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A Musical Davenport

5th May 2023.

A rare musical ‘Captain’s Desk’ Davenport will be going up for sale in Tennants Auctioneers’ Scientific and Musical Instruments, Cameras, and Tools Sale on 17th May, with an estimate of £4,000-6,000 (plus buyer’s premium). At first glance this piece, which was made circa 1875-80, appears to be purely a well veneered compact desk with a sloped piano-lid over an extendable writing desk. However, concealed within the burr-walnut finished body is a finely made musical box.

The musical box itself consists of a cylinder covered with 150 teeth that, when operated, run along a single comb. A special characteristic of these cylinders is the Mandolin teeth, which are set diagonally at one end of the cylinder body and make a trill sound reminiscent of a mandolin when they are plucked by the comb. The music box can perform a selection of operatic arias, hymns, psalms, quadrilles, symphony passages and overtures. An original list of the musical pieces is pinned to the inside of the lid, and the music box is further decorated with a painted Swiss landscape of a lakeside town inset next to the cylinder and comb. The musical box was made by A.B Bremond, a Swiss musical box maker whose main body of work dates to the mid to late nineteenth century and whose smaller scale music boxes have appear often at auction.

There are six interchangeable cylinders, neatly housed in draws fitted down each side of the Davenport. The mechanism for changing the cylinders bears the mark of Blumberg and Co., a London based cabinet maker last documented in 1871. The sophisticated design allows the cylinder to be pulled out the side of cabinet along roller brackets in a precise manner, avoiding damage to the teeth.

The Davenport casework has been ascribed to Edwards and Roberts, a successful furniture maker and retailer in London. At the firm’s peak in 1892, they operated across seven locations in London. They specialised in modern originals and copies of 18th century and 19th century English and French furniture styles and were known for their production of Regency Revival furniture after Adams, Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite, as well as reusing and updating older, pre-existing pieces of furniture. They frequently used ebony for decorative elements alongside burr-walnut, as seen in this example. The front panel consists of a beautiful corona-figured butterfly-cut burr-walnut finish with kingwood crossbanding, along with interlaced ebonised moulding and burr-walnut vertical reserves that rest upon ebonised supports.

This rare piece is at the intersection of furniture making and mechanical musical instruments and displays the cooperative artisanship of multiple makers. Very few such pieces have ever appeared on the open market.


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