When Anton Seuffert arrived in New Zealand with his family in the late 1850s, he already had an international reputation as a skilled cabinetmaker, with particular expertise in the art of marquetry – the decoration of wooden furniture with fine inlay – work. For nearly thirty years he lived in Auckland making fine furniture for the houses of wealthy families, both in New Zealand and overseas.
Seuffert was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in either 1814 or 1815. He learned his craft from his father who was also a cabinetmaker. He worked in Vienna for the Austrian furniture manufacturing company Leistler, and set up their large display of luxury wooden furniture at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. He stayed in England for several years and then emigrated to New Zealand with his wife, Anna, and two children.
Possibly he became familiar with New Zealand timbers while he was in London through Johann Levien who had spent several years in New Zealand. In 1862, he received a lot of publicity for his work when he made a writing cabinet using New Zealand woods, ‘consisting of 30,000 pieces, valued at 300 guineas, which was purchased and presented by the citizens of Auckland to her Majesty the Queen [Victoria].’ The cabinet is still in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace.
From then on, his reputation as a top-flight cabinetmaker was firmly established. He became a naturalised New Zealander in 1861, and for the rest of his life lived and worked in Auckland, producing fine works such as the ‘Watt cabinet’ and the ‘Hooker cabinet’. His wife Anna also had a business, a fancy goods shop – perhaps that earned the family’s bread and butter, while Seuffert worked on his commissions.
Seuffert passed on his skills to his son, William, who took over the business when his father died in 1887, and was also reputed for his skill as a cabinetmaker.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (2001).