The English mahogany trade 1700-1793
This thesis describes the origins and development of the English mahogany trade from its origins to the beginning of the French Revolutionary War. It is based primarily on statistical and commercial information, most of which is drawn from government and other official sources. The bulk of the text is a chronological account, charting the growth of the trade from its small beginnings in Jamaica after 1700 to its late eighteenth century heyday. It considers the effect of economic conditions, shipping costs, government commercial policy and imperial colonial strategy, and shows how these had a direct bearing on the scale and direction of the trade. The various sources of mahogany are discussed, together with the characteristics and uses of the timber. Popular conceptions about the various types of mahogany used in 18th century furniture making are discussed in the light of statistical and other contemporary evidence. The thesis also considers the effects of the introduction of mahogany on furniture manufacturing in England. It investigates the cost of mahogany relative to other furniture woods, and suggests that its chief appeal in the initial years of importation was its low cost. This suggestion is born out by the early use of mahogany as a joinery rather than a cabinet wood. The thesis goes on to argue that the cost of mahogany was often a primary determinant of stylistic and technical development. As demand for the wood grew, so costs rose and inflation became at times a notable feature of the mahogany market. The effects of this inflation are recorded in the archives of contemporary furniture makers and are apparent in extant 18th century furniture. The most important single finding of the thesis is the paramont role of government in determining the scale and direction of the mahogany trade. In this respect mahogany reflects the historical development of British West Indian commercial policy. Mahogany was not merely an art-historical phenomenon, but a symbol of Britain's rise to commercial dominance in the 18th century.