Smee, William; Smee & Cobbay
London; cabinet makers, undertakers, appraisers and upholsterers (fl.1805–90)
A billhead dated 1805 in the John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library gives the firm's address at 5 Pavement, Moorfields. By 1838 it had been renumbered 6 and the street name had been changed to Finsbury Pavement. From 1835, Smee had additional premises at 34 Little Moorfields; between 1838–40 the business changed its name twice: William Smee & Son and thereafter W A Smee & Son(s). The 1845 Post Office Directory records them as cabinet makers and upholsterers; the 1851 London Postal Directory as upholsterers, undertakers and appraisers; the 1871 Post Office Directory listed Wm. A. & S. Smee as wholesale upholsterers and cabinet makers, at three locations: 18-20 Finsbury Pavement; 34 Little Moorfields, and King Henry’s Walk, Ball’s Pond; and the 1886 Furniture Gazette as wholesale cabinet makers at 6 Finsbury Pavement, Little Moorfields and with 'works' at King Henry’s Walk, Ball’s Pond.
By 1890 the firm was known as Smee & Cobbay. The firm exhibited a walnut and marquetry cabinet at the 1851 Great Exhibition. At the 1862 London International Exhibition Smee and Sons showed a finely carved chiffonier in Italian walnut with tulipwood bandings and a wardrobe in birch and tulipwood. An oak sideboard by the firm was shown at the 1878 Paris Exhibition (all these illus. Meyer (2006), pp. 57, 159, 160 & 261). Makers of a daybed exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Society Exhibition in 1888, and possibly all the furniture designs for R & A Garrett House Decorators (fl.1874-1905). The firm certainly supplied West End furnishing shops and also provincial furniture makers such as Pratt’s of Bradford. Numerous illustrations taken from Smee’s pattern books are reproduced in Joy (1977). Among recorded furniture is a dinner wagon, c. 1840, of oak with carved decoration, V&A (W.110-1978).
Carved oak dinner wagon, c. 1840 [W.110-1978]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Two alternative designs for similar dinner wagons were published in the 1850s catalogues of their stock. The 1855 catalogue featured 600 furniture designs. Two oak and plaster stools of about 1840 were formerly in the Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read collection. A breakfront mahogany bookcase of c. 1825 is known marked with the name of this maker and a chess/work table attributed to Smee is in the collection of the Phillip Blairman family (illus. Levy, FHS Newsletter (Feb. 2013), fig. 1). Designs for a hall stand (c.1840), hall seat (1865), two sofas and two upholstererd ‘superior lounge chairs’ are illus. in Symonds & Whineray (1962), figs. 99, 100, 264 & 277. The designer E W Godwin (1833-1886) is known to have worked with the firm at unspecified dates.
Sources: DEFM; Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades, 1886; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Symonds and Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Joy, Pictorial Dictionary of British 19th Century Furniture Design (1977); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Gere & Whiteway, Nineteenth-Century Design. From Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Bennett, Shapland & Petter Ltd of Barnstaple, Arts & Crafts Furniture (2005); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Stabler, ‘Furniture Makers' Trade-Cards and Bill-Heads in the John Johnson Collection’, FHS Newsletter (May 2007); Boram, ‘Makers of 'Dy'd, Fancy and Japan'd' Chairs’, Regional Furniture (2010); Daniels, ‘Houses as They might be: Rediscovering Rhoda and Agnes Garrett and their Influence on the Victorian Middle-Class Home’, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society1850 to the Present (2011); Levy, ‘Philip Blairman (1896/97-1972): An Early Collector of Victorian Furniture’, FHS Newsletter (Feb. 2013); Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, DAS, vol. 40.