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Coalbrookdale Cast Iron Furniture

Decorating the Victorian Garden

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Coalbrookdale high-back medieval style chair

Coalbrookdale high-back medieval style chair designed by Christopher Dresser with "Pan blowing pipes" pattern, cast iron, English, ca. 1875

-Robert S. Brunk Auction Services Inc./www.prices4antiques.com

Outdoor furniture became opulent in the 19th century. The Victorians loved gardens, and they loved to decorate their gardens with all the zeal they applied to their homes, adorning spaces with urns, statues, gazebos - and, of course, chairs, benches, settees and tables. One of the leading contemporary purveyors of outdoor furniture was the Coalbrookdale Company of Shropshire, England.

A Brief History of Coalbrookdale

Founded in 1709, the family-owned company was famed for its cast iron works, including the Iron Bridge (the first ever made entirely of cast iron) in 1780.

In the 1840s, the company's president Francis Darby began developing lines of decorative furniture. Given its strength and resistance to rust, cast iron was ideal for outdoor pieces. And since it could be mass-manufactured, it was more economical than wrought iron - making it perfect for the rising middle-class clientele. The furniture scored a hit at London's Great Exhibition in 1851, and Queen Victoria herself became a client.

By 1929, the Coalbrookdale Company had merged with several others, ceasing its independent existence - though its designs are still being produced today.

The Styles of Coalbrookdale

Coalbrookdale furniture was designed in a variety of styles, paralleling that of interior furniture: Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Rococo. Ornate and often lavishly detailed - fruit and floral motifs were especially popular - pieces were usually painted a bright color. The artful openwork gave them a light air, for all their opulence.

Settees, one of the firm's most iconic items, often had wooden-slat seats, usually pine. Oak was available for an additional price, according to Debbie Tice, owner of Webberley Antiques in Wadhurst, East Sussex, England.

Coalbrookdale also made interior furniture (see second photo, More Images), but it's best known for its garden items, and those remain the most prized by collectors.

The Marks of Coalbrookdale

Pieces made during the 19th-century usually are stamped "Coalbrookdale" or "C-B Dale Co." They also bear a kite mark (a diamond-shaped patent-registration stamp common to English furniture, before the advent of serial numbers) and a six-digit pattern or model number. Those beginning with "1" indicated a date between 1842 and 1867; those with starting with a "2" are 1868 and later.

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