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Great Canadian Ceramics

George III 1780s Mahogany (Goodhue/Smallman) Secretaire

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
George III Mahogany Secretaire 1780s (detail)
Orig. mahogany - Size - 25"d x 50"w x 96"h
Found - Springfield, ON
Provenance - The Waverley Mansion
The secretaire is made in two separate sections. The mahogany sideboards are a phenomenal 25" wide. The marquetry is on the drawer fronts, the chest top, the cabinet doors, and on the swan neck pediment.
Antique collectors get ecstatic when they find a really great piece of furniture. To find one which also has great provenance (know, and have proof of its actual life history) is wonderful in the extreme and utterly rare. To find out, as well, that the item was owned by people who played important roles in early Canadian regional or national history is an unheard of blessing, often a once in a lifetime kind of occurrence.

This two piece secretaire is such a choice find. It is Georgian (built by a fine cabinet maker in England in the reign of George III in the 1780s or 90s) and once belonged to families that were London, Ontario's first millionaires - the Goodhues & Smallmans - who had grown rich on Canada's first oil patch - Lambton County - and went on to found leading Canadian companies like Imperial Oil and London Life.

As if often the case with fabulous finds, the secretaire was found in an out of the way place. It turned up at a small auction barn that stands amid the tobacco fields of southern Ontario, near Springfield. (It keeps the number of bidders down, and the price too.)

The secretaire is a full eight feet high, 50" wide; its side boards of mahogany are an astonishing 25" deep.

In North America, wide boards are a common indicator of very old - early 19th century - antiques, from a time when trees were still huge, and could be cut into very wide boards.

As populations exploded later on, and forests were decimated, trees got smaller, resulting in smaller boards available to make furniture. These were glued together to make tops and sides of furniture, a sure giveaway of furniture dating to the end of the 19th century.

Provenance: The secretaire came with photos of the mansion, newspaper articles with detailed research about the history of the families who lived there, as well as the house. Included also were the original bill of sale, and auction tags from 1948, saying it stood in the West Hall and sold for $625.

Origin: The Goodhue Family at Waverley - The Secretaire came out of the Waverley mansion stocked with antiques by the original builder Charles F Goodhue (London's first "rich kid") and his successor Thomas Henry Smallman (founder of Imperial Oil and London Life) who bought the mansion from his heirs.

Waverley Mansion had been built by the son of Charles Goodhue, who was London's first millionaire. The son, Charles Frederick Goodhue, built Waverley with his inheritance in 1882-83. It was one of largest private residences ever built in Western Ontario, being a spectacular 70 x 70 feet.

The architect was George Frederick Durand, London's leading architect of 19th century. Goodhue spent two years in Europe purchasing antiques to fill the house and occupied himself with conspicuous consumption and memberships in posh clubs.

The Smallman Family at Waverley - In 1893 Waverley was bought by Thomas Henry Smallman, a merchant who made a fortune by investing in the petrochemical industry that followed the discovery of oil in Lambton county in 1857. He was a founder of the Imperial Oil Company and of London Life. He added a 26 x 52 foot ballroom addition to Waverley, and more antiques.

His daughter Eleanor Smallman and her husband Capt. Claude Kyd Morgan, a career officer in the British Army, moved into Waverley with her mother after WWI. Eleanor won an OBE for her Red Cross work She and her husband added more antiques.

The Great Antique Auction of 1948 - At Eleanor Smallman's death in 1948, the Waverley Mansion and its contents were sold off. The press hailed the occasion as the most elaborate sale since the disposal of Sir Henry Pellat's effects at Casa Loma, in Toronto. It was called an "astounding event" with people coming from across Canada - even California. The sale catalogue was illustrated and featured 124 pages. The sale lasted 11 days. It featured a $30,000 yellow Rolls-Royce, and this secretaire, which was item #1216 and whose tag and bill of sale remain with the provenance.

Noted the London Free Press sadly, "An Era is Ended," and lamented the passing of the old aristocracy of London, ON.

Waverley became a medical institution. Today it is a retirement home.

The secretaire was bought by a doctor who kept it for 54 years, until 2002, when it was auctioned off

The Waverley Mansion: Then and Now
The phenomenal ballroom, which hosted the finest balls in London a century ago, crammed full of exotic items. But Eleanor's finest piece of furniture must surely have been her George III Secretaire. It was full of her papers during the auction.

Above right, the picture from the 1948 auction catalogue showing the secretaire full of Eleanor Smallman's Blue Willow plates and platters, standing in the corner of the West Hall. Right, the same corner today.

Eleanor had the secretaire strategically placed so that everyone who came into the mansion - through the arch right - had to pass it on the way to the ballroom through the arch left - and no doubt stopped to marvel at the marquetry, which is on the drawer fronts, the desk top, the cabinet doors, and on the swan neck pediment.