The studied elegance and stylishness of late 18th and early 19th century cabinet making reached a peak in the design of the sideboard, then a relatively new piece of furniture.
This table sold at
Sotheby's for $541,000.
The sideboard was still a new piece of furniture in the Regency period, during which it became very fashionable. Strictly speaking, the Regency lasted from 1806 to 1820, though in furniture terms it is sometimes extended to 1837, to take in the reigns of George IV and William IV.
Sideboards as we know them today, with a number of drawers and cupboards for storing cutlery, napkins, tablecloths, glasses and other dining accessories, first appeared towards the end of the 18th century, and were popularized in the 1790s by the pattern books of Thomas Sheraton, who gave them their name.
Sheraton's sideboards were a development of the work of Robert Adam, the influential neo-classical designer. In the 1770s, Adam created an ensemble of pieces to allow for storage space within the dining room, adding to the long, low side table from which food was served in grand houses. A pedestal cupboard and/or an urn were placed at each end, with a separate wine cooler - a lead-lined wooden box that was filled with crushed ice at mealtimes - below.
Sheraton incorporated all these features into one piece of furniture, with a shallow central drawer flanked on either side by a pair of deeper drawers or a cupboard. Sometimes a deep, lead-lined, cellaret drawer was incorporated to take the place of the wine cooler. Each sideboard stood on six legs, four at the front and two at the back.
A pair of brackets, known as spandrels, usually rounded off the central recess to make what was called a 'knee-hole'. Despite the name, no one sat at a sideboard, and this was a purely decorative feature.
The new furniture became very popular. Much of its appeal lay in its smaller size, making it suitable for less magnificent rooms. While ensembles in the Adam style could be 2.4m/8ft long, Sheraton sideboards were rarely longer than 2m/6ft 6in, and some just
1.2m / 4ft. The serpentine and bow fronts seen on chests of the period were applied to sideboards and there was also a rarer half-round form. This allowed for extra drawers, though some of them tapered more or less to a point.
As the 19th century progressed, sideboards tended to get larger. The side sections were extended down to form pedestals, and the space beneath the central drawer was sometimes filled with a cupboard. As the century drew to a close, Regency styles came back into fashion. Many fine reproduction pieces were made, some scaled down even further to suit smaller Victorian dining rooms.
Late Georgian and Regency sideboards are valuable pieces, the province of specialist furniture dealers and auction houses, though fine
examples may turn up at country house sales. Later sideboards in the same style may be found in more general antiques shops.
The best way to date a sideboard is by its style. Pedestal types did not appear until about 1810. Around 1820, the pedestals began to be extended upwards into more drawers and cupboards. The space at the back was fitted either with a brass rail and curtain or a carved wooden splashback. This type did not attract a reproduction market. Any that you find are likely to be authentic.
Early sideboards usually stood on turned legs or, more often, tapering squared legs with spade feet. Generally speaking, the simpler and more elegant the legs, the earlier the piece.
Thin, tapering legs are the most likely sites of damage. Check each one carefully for cracks before buying a piece, and be on the look-out for patches of staining, which may have been applied to disguise repairs.
Make sure that the all the veneers and inlays are in good order, and have not cracked, split or lifted. Genuine Regency examples will have fairly thick, hand-sawn veneers, usually well-figured. Remember, though, that some wear and tear to veneer is acceptable, even a proof of authenticity, while a new veneer will always devalue a piece.