Duties & Customs: Thomas Chippendale & His Wily Tricks

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Specimen Side Chair Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Specimen Side Chair
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Paying duties and customs are part of any modern shipping process: but it certainly isn’t anything new.  Back in the eighteenth century, customs and international trade agreements had a significant impact on the way art and furniture arrived in England.  For example, the Seven Years War greatly decreased trade between England and France, but it did not stop the avid Francophilia in England.  English patrons had to satisfy their interest in French styles with English made pieces by emigre craftsmen such as Pierre Langlois.

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Specimen Side Chair Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Specimen Side Chair
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Today’s story comes from a small anecdote from a 1951 Country Life article entitled ‘Chippendale In Trouble at the Customs.’  Edward Joy describes how famed cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale thought he could hoodwink customs officials by declaring a lower value on a particular shipment he had imported.  The shipment apparently included chair frames that he had disassembled and designated as ‘lumber,’ which he declared at only £18.

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Armchair Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George III Mahogany Chippendale Period Armchair
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

The customs officers ended up challenging him and seizing the goods.  They paid Chippendale the (lower) price he had quoted, and then went on to sell the goods themselves for the higher market rate.

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