Caring for Mahogany Furniture

Georgian Mahogany Chest of Drawers c1790

There is nothing better than a piece of antique Mahogany furniture to add refined elegance to any space. For over 300 years this exotic hardwood has been reserved for some of the finest pieces ever made and its signature red tone is instantly recognisable to all as a sign of quality.

Although most red hardwood is often given the overarching title of ‘Mahogany’ to make them sound luxurious, there are in fact quite a few timbers that are similar in characteristic but are not technically mahoganies. These include Teak, Cedar, Meranti and Sapele to name a few. Indeed since 2003 it has been illegal to log and sell new genuine Mahogany except for a very small supply of the South American variety. This is because it is on the endangered list in many regions. This restriction of course does not apply to old Mahogany furniture making antique Mahogany even more special.

There are as said only a handful of different genuine mahogany species which each have their own unique tones and graining, and these have tended to be used at different periods as different supplies dried up. With a little bit of practice, it is not too hard to discern between West Indian or Cuban, Honduran and Pacific Mahogany which can help you date the item.

Regency Fiddleback Mahogany Chiffonier c1815

The first Mahogany timber imported on a large scale into Europe was at the start of the 18th Century was from Jamaica and the West Indies. Antique pieces of this variety have a slightly muddier brown tone than the others but with a very tight grain it cuts, polishes and carves extremely well making it the timber of choice for many years. It was used extensively in the ship-building industry for hulls during the 18th Century as well as for furniture and musical instruments.

In the early years West Indies Mahogany was plentiful as plantation owners were happy to fell the trees to make space for similarly profitable sugar beet production. However, by the second half of the 18th Century supplies were already beginning to run out and attention turned to other supplies. On the whole 18th Century mahogany furniture tends to be a slightly more brown in colour than 19th and early 20th Century examples which are much redder in colour. Honduran mahogany which is popular for its almost tiger stripe look did not really become popular until the 20th Century.