John Cobb | Furniture Fit For a King

John Cobb | Furniture Fit For a King

A fine commode, believed to be by John Cobb (1715-1778), arguably one of England's greatest furniture makers, comes up for sale in 'Dick Turpin | The Legend Lives On' to be held on 25 January.

7 December 2023



Cobb trained in Norwich as a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, before heading to London to seek his fortune, entering into partnership with William Vile in 1751. By the mid-18th century, the West End of London had become the centre of English cabinetmaking, and Cobb and Vile wisely set up their premises at its heart in 72 St Martin's Lane, an area well placed to serve the country's elite, with its proximity to the Royal Courts, to government, and with a popular residential presence.

Believed to have been a proud and colourful individual, Cobb was admired by King George III, resulting in the company being granted a Royal Warrant to supply furniture for the crown between 1761 and 1764, with at least one piece still to be found within Buckingham Palace.

Cobb was no doubt influenced by Thomas Chippendale – his neighbour at 60, 61 and 62 St Martin's Lane – who had popularised the fashionable French rococo style in his 'Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director', where he provided designs for 'French Commodes' and 'Commode Tables'.  It is widely believed that the pair would have known each other well. In fact, both Cobb and Chippendale were found guilty of smuggling French furniture into the country via Italian diplomatic bags to avoid import duties, showing their shared interest in the French style!


A George III padouk and kingwood commode attributed to John Cobb, c.1765, of serpentine outline with ormolu mounts, the matched-veneered top with a crossbanded moulded edge above three long cockbeaded drawers mounted with laurel wreath and reeded bail handles, with conforming escutcheons and carry handles to the sides above a wavy edge apron, on splayed forelegs terminating in foliate-cast sabots, 125cm wide 65cm deep 88cm high (£30,000-50,000)

A George III padouk and kingwood commode attributed to John Cobb, c.1765 (£30,000-50,000)


After Vile's retirement in 1765, Cobb continued to run the workshop independently until his death in 1778, being particularly celebrated for his fine marquetry furniture in his later years. The commode to be sold at Sworders is executed in the French 'pittoresque' taste, and was likely supplied by Cobb in 1765, shortly after he took on the business in his own right. 

A similar commode, supplied by Cobb to James West of Alscot Park, Warwickshire, shares the same serpentine form, elaborately chased ormolu mounts and the unique sans traverse lower drawer, where the apron is fitted to the bottom drawer, rather than the carcass as more commonly seen on English pieces of this date.   The lot coming up at auction in January also adopts the same 'pelta'-shaped side aprons as that of the Alscot park example, a design also seen on further firmly attributed works by Cobb.  

In addition to these distinct features, there are other details which point towards the work of John Cobb or an equivalent St Martin's Lane cabinetmaker practising in the second half of the 18th century, and these include the use of red wash applied to the secondary timbers, cedarwood chosen for drawer fronts, and concave quarter fillets as strengthening for the linings. Although It seems more common for this model of commode to be finished with a single piece of veneer to the top, a similar commode attributed to Cobb, with almost identical quartered-veneered top, recently sold in London.

The George III padouk and kingwood commode attributed to John Cobb will be offered for sale as lot 75 in the 25 January auction Dick Turpin | The Legend Lives On.





Thursday 25 January | 10am | 01279 817778








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