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Unwin, John (1709-1740)

Unwin, John,

‘Against ye Academy, the upper end of Great Tower Street, London’; cabinet maker, sworn appraiser, joiner and chapman (app. 1709 - bankrupt 1740).

Son of John Unwin, clerk, of Great Glenn, Leicestershire. Apprenticed through the Joiners' Company to John Brabben 4 October 1709, and turned over to John Torver. Made free by servitude 6 November 1716 ‘by consent of Mary [Torver?] his wife and Edward Hunt, Cit & Merchant Tailor of London and George Unwin Cit & Draper of London the said John Torver being gone beyond sea’. The George Unwin mentioned here was perhaps a relative.

Unwin was established in business by May 1718 when he took as apprentice Samuel Gardner of Laverton, Gloucestershire for a fee of £11. Unwin's trade card [Museum of London, ID A9986] includes an invoice for £4 10s on the back for the payment of goods supplied to Captain Phillips, dated 23 May 1739. The card reads: ‘Makes & Sells all Sorts of Cabinet Goods with Coach & Pier Glasses, Chimney Glasses & Sconces, Brass Arms, Shandiliers & fine Glass Lanthorns all Sorts of Picture Frames Mohogany & Wallnut Chairs, Clocks and Clock Cases also Buys and Sells all Sorts of Household Goods. Funeralls Decently Furnished.’ Declared bankrupt, Daily Post, 19 May 1740.

Trade card

Trade card of John Unwin, dated on the reverse 23 May 1739 © Museum of London

In 1738 Unwin made a fine walnut veneered desk and bookcase and other furniture for a prosperous Bristol merchant, Caleb Dickinson (1716-83).


                                               Bryan Collection

The desk and bookcase survives and was bought from the Dickinson family by Percival Griffiths in 1923. While in Griffiths’ ownership it was published at least four times, notably in the Dictionary of English Furniture (1925 & 1954) and in English Furniture from Charles II to George II (1929). It later passed via Frank Partridge and Co. to Irwin Untermeyer who gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1964. From there it was sold in 2017 (Christie's, New York). It is now in the Bryan Collection near Chicago, Ill.

Sources: DEFM; Joiners’ Company; Jussel, ‘An exceptional Desk and Bookcase of 1738 by John Unwin’, Furniture History (2019), pp. 87-100.