This cabinet, which entered the collection of The Victoria & Albert Museum in 1956, was commissioned by W.J. Bassett-Lowke for the furnishing of 78 Derngate in 1916. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it matches in style and appearance the dark finish, angular forms and vivid contrasts of colour seen in his interior scheme for the Hall Lounge. The cabinet features inlays of yellow plastic triangles and lozenges to complement the décor. Mackintosh was one of the first furniture designers to experiment with the use of plastic as an inlay. Casein plastic ( casein formaldehyde ) inlays, likely to have been German-made ‘Galalith’ were used by him at The Chinese Room at the Ingram Street Tea Rooms, Glasgow, in 1911. A British-made version of this material, ‘Erinoid’ was suggested to Mackintosh in a letter to him around 1916 by Bassett-Lowke. Because casein plastics are plasticised with water they are affected by moisture which can cause repeated expansion and contraction in non-stable environmental conditions [ 1 ]. This can lead to surface crazes, cracks or distortion in the material and consequent lack of inlay adhesion. The V&A have undertaken conservation of the Mackintosh cabinet and have documented the approach to their work. The Erinoid inlays have shown signs of deterioration, some losses and also damage to the timber components of the cabinet have occurred. A detailed account is available here.
Up until early 2019 the V&A incorrectly catalogued the place of manufacture for this cabinet as ‘The Isle of Wight’. Research by staff at 78 Derngate indicates that much of the moveable Mackintosh furniture for the house ( including, it is believed, the Smokers Cabinet ) was made on The Isle of Man in the Cabinet Making Workshop at Knockaloe Camp during the First World War. This information was provided to the V&A. The catalogue information was subsequently updated to reflect the cabinet’s origins following publication of an article about production of Mackintosh furniture at Knockaloe in the Financial Times Weekend in March 2019 [ 2 ].
Image reproduced by kind permission of and is ©The Victoria & Albert Museum.
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Place of Origin: Isle of Man (probably, made)
Date: 1916 (made)
Artist/Maker: Mackintosh, Charles Rennie, born 1868 – died 1928 (designer)
Materials and Techniques: Ebonised wood, lined with cedar and inlaid with Erinoid (plastic)
Museum number: CIRC.856:1, 2-1956
1 – P.14. “Object Lessons 3: Plastics”. Susan Lambert. Pub: Social History Curators Group. 2008. Retrieved March 2009 via link.
2- Pp.14-15. “Barbed-wire comforts; Enemy Aliens interned on the Isle of Man in the First World War crafted Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s furniture”. Kate Youde. Financial Times Weekend, 23/24 March 2019.