Mahogany - (Wood)

Mahogany - (Wood) A dark close-grained hardwood of the Swietenia mahogani tree which are indigenous to Central America and the West Indies. It can vary in color from red to a rich dark brown. It was first discovered by the carpenter on the Sir Walter Raleigh's ship in 1595. The first mahogany began to be imported from Jamaica in quantity in the early eighteenth century. Three varieties of mahogany were used in the eighteenth century. 'Spanish' (or 'St Domingo') was used from about 1725 to about 1750, when the 'Cuban' and then the 'Honduras' varieties came into use. Some of the Cuban timber is finely figured and marked with a curly or wavy grain. The Honduras timber is generally inferior in color and figure to the other two, but it is lighter in weight and softer in texture. It was at first used in England, then spread to France and with the Empire Style it spread to the rest of the Continent. From the point of view of design, mahogany was responsible for two main innovations. One was that the great width of the boards enabled table tops, for instance, to be made in one or two sections instead of several (as was necessary with walnut); the other was that the great strength of mahogany permitted slender and delicate work (fretwork, splat work, etc.). Mahogany remained in popular use well into the nineteenth century. The 'age of mahogany' was from 1720-70.

Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America (Wallace Gallery Decorative Arts Publications)Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America (Wallace Gallery Decorative Arts Publications) 


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