A Rare George IV Amboyna and Ebony Side Cabinet
English, circa 1825
Height: 34 ¾ (89 cm)
Width: 60 ¼ in (153 cm)
Depth: 17 in (43 cm)
During the 17th century powerful trading companies, such as the British East India Company, and its Dutch Counterpart, the VOC were drawn to the islands of Southeast Asia; their pepper, nutmegs. cloves. gold, rare dye woods and other jungle produce, have for centuries attracted visitors from all over the world. The distinctive burr of Amboyna is native to Southeast Asia, with the specific geographical source rooted in Amboina, a tiny island famed at first in the western world as the source of cloves and other foreign rarities.
The port of Amboina was the departure point for ships trading with nearby Ceram, the Banda islands and the Moluccas, where mace and nutmeg were found. Therefore, despite its small size, Amboina had strategic, commercial and geographical significance for those involved in the spice trade. Amboina was initially under Portuguese control, before it was taken over by the Dutch in 1605, and for two decades the Dutch and English traded here side by side, until the Amboina massacre of 1623 when the english traders were executed, without warning by their Dutch rivals.
It is remarkable, therefore to consider the history and story of how this incredibly rare and expensive indigenous wood, travelled across the world to form this stunning English cabinet. These sea voyages were dangerous and specifically before the invention of steam engines, depended on wind, meaning the excursions were long and unpredictable. Furthermore, specific sea routes presented numerous challenges that delayed recovery of initial costs. This, combined with the rarity of the wood, made the burr exceptionally expensive and highly sought after.
The earliest reference to 'Amboina' wood in an english context occurs in the customs returns for 1730 and 1731, when a little over four hundred weight was imported by the East India Company. The valuation at about £1 per hundred weight before shipping and duty, made it slightly dearer than ebony, and considerably more expensive than rosewood.