This writing bureau, known as ‘the Watt cabinet’, was made in Auckland by Anton Seuffert, a Bohemian cabinetmaker who lived and worked in the city from about 1860. The bureau may have been commissioned for presentation to Mr David Limond Murdoch, an Auckland banker.
Its design is based on a ‘secretaire’, a kind of writer’s work station that became popular in France in the eighteenth century during the reign of Louis XV. It combined two purposes – a desk for writing on, and a cabinet for storing papers and writing equipment.
The piece is a fine example of the cabinetmaker’s craft. It is finely made in the European classic style. Noteworthy features include the use of beautiful native timbers – kauri , rewarewa, and puriri – the carving (note the berry and fruit drawer knobs), and the use of intricate wood inlays, or marquetry.
Seuffert’s customers would have valued the cabinet for its elegant European look. But they would have also appreciated his use of local woods, and the local themes in the decoration. This combination of elements made something that was distinctively New Zealand – an important consideration for immigrant people looking for expressions of local culture.
Today, we would probably feel uncomfortable about actually using an ornate writing bureau like this. And we would find Seuffert’s choice of local imagery somewhat quaint. But up close, we can admire the intricacy of the inlays, and the skill with which the wood’s grain is used as texture in the images.
In 1989 restoration work was carried out on the ‘Hooker cabinet’, also made by Anton Seuffert. Through the skills of Detlef Klein, a German-trained furniture conservator now resident in New Zealand, this other magnificent example of Seuffert’s work has been transformed to its former glory.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998).