Cannel or parrot coal – a form of anthracite socalled because of the crackling and chattering sound it makes in burning – was mined largely for industrial use in the Wemyss area of Fife. However, it has similar characteristics to marble.
Most of the small corpus of coal furniture is attributed to Thomas Williamson (1817-60), a stonemason from west Wemyss whose commissions included a table and two chairs inscribed Wemyss Parrot Coal made for Wemyss Castle in 1855 (now in the Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery) and furniture for the Fife Coal Company offices in Leven.
At the Great Exhibition in 1851 he exhibited a parrot coal garden seat which now sits in the grounds of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
However, this William IV table was signed and dated to the underside of the top R Martin 1836. It came to the Furniture, Works of Art & Clocks sale in Salisbury on January 12 with a provenance to the London and Eastbourne dealership of David and Paula Newman with a guide of £500-800 but sold at £6000.
Rarely do these large-scale parrot coal pieces appear for sale, but Christie’s New York sold a worktable with a foliate carved pedestal in 2008 for $6500, while Mallams of Cheltenham took £7500 for an occasional table in February 2011. Back in 1996, Phillips in Edinburgh took £19,000 for a similar table.
Keep it local
A parallel cottage industry existed in Killarney in the 19th century making marquetry souvenirs for the tourist trade. They were made using predominantly local timbers (including the distinctive arbutus) with the inlaid scenes of local beauty spots based on engravings in topographical plate books.
It was commonplace for proprietors to invite the visiting public to watch their craftsmen at work in the hope of encouraging a purchase. One maker, James Egan, even introduced caged mountain eagles in the upper room of his workshop as a further attraction.
The Killarney yew and marquetry games table offered for sale at Bamfords (24.5% buyer’s premium) in Derby on January 13-17 was a particularly good example of the craft from c.1840. When opened it has unfaded playing surfaces for chess, backgammon and cribbage. In addition to borders of trailing sprays of shamrock are a series of oval vignettes including Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle and Glena Cottage.
It was guided at £2000-3000 but sold at £5800.