We are improving Collections Online. Help us by completing a survey and go in the draw to win a $50 Prezzy or Amazon voucher. Start survey (takes 10 mins)

Search our collections

Advanced Search

Object: Writing bureau

This image has Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Creative Commons BY-NC-ND copyright licence

Title Writing bureau
Production Seuffert, Anton (cabinetmaker), 1867, Auckland
Medium summary Burr totara, kauri, kohekohe, puriri, rimu, tawa, with silvered glass mirror
Materials totara, kauri, Rimu, silvered glass
Classification secretaries, writing desks
Technique marquetry
Dimensions Overall: 1420mm (Height) x 710mm (Length) x 1230mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1987
Registration number PF000206

'Secretaire' is the name for an enclosed writing desk, usually with a top cabinet. This secretaire was given to English botanist Sir Joseph Hooker when his book Handbook of New Zealand Flora was published in 1867. A group of 'grateful colonists' had paid cabinetmaker Anton Seuffert to make the desk especially to congratulate and thank Sir Joseph.

Attention to detail
Anton Seuffert, an admired cabinetmaker who worked in Auckland, New Zealand, was chosen to make the secretaire. Seuffert was famed for his detailed marquetry work, an art where pieces of wood are inlaid into furniture to create decoration.

For Sir Joseph's secretaire, Seuffert created a structure of New Zealand kauri wood, and then finished it with other native woods, including kauri, burr tötara, rewarewa, püriri, and kohekohe. Marquetry on the front of the secretaire's main door shows a moa, a kiwi, and marine mammals, with a globe centred on New Zealand. There are also classical motifs alluding to Hooker's work in classifying New Zealand's flora. The Greek god Apollo stands on top of a column, holding a lyre. He represents Harmony, Order and Reason. The goddess Demeter [known as Ceres to the Romans] is depicted at the base of the column. She is holding a sheaf of wheat, symbolising fertility and abundance.

Sir Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker (1817-1911) was an English born botanist who made voyages to New Zealand and the South Pacific between 1839 and 1843 to research plants of the area. He published books on the plants he found and inspired others in New Zealand to study botany. He has several New Zealand plants named after him, including the pökäkä tree (Elaeocarpus hookerianus).

On display
Sir Joseph kept the secretaire in his drawing room. In 1886, the cabinet was exhibited in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.