What's Not To Like!

Of all the useful and attractive pieces of antique English furniture belittled by the name it must surely be the What-not. When seeking to find its derivation any dictionary will provide two explanations.:- (1) An indefinite or trivial thing or (2) A stand with shelves for small objects.  The curious thing is the first record of the number (2) version is in Messrs Gillow's Cost Book of 1795. There is no mention of such a piece in Sheraton's Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 and the first published reference is in 1808 within the leers of Sarah, Lady Lyttleton.  So it does beg the question what had previous generations put their little bits and pieces on during the preceding hundred years. Whatever, it is clearly apparent that this sometimes charmingly designed artefact did not appear in the fashionable house until the beginning of the 19th century and by the 1860's it was being mass-produced to the degree that no house was complete without one.  The first examples were elegant and sometimes enriched with gilt metal mounts as in the pair at Southill in Bedfordshire,  the home of Sir Samuel Whitbread, but as the fashion for them caught on, most were plain and their date clearly identifiable from the form. The earliest had square supports, with three shelves sometimes with a drawer below the bottom one.  A variation at this time was of taper shape in pyramid style, but these are rare.  By 1810 the supports were turned,  changing from slender and elegant to wider in common with table and chair legs as the Regency period developed.  In the time of George IV some what-nots had end supports in the form of lyres, but the big change came with the introduction of machine production coinciding with the fashion for barley sugar twist turning.  By the 1860's the Victorians were demanding  multi-purpose pieces and the what-not was combined with a music or magazine stand. No longer restricted to square or rectangular, ovals, rounds and kidney shapes were made to suit all tastes. In whatever style you choose, the what-not will for ever be a most useful and attractive piece of furniture, and surely far from indefinite or trivial.