The Seuffert Family of Cabinetmakers

1815-1943

 

 

Anton Seuffert and his sons William Albert and Carl operated a cabinetmaking dynasty active in Auckland, New Zealand from 1859 to 1943. They created a world-class body of inlaid marquetry featuring New Zealand woods in highly decorative formats and the sum of this work remains without peer for the use of highly figured New Zealand native timbers and decorative designs. The technical accuracy the Seufferts brought to their craft has meant that for almost 150 years discerning collectors have sought and admired their creations. Major collections including the Royal Collection, Te Papa, the Auckland Museum, the Canterbury Museum, Royal Kew Gardens, the Australian National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the London Natural History Museum have examples of Seuffert works. Private collectors now pay small fortunes for authentic Seuffert masterpieces.

 

The Seuffert Legacy

 

A biography of Anton Seuffert and his sons, William, Albert and Carl, illustrated with over 300 colour photographs.

 

The Seuffert Legacy is the result of fifteen years of detailed research by Seuffert descendant Brian Peet spanning Bohemia, England, Australia and New Zealand. The result is a hard cover, 208 page 40,000 word comprehensive story of the Seuffert Family of craftsmen, based on original documents, newspaper reports, national archive records and family recollections. Detailed colour photographs of the 110 known Seuffert treasures make this book a must for any aficionado of New Zealand craft or colonial history.

 

 

 

The Seuffert Legacy

NZ $95 + $5 p&p (Inc GST)

AU $85 + $10 p&p,

US $75 + $10 p&p
UK
£40 + £9 p&p

 

To order this book or obtain further information contact the author and publisher, Brian Peet. 

Post: 7 Otahuri Crescent, Greenlane, Auckland 1051
New Zealand 

Phone:  64-9-5203618

E-mail brian@seuffert.co.nz

 

 

                                                            

ORIGINS

 

Anton Seuffert was born in Bohemia, of working class parents, in 1815. He started his working life in the prestigious firm of Carl Leistler & Sons of Vienna, cabinetmakers to the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph I. They were possibly one of the best-known firms of its kind in Europe at that time, making furniture for many of the European royal houses. Anton rose to the position of foreman, and was sent to England to assemble furniture for the royal palaces during the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1851 Leistler & Sons also had extensive displays at London’s Great Exhibition and Anton was tasked with the responsibility of setting up these exhibits. In addition to the formal displays, it was a monumental Gothic Revival bookcase made by Leistler and Sons that attracted particular attention. This was given to Queen Victoria by Francis Joseph I and is currently on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. 

At some stage either in Europe or England, Anton met his future wife Anna Pilz and while living in London Anna gave birth to a daughter and a son. It was very soon after the second birth that Anton and Anna migrated to New Zealand.

 

 

 

This gothic bookcase was presented to Queen Victoria by the Emperor of Austria, Francis Joseph I and displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was made at Leistler & Sons where Anton Seuffert was foreman. 

AUCKLAND

 

Anton, Anna, Josefieni, and William Seuffert arrived in Auckland harbour on 19 May 1859. This was the same year the first shots were fired in Waitara, Taranaki, signalling the start of the New Zealand land wars. Despite the turmoil, the family remained and Anton Seuffert became a naturalised New Zealand citizen in January 1861. The family’s first residence was in Wakefield Street, Auckland. Five more children were born to Anton and Anna, and all but one survived the rigours of pioneer life and childhood ills. Juliena was born in November 1860, Augusta Amelia in August 1862, Albert in October 1864, Charles Antonis in April 1867 and the youngest Adolf Herman in October 1869. Adolf unfortunately only lived 11 years, succumbing to typhoid fever after a short illness.

 

 

 

Auckland in the 1870s.  Albert Park is in the centre of the picture and Government House is on the right. On the extreme left is the business district of Auckland with the wharves connecting to Queen Street. 

ANTON SEUFFERT

 

Anton commenced his cabinetmaking craft on arrival in Auckland in 1859. The first public record of Anton Seuffert’s craftsmanship was published in an Auckland newspaper where he was described as working on a piece of marquetry furniture intended as a display piece for the 1862 London International Exhibition. At some point during construction, the cabinet became earmarked for gifting to Queen Victoria from the citizens of the Auckland province. The cabinet is currently part of the Royal Collection held at Buckingham Palace.

In 1869 Queen Victoria’s second son Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited New Zealand in his naval role as the Captain of the HMS Galetea. As a consequence of manufacturing a bed and a chest of drawers for the Duke’s use during his 1869 stay Anton received a Royal Appointment. At this time Anton changed the design of his work labels as well as the spelling of his surname.

National and international exhibitions were used by Anton to advertise his works. He received numerous accolades and awards from judges and continued throughout his life in New Zealand with exhibition promotions. He was still exhibiting up to the year of his death in 1887, with pieces displayed in an Auckland Society of Arts Exhibition. Anton lived to the impressive age of seventy-two years.

 

 

The cabinet presented to Queen Victoria by the citizens of Auckland and then displayed at the London Exhibition of 1862.

                        

 

WILLIAM SEUFFERT

 

William Seuffert was born in Southwark, London on 20 November 1858. Within three months of his birth the family were heading to New Zealand. William spent his entire childhood and teenage years in the central Auckland area bounded by Wellesley Street, Elliot Street and Wakefield Street. He was trained in the cabinetmaking and marquetry craft by his father Anton the 1882 Wayte Auckland Directory advertised Seuffert inlaid work under “A. Seuffert & Son”.

William Seuffert’s most important piece of work was a cabinet made for Major-General Robert Baden Powell. Following the defence of Mafeking in 1900 it was decided by a group of Auckland citizens that fund raising would be started with the ultimate aim of purchasing a suitable presentation testimonial to the General in recognition of his efforts in leading the British garrison at Mafeking. The cabinet took three years to manufacture, and was shipped to Robert Baden-Powell in 1903.

William continued working on his craft in Auckland and spent most of his life living with his sister and died in 1943 at the age of 84 at Auckland Hospital after a short illness.

 

 

The cabinet presented to Major-General Baden-Powell by the citizens of Auckland in recognition of his distinguished services to the British Empire for the defence of Mafeking from 1899 to 1900. The sum of £200 was raised by means of ‘shilling subscriptions’ from thousands of Auckland residents to fund the gift.

                               

ESCRITOIRES

 

The Louis XV escritoire or bonheur du jour cabinets the examples of Anton Seuffert’s craftsmanship that set him in a league unlikely to ever be surpassed as New Zealand’s greatest cabinetmaker. It is now thought that he produced nine of these remarkably detailed and intricate specimens from 1865. This represented a truly astonishing volume of output in terms of both quantity and quality. 

While the design and dimensions of all the cabinets are virtually identical,  (h 1.55m x w 1.22m x d 75cm) the detail of the marquetry and carvings vary between all of the nine specimens. It is known from contemporary newspaper reports and private letters that similar examples of these escritoires were made for David Limond Murdoch, Sir Joseph Hooker, Sir George Edward Grey, James Tannock Mackelvie, Archibald Anderson Watt and Captain Henry Burton.

 

 

This cabinet is an excellent later example of the Loius XV escritoires made by the Seufferts. They made nine of these cabinets.

 

TABLES

Small circular tables were the most prolific examples of this Seuffert genre and featured tops and bases embellished with geometric, star, fern, or picture patterns. At approximately 610 mm diameter by 730 mm high they appear to have been intended as drawing or sitting room furniture. From a series of 1875 newspaper advertisements for an Art Union, it is known that Anton Seuffert referred to these as card tables. It is assumed they were utilised for the depositing of business cards or postal cards. They have also been described as either side, occasional, wine or specimen tables.

The surviving tables known to have bases made by the Seufferts are characterised by three distinct components; the top, a single stem and an inlaid circular base standing on three carved feet. These tables could be dismantled, as they were constructed with a timber screw thread machined into the top and bottom of the stem. It appears the earliest examples card tables have plain stems as opposed to the later ones with carved embellishments. Anton Teutenberg who was reported as having executed carvings on other Seuffert pieces probably executed the table stem carvings. Teutenberg arrived in New Zealand seven years after the Seuffert family, so by extension any card table with a carved stem would have been constructed after 1866.    

 

 

 

 

Above. This table is a wonderful example of the fern and floral marquetry design used on a number of the tops, but remains relatively rare by also having an original carved stem and inlaid base.

Below.  These two tabletops show the variety of marquetry designs used. 

 

        

BOXES

Inlaid boxes of many sizes were another specialty of Anton and William Seuffert. The larger boxes were designed for the storage of pressed native New Zealand fern specimens. The smaller boxes are very similar in design and were used for both jewellery and handkerchief storage. The jewellery boxes are velvet lined and one even has a secret drawer built into the base. An 1875 newspaper advertisement lists the value of handkerchief boxes at £5. Almost all boxes are rather curiously constructed with kauri bases, rimu sides and rewarewa veneer on the inside of the lids. Another feature seen is the use of Gothic window inlaid patterns on the sides. It must be remembered that the Gothic Revival movement was at its peak in Europe around the mid-19th Century. Bone or ivory keyhole escutcheons are universal to all the boxes and some were fitted with velvet linings.  The smallest boxes in the range were the glove boxes and in 1875 these were priced at £3. They differed from the larger boxes by almost always having convex or domed lids. Since their use was to store gloves, they were relatively narrow. There was also a greater variety in marquetry design.

 

 

 

 

Two examples of Seuffert inlaid boxes. Above is an exceptional example of a large jewellery box showing new Zealand iconography on the top and gothic arch panels around the sides. Below is a smaller glove or jewellery box with a domed lid and detailed marquetry in the centre of the top and front.

 

 

 

 

FERN ALBUMS

The Seufferts’ interest in the flora and fauna of their new country is no better seen than in the production of fern album books containing pressed ferns and timber front and back covers featuring detailed inlay.

The purchasing or gifting of mementoes to visiting dignitaries or officials returning to Europe is thought to have provided the Seufferts with a considerable source of customers. The Victorian English were keen collectors of flora and fauna from the lands of the new world and Seuffert pressed albums would have been an ideal accoutrement for a returning upper-class gentlefolk. These albums were easily transported and would have been a unique novelty in any English drawing room. It is no coincidence that the majority of Seuffert treasures have been located in England.

 

 

PICTURES

The use of New Zealand imagery is a repeated feature of both Anton and William’s work. Maori iconography, pictorial scenes and botany were all sources of inspiration for the Seufferts. An interesting variation was the creation of complete pictures or picture frames using this type of imagery as the focal point of the design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exquisite image of New Zealand native fantail birds is a small portion of a larger inlay design.