Every Good Seat Deserves a Good Caning.

Sir Robert Walpole was First Lord of the Treasury, Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1721 – 1730. Among his many innovations the one most pertinent to the antiques trade was his advocacy of the bonded Warehouse.  Were it not for them we would not have the enormous amount of fabulous wares from all over the world which we now consider to part of our national heritage. Plus of course the luxury items for immediate consumption like exotic spices which changed our way of living forever.  Of the more mundane materials to be arriving in bulk since their earlier controlled supply in the late 17th century was cane.  When spliced and interwoven across a wooden frame it created a light and  more comfortable seat and back for a chair than had ever been known.   So exclusive was it to begin with that only His Majesty King Charles II could afford to have a set of folding and caned chairs for his tents on Hounslow Heath when he went to view the horseraces.  The earliest canework will show quite large holes, around 1.5cm, whereas by the 1690’s the work was much finer with holes reduced to .75cm.  By this time the demand for cane had spread and the craft of weaving it was starting to grow into an industry, only to be thwarted by the introduction of webbed upholstery much as we know it today.  So from the 1730’s cane seats and backs were rarely seen on sophisticated chairs until the classical period of the last quarter of the 18th when delicate seating demanded lightweight supports for cushions.  From then on, and indeed until the 1930’s,  we see complete sets of settees and chairs with all-round caning to seats, backs and sides.  Out of fashion again in the 1950’s, mainly because so many extant examples needed repair – by its very nature it was prone to damage – it is gratifying to see that once again the craft of weaving cane is coming back to prominence in both creating the new and renovating the old.  Every good seat deserves a good caning.