28 Aug 2007 12:29 PM
Culture Minister defers export of Mrs Hutton Rawlinson's 'very elegant mahogany bookcase' purchased from Gillows of Lancaster on 18 July 1772

DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT News Release (098\2007) issued by The Government News Network on 28 August 2007

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on a very rare and interesting piece of English furniture. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the early Gillows bookcase in the United Kingdom.

The Minister's ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the bookcase is of outstanding significance for the study of eighteenth century English non-metropolitan furniture.

The bookcase is of the most superior quality, finished to the highest specification. Its importance is not based on its quality alone. It is a rare and early documented example of Gillows furniture, made about forty years after the establishment of the Lancaster firm.

It was made for Mary, widow of a substantial Lancaster merchant Thomas Hutton Rawlinson. The varied ornamentation of the bookcase is perhaps curious given its owners were Quakers. It became a family heirloom and was passed down in the family for several generations. A further interesting feature is that there is a strong likelihood that is was made of mahogany imported by the family who commissioned it, the Rawlinsons themselves.

The decision on the export licence application for the bookcase will be deferred for a period ending on 27 October 2007 inclusive. This period may be extended until 27 January 2008 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the bookcase at the recommended price of £260,000 excluding VAT (£305,500 including VAT) is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the bookcase should contact the owner's agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council,
Victoria House,
Southampton Row
London WC1B 4EA


1. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

2. The bookcase, which measures 208 x 127 x 65cm is a highly ambitious and interesting piece of furniture. Made largely of mahogany, it is ornamented with both carving and marquetry. It has an upper and a lower section. The glazing bars are adorned with delicate tracery work. The lower section is of rectangular form with canted corners. The table top has highly figured book-matched veneers and a carved edge above a frieze drawer with similarly matched veneers and two finely-chased silvered handles. The drawer opens to reveal a baize lined slide with lidded compartments and partitions below. The cupboard doors in the lower section have superb figured panels. Flanking the frieze drawer and the cupboard doors are inlaid canted corners headed by an oval patarae with a ribbon tied floral festoon below. The bookcase has an egg and dart carved moulding to the lower edge and is supported on unusual ogee bracket feet.

3. The bookcase was made by Gillows of Lancaster in 1772 for the prosperous Quaker widow, Mary Hutton Rawlinson, nee Dilworth (1715-1786). Her husband Thomas Hutton Rawlinson (1712-1769), the son of a Lancashire ironmaster, had himself been a successful West Indies merchant, trading from the port of Lancaster. Indeed he and later his son Abraham were the principal Lancaster importers of mahogany, which they supplied to Gillows. Gillows' 'estimate book' records that this 'Elegant Bookcase' had been made in July 1772 for the use of 'Mrs. Hutton Rawlinson or her Daughter', who is not named. The bookcase was passed down through the family.

4. The Lancaster firm was established by Robert Gillow I (1702/3-1772). His sons, Richard (1733-1811) and Robert II (1746/7-1795) from the late 1770s expanded the thriving Lancaster firm to become one of the leading metropolitan upholsterers of the 19th century, attracting a wide-ranging clientele that embraced the aristocracy and the middle classes.

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