieces that he knows all too well as Army Navy Equipage - the easily transportable and collapsible chairs, tables, wash basins, chests and beds used during military campaigns.

Army Navy Equipage. This style of portable wash basin is the same as one attributed  to that  used by Admiral Nelson aboard the HMS Victory and now housed at the National Maritime Museum.  The manufacturer of Nelson's wash basin is unknown.
From the Supplement to the Cabinet-Makers London Book of Prices 1805
Horatio and Emma are directed upstairs to the main "ware-room" where they browse the more refined furniture better suited for inside the mansion than under a canvas tent.

The Morgan and Sanders ware-room. A rare view of a furniture store in the early 1800's.
Ackermann's Repository of Arts 1809.

Ackermann's August 1809
After Emma and Nelson spend quite some time with the in-house staff who help them decide on some styles, they place a large order with the owners, Thomas Morgan and Joseph Sanders. With 6 floors, the combined retail store and manufactory has some of Nelson's ordered items in their inventory with others needing to be custom built. Morgan and Sanders employs over 100 workers on-site, but it will still take some time to construct and deliver all of the furniture.

After a one month respite, the Admiral must return to sea. He has dreams of even happier times with Emma Hamilton at Merton upon his he return. But, it was not to be.

Horatio Nelson died in October 1805 after his victory at Cape Trafalgar. Emma tried to hold on to Merton Place, but her willed pension could not support her at the estate. She quickly went into debt. Morgan and Sanders were stuck with some of Nelson's large order of furniture. Whether through permission granted from Emma Hamilton or as a combination of admiration and exploitation of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, the furniture showroom changed its name to Trafalgar House and named a sideboard dining room table the Nelson or Trafalgar Sideboard and Dining Table. Their style of Neoclassical or Regency chair became known as the Trafalgar Chair.

"Trafalgar" chair. Ackermann's, March 1809.

These chairs shout out Admiral Nelson

Ackermann's Repository of Arts Monthly Magazine

In 1809, Rudolph Ackermann parlayed his successful showroom and printmaking skills into a well produced periodical known as the Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politics. The magazine was published for two decades with each issue containing several hand coloured lithographs, often of an animal, map, fashionable dress, a magnificent building and furniture.  Morgan and Sanders' firm was featured prominently in "Ackermann's" in its earlier years via articles, under the heading of FASHIONABLE FURNITURE,  as well as in advertisements. The journal is now an excellent reference for fashions and style of the early 19th century.

Fierce Competition on Catherine Street

Many of the furniture pieces shown in Ackermann's magazine and in tradecards are advertised as "patent" furniture. The term patent furniture during the time morphed into simply meaning that the furniture had some sort of ingenious mechanism, whether patented or not. Both campaign style and the subsequent metamorphic furniture designs can be considered patent furniture. Neither Morgan and Sanders nor their fierce competitor two doors away, Thomas Butler, actually filed for any patents themselves. In fact, many of the patents used had already expired.

There was quite a bit of jockeying in the patent furniture business. Butler had established his business in 1787 on 14 Catherine Street and employed Thomas Morgan as an under-clerk while Joseph Sanders served as the superintendent of manufacturing. A couple of doors away on 11 Catherine Street, was the firm of Thomas Waldron, who was listed as an upholsterer. But, it was Waldron who patented a type of bed that used fasteners along the adjoining rails and posts that engaged together to allow for a bed to be set up in about 10 minutes without screws or nuts.

Butler purchased Waldron's patent and advertised the patent bed, becoming one of Butler's most popular items. Subsequently, while still employed by Butler, superintendent Sanders made improvements on the construction of the bed as well as inventing other furniture forms. By 1799, Waldron's patent had expired since the statute lasted 14 years at that time.  

In 1800, Butler decided to sell his business to Morgan and Sanders and hired Samuel Oxenham (also described as T. Oxenham) to appraise the value of the business. Somehow, it was Oxenham who ended up purchasing the business leaving Morgan and Sanders to set up their own shop two doors away at 16 and 17 Catherine Street. Oxenham stayed around for only for about a year, moving to Oxford Street with Butler again repurchasing his former firm. Both Butler and Oxenham would claim that they had exclusive rights to the patent even after the patent had expired. 

Oxenham broadsheet while on Oxford Street 

Based on the advertisements, there is no need to deduce that there was fierce competition between the two companies. The firms displayed very similar products in the ads, some of which had a "patent" associated with it, and claimed that they had "no connection whatever" with other businesses. Butler returned back to his business twice after retiring, until 1817, when Morgan and Sanders finally purchased Butler's interest. Morgan and Sanders closed a year later.  Besides the two firms on Catherine Street, a few other major firms, including those of Richard Gillows and William Pocock, also competed in a similar arena, These two latter firms specialized more in expandable tables, reclining chairs, billiard tables and invalid chairs. But, both Gillows and Pocock each offered at least one model of metamorphic furniture.  Gillows' offered a metamorphic library chair and a press bed ( what we now know as a Murphy bed).  Pocock offered a sideboard table.

Harsh Words. Morgan and Sanders did not hold back. It appears these words were directed to Thomas Butler, who had been listed in a prior census as an attorney's clerk. Portion of verso of a trade card. British Museum Collection. 1804-1805.

Morgan and Sanders trade card confirms the fierce competition against Oxenham after he had taken over Butler's firm. British Museum Collection.

Ackermann's 1811.
Note the last sentence.

Morgan and Sanders purchases Butler's business
La belle Assemblee April 1817

Metamorphic Furniture Prior To 1800

A simple way to know that a piece would qualify as being metamorphic is that there is a mechanism to transform the piece into two completely different furniture forms (i.e. a globe - desk). 

One of the earliest forms of metamorphic furniture was analyzed and recreated at the most recent Williamsburg Working Wood in the 18th Century symposium by master joiner Ted Boscana. This 17th century chair converts to a table after folding down the back of the chair.

Chair-table, ca. 1675.
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
The start of elegant transforming furniture began in the latter half of 18th century with 
a popular type of metamorphic furniture patented and produced by Robert Campbell in 1774.

From The Cabinet-Maker And Upholsterer's Drawing-Book. Part III. Thomas Sheraton 1802
Benjamin Franklin was credited with inventing this metamorphic library chair and ladder, although as Clive Taylor points out, there are clear similarities to Robert Campbell's patent drawings.

From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, H.A. Davidson, Editor 1908

Patented Metamorphic Furniture of Morgan and Sanders

Morgan and Sanders stood apart from their competitors in offering the greatest variety of metamorphic furniture styles. Thomas Butler's metamorphic furniture likely was primarily of the campaign style. Gillows probably was the next most prolific manufacturer of metamorphic furniture, but much of theirs followed that of Morgan and Sanders. 

Morgan and Sanders offerings included the following metamorphic styles:
  • Chair-bed and sofa-bed 
  • Sideboard-table
  • Globe-writing table, globe-desk, globe-sewing table
  • Chair-library steps

(The years provided below indicate when the piece was first mentioned in advertisements or in magazine articles)

Chair-Bed, c. 1801

With screw on legs and fold out bed rails, the portable chair bed was one of Morgan and Sanders' staple items. Several other firms offered strikingly similar models. It could be used as campaign furniture or at home for guests. Morgan and Sanders Army Navy equipage was consistently advertised throughout the firm's existence and likely laid the foundation for some of the more elaborate pieces that would be purchased for the wealthier clients.
From a Morgan and Sanders Broadsheet
A Morgan and Sanders labeled chair bed.
 Photo with permission from David Skinner Antiques

A Morgan and Sanders labeled chair bed.
 Photo with permission from David Skinner Antiques

A Morgan and Sanders labeled chair bed.
 Photo with permission from David Skinner Antiques
The entire chair bed folded down into a more transportable table, or even into a box after the legs were unscrewed.
 Photo with permission from David Skinner Antiques

Sofa-Bed 1801

Sideboard-Table 1810

An expandable table was first patented by William Pocock. A dining table which is hidden within a sideboard may have been based on the patent. The table expands by flipping over the top table leaf but can further expand with additional leaves stored in the center drawer. 

Sideboard - table. Unknown manufacturer. There is evidence that both Morgan and Sanders and William Pocock made sideboard-tables. 
Photo with permission from Summers Davis Antiques

Sideboard - table. Unknown manufacturer.  The table expands by flipping over the top table leaf but can further expand with additional leaves stored in the center drawer.
Photo with permission from Summers Davis Antiques

In one of Morgan and Sanders' broadsheet ads, there is a similar appearing sideboard table. This version shows sabre shaped legs as compared to the one above which has round reeded tapered legs.

Morgan and Sanders also produced an entirely different version as shown in Ackermann's.  This pedestal style sideboard-table has a much heavier and boxier form and was originally designed for Lord Nelson. This pedestal style was more popular about 50 years earlier. This Morgan and Sanders version was made before Nelson's death in late 1805 but not published in Ackermann's until 1810. Morgan and Sanders advertised this piece as "patent", presumably for the extending dining room table. Whether they obtained the rights to Pocock's patent, another patent or used the term, patent, loosely, is not known.

Trafalgar patent sideboard and dining table. Morgan and Sanders. Ackermann's April 1810

Ackermann's April 1810

Globe-Writing Table,1810 and Globe-Desk

As they had done with Lord Nelson, Morgan and Sanders profited again from another well regarded celebrity, Prime Minister William Pitt The Younger, in 1806, by naming their globe the Pitts Globe and Writing Table. They also did not fail to mention that Her Highness Princess Augusta Frederica of Great Britain also ordered one of these globe tables as well. Some of the globes were inscribed with cartography while others displayed fine wood veneers. It has been suggested that Morgan and Sanders may have also created an elegant smaller version globe-sewing table housed in the British Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace  (additional photos), although the style actually appears too ornate and more reminiscent of the Biedermeier style.  George Remington's 1807 patent describes the two quarter [spheres] which move upon hinges.

Pitts Cabinet Globe and Writing Table. Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1810.
Note how both halves of the upper hemisphere can rotate into the lower hemisphere to expose the desk. 

Note that the mechanism of this Morgan and Sanders  globe -desk is different than the mechanism in the Ackermann plate. The quarter hemispheres swing out to the side rather than swing down into the lower half of the globe.
 Photo with permission from M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans
Photo with permission from M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Photo with permission from M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Metamorphic Library Chair, 1811

Ackermann's July 1811
The well known metamorphic library chair was one of Morgan and Sanders most popular pieces with several examples extant, although none have the maker's mark for definitive confirmation. The chair is stylistically based on the Trafalgar chair featuring double curved back legs and saber shaped front legs. Gillows produced a very similar chair in 1834 as seen by a drawing in the Gillows archived records (the Gillows archive also notes the use of hardware for a chair which might indicate that they made a library chair in 1815 of unknown style). Robert Campbell's 1774 patent for library steps, mentioned earlier, would have expired in 1788. The Morgan and Sanders chair differs quite significantly from a mechanical standpoint from the Campbell patent. The metamorphic library chair has steps integral to the design. Campbell's patent uses a ladder that is either pulled out or are unfolded away from the furniture. Reading through Campbell's patent regarding steps for a chair, the steps would have been attached to the underside of the seat, similar to the Ben Franklin chair.

See Clive Taylor's publication, The Regency Period Metamorphic Library Chair for an exhaustive discussion of this chair.

Details of orders and sketches from the firm of Gillows were meticulously recorded in multiple volumes.  1834. The design is strikingly similar to that of Morgan and Sanders. One obvious difference is the presence of risers for the steps on this model.

Sketch of Emma Hamilton in a neoclassical chair

While Morgan and Sanders' mechanical and metamorphic furniture was featured prominently in the first two years of Ackermann's magazine  (1809-1811), more traditional styles prevailed for the next several years, perhaps in an attempt to compete with the more established firms. William Pocock's and George Bullock's firms gradually replaced Morgan and Sanders' name on the pages of Ackermann's FASHIONABLE FURNITURE section starting in 1812.

Other Notable Metamorphic Designs from Continental Europe

Continental European cabinetmakers were well ahead of the British firms in producing metamorphic furniture. These pieces were typically produced for nobility. French ébéniste Jean-François Oeben produced elaborate mechanical metamorphic furniture including a table-desk (video) and a jaw dropping chest-bookcase-desk-laptop desk, the Table à la Bourgogne (video).

Mechanical Table. Jean-François Oeben, 1760's.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Table à la Bourgogne, Jean-François Oeben 1760's.
Photo courtesy Musée du Louvre / Studio Sébert

Giovanni Socci produced another elaborate form of metamorphic furniture, a commode table converting to a desk with chair. Multiple mechanisms allow the front panel to be pulled out to reveal a chair.  The table top slides out laterally to allow a set of spring loaded central drawers to open vertically.

Commode and Desk, c.1810. Giovanni Socci. The Louvre. The chair, on its platform, can be pushed in so that the back of the chair serves as the front of the commode. 

Mechanical Furniture versus Metamorphic Furniture

All metamorphic furniture is mechanical, but not all mechanical furniture is metamorphic.

It should be noted that just because a piece of furniture has elaborate mechanical features, does not make it qualify as metamorphic furniture in the strictest sense. For example, the Roentgens' ingenious mechanical desks and bureaus did not transform into another type of furniture, but merely a different use. Their game table, which had three leaves for different use, still remained a table. Likewise, Morgan and Sanders produced a cylindrical bookcase based on an 1808 patent by Crosby which had many mechanical features but only served a single use.

Ackermann's, Feb. 1810

Morgan and Sanders also made a chair with reading stand. The stand could rotate in a groove in the rear of the crest rail...again mechanical and dual use, rather than metamorphic.

Thomas Gale patented a press bedstead in 1772 that concealed a bed behind a facade of a clothes press (chest of drawers), also not technically being metamorphic, since the press was not functional. However, based on the Gale patent, Gillows manufactured a table press bedstead and George Haupt of Sweden designed a stunning commode bed which would be considered metamorphic, serving as either a table or a bed.

By 1830, the patent and metamorphic furniture craze was all but finished.

You can see my attempt of the Morgan and Sanders metamorphic library chair here.



Brian Austen, Morgan and Sanders And The Patent Furniture Makers Of' Catherine Street, Connoisseur, Nov 1974, pp. 185-190

Regency Sewing Table. Metropolitain Museum of Art Publication.

Furniture-making in London c. 1700-1870: craft, design, business and labour. Kirkham, Patricia Anne. Thesis paper. 

Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politicsRudolph Ackermann. 1809-1829.

Supplement to the Cabinet-Makers London book of prices 1805.

A Regency Sewing and Writing Table by Morgan and Sanders. James Parker. 1963. Publication for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.