Saturday 4 January 2014

Writing Table from Cunard's S.S Ascania.

The Art Deco design of this mahogany ship’s writing table epitomises the Golden Age of the great ocean  liners in the early 20th century. It has an ivorine plaque to the underside of the front rail that notes 'SS "Ascania" 1st Class Lounge Wm. Masons & Son Ltd., Leeds'. Research is on going and will be updated here as it progresses.

The quality of construction is as you would expect from a piece of furniture on board one of Cunard's ocean liners. Curly mahogany veneers on top of straight grain mahogany secondary timber, brass inkwells and stationery rack, and unusually a type of hard rubber composite to the stretchers that could easily be mistaken for solid ebony. Also note the nickel plated hooks to the back. The table is finished to the back and would have sat in the middle of the lounge but would be moved and hooked to the wall in heavy seas.

The main questions remaining are:
Who where the makers ? and who was the designer of this very stylish piece of furniture?
Both of which are proving difficult to find out information on.
The ship was initially fitted in 1925 and then re-fitted in 1927 to allow for an increase in passenger classes to three.

So far we have found little on the maker. William Mason's son Frederick  was apprenticed to his father and brother in 1888 and spent over a year making the precise woodwork needed by their neighbour Louis Le Prince for his pioneering work in cinematography. Many credit Le Prince with making the first motion picture. Mason’s premises at this time were at 150 Woodhouse Lane. They must have been a company of a reasonable size to have been commissioned by Cunard. Surprising little other information is out there.

Cunard must have used different manufacturers and one lead found was that Ragstraw of Worcester also made furniture for Cunard and their records illustrate an almost identical table made by the company in 1939 for use on board the Queen Elizabeth which was launched the previous year.This companies archive when through auction last year in Stroud and one can only hope that though sold in separate lots it was bought by one buyer. 

The table above from this archive is clearly a later version of our table showing that the raised section to the back has been removed and what appears to be a perpetual calender below where this would have been. Our table had holes here and would have had the same.
Unfortunately, the archive doesn't note the designer.

 Hopefully, with time further information will emerge.
 From the Titanic Research & Modelling Association Ralph Currell mentions : "The 'Shipping World' of 6 May 1925 says, "On the boat deck there is a lounge, fitted with comfortable furniture and writing tables, and occupying a position which affords an excellent view of the sea."
Also  from Norway-Heritage Hands across the Sea Jan Peter Wiborg posted a couple of other photos though sadly not showing the table.