Abraham Roentgen born in 1711 and died in 1793 in Germany, he was Europe’s renowned cabinetmaker and designer most famous not only for his most extravagant, elegant and beautiful cabinetry work but also for his mechanical inventions he incorporated into his designs.
Having lived and worked in Holland and England primarily London for several years he returned to Germany in 1750 and opened a workshop in Neuwied just north of Cologne where he produced furniture often decorated with inlays, ivory and other materials.
Abraham produced some 65 pieces of furniture and clocks that involved intriguing innovative designs and incorporated complicated mechanical devices into these designs that simply revolutionized English and French furniture.David son of Abraham in 1772 became head of the firm and both father and son worked in partnership until Abraham’s retirement in 1784. David became the celebrated cabinet maker to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France. Together father and son produced fine Rococo styled furniture, music boxes, clocks and mechanical toys.
This is only a portion of the many designs they produced together in their lifetime. David sold large quantities of furniture to Empress Catherine II of Russia. King Frederick William II of Prussia was also his client and David was eventually appointed as the court furnisher by the king of Prussia. His early work was in the rococo style but was abandoned between 1775 and 1780 for the more classical form. David later closed his business in 1807 and 13 years later in 1820 he passed away.
These were extraordinary craftsmen who produced extraordinary pieces of workmanship that lives still to this very day on display with very minimal ware. I am unsure as to what type of finish these pieces were coated with Don Williams could possibly provide me with an answer but I surmise it could be French polished or cooked varnish either way no modern day finish we have today available on our shelves or even industrial types of finish could survive 200 odd years.
18 years ago when I knew no better as an opening to my business I built my wife a clock for her birthday and coated it with polyurethane and every other clock thereafter till I educated myself properly in the craft. My wife’s clock that hangs in our living room today is in dire need of a paint job. The poly is showing signs of degradation; it’s fading in large patches. This could be a result of it being in direct sunlight I cannot say for sure as I cannot remember where we had the clock placed in our previous home but all I can say is that 18 years is the life span our modern day makers have given to their products. For any self-respecting craftsman this is just not good enough and is totally unacceptable in my books which is why I have taken upon myself to abandon modern day techniques and products long ago to the more traditional methods of the 18th and not 19th or 20th century methods. The 19th century was the beginning of the demise of quality woodworking as many steam powered machines were invented and employed within the craft to help mass produce to meet the high demands. Dowels soon replaced mortise and tenon’s and even though the use of dowels were frowned by many who still worked by hand it soon became the norm, cut nails were replaced by wire nails that had minimal holding power compared to the wedge action it once did and so the list continues of this demise which could be dedicated to an entire volume of the destruction of quality woodworking.
The handful of true master craftsmen, the real pioneers of woodworking like Andre Jacques Roube, Abraham Roentgen, David Roentgen, Andre Charles Boulle, Thomas Chippendale and I’m sure there are others I’m yet to identify set the boundaries of woodworking so high that it seems impossible for us to reach. For most of us it may be impossible as it does require a tremendous amount of knowledge and skillset including talent to reproduce let alone invent something of this calibre that just these two gentlemen on their own had done so cleverly in their life time and equally managed to make a successful business career out of it. However, it should still serve as an inspiration to us all atleast when we woodwork to work to such high standards of level of work even if we don’t achieve such standards the first time around but to always aim and struggle to one day reach that high standards set by our legendary predecessors.
I will finish this article by leaving you to watch some videos of the existing surviving pieces of not only beautiful and elegant designs but cleverly made mechanical invention incorporated into their designs.
Enjoy being inspired.