Three hundred years ago today, Jacob Arend (1688-1744), a journeyman cabinetmaker in his brother’s workshop in Würzburg, wrote a letter and hid it in a magnificent Baroque writing cabinet. The letter was not placed in one of the secret drawers common in 18th-century desks and cabinets – he hid the letter so well it was not found for 253 years. Sometime after writing the letter Jacob and fellow journeyman, Johannes Witthalm, left Würzburg to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
In his letter Jacob allowed us a rare look into his world and the extreme contrast between his living conditions and the luxury of the writing cabinet he and Johannes had made. You can read Jacob’s letter and what is known about his life here.
In the last year I found two notes that shed some light on what happened to Jacob in the ten-year gap between leaving Würzburg in 1716 and arriving in Fulda in 1726. The clue comes by way of Carl Maxillian Mattern (1705-1774), a more well-known German cabinetmaker. While C.M. Mattern was a journeyman he worked for a time with Jacob Arend in Pfaffendorf across the river from Coblentz (Koblentz). So, at one point during the ten-year gap Jacob returned to his hometown of Coblentz.
The possible dates for Mattern working with Jacob in Pfaffendorf are 1722-1726. The next tidbit is Jacob was called to the court of Fulda by Prince-Abbot Adolf. In March of 1726, Konstantin, Prince-Abbot of Fulda, died and was succeeded by Adolf von Dalberg (pictured below with a view of Fulda). Prince-Abbot Adolf ruled from 1726 to 1737.
There are a few pieces made by Jacob in museums, including the writing cabinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I found one more writing cabinet that was up for auction a while ago.
The cabinet is dated 1738 making it a work from Jacob’s Fulda shop. The dimensions are 200 cm x 134 cm x 69 cm (78.7 in x 52.8 in x 27.2 in). The veneers are nut wood, nut wood root and plum wood on a softwood base. This cabinet is not as ostentatious, nor does it have the exotic woods and rare materials as that last cabinet made in Würzburg, but it is splendid nevertheless.
At the end of Jacob’s letter he asked that the finder drink to their (his and Johannes’) health, or if they were no longer living, to their eternal rest and salvation. Scott Stahl, a dedicated reader of the Lost Art Press blog, suggested we follow Jacob’s wish and designate October 22 as Jacob Arend Day. So, raise your glass and honor Jacob and the artisans of the past.
Dinner tonight is cabbage and peas all around.
16 thoughts on “Raise Your Glass – It’s Jacob Arend Day!”
We did it. Here’s to Jacob Arend.
I raise my glass and ponder why the veneers are listed as plum wood and nut wood root (rather equally vague and specific) and yet the primary wood is softwood. Pine? Poplar? Praise the makers; curse the curators, brethren carpenters!
considering the time frame and the location, I would bet it’s pine. “Deal” boards of pine were popular and abundant from Northern Europe where pine forests are abundant.
Auction sites don’t always give full details unless you are a serious bidder on a high-price piece. I checked the details on the Würzburg piece and the carcase was given as pine.
… and if grown “hard” e.g. thin soils, low temperature, poor food and water, cold winds etc. Then it is very close grained and markedly superior to that grown in “soft” conditions. It used to be easily available in England in long wide boards – now it is like hens teeth.
Would love to have some over on this side of the pond
Surely you have something close over there – my mouth waters when I see some of the timber you can get. Christopher says black walnut is cheap as chips in the US and a bit like beech in England as far as cost is concerned.
What is quality and cheap depends on where you are. I am in Florida, so our cheap lumber is cypress and Southern Yellow Pine. Yellow Pine is actually quite hard, and tends to dull blades quickly. Cypress is nice, but fractures easily. Up north of us, walnut, maple and cherry abound, and are quite inexpensive from what I’m told. I pay over $7 a bf for cherry, and over $14 for walnut. But I have read contemporary accounts about working with deal, and would love to try it out, if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity.
museums and auction houses are pretty poor about construction details. I’ve seen museum descriptions of something as a rosewood when it’s clearly a mahogany. exhibits of chinese furniture where there will be 3 or 4 different ways to say “huanghuali” aka d. odorifera. I’m trying to figure out how to volunteer time to fix this.
To the skilled and starving. Cheers!
Hear him! And thanks for all you do, Suzanne!
And thank you, too, Scott Stahl!
Another interesting article Susanna.
I staying in Würzburg for a day on my way to Munich to attend one of Cristopher’s classes. I didn’t get a chance to look around much but what I did see was charming and interesting.
This magnificent city also holds one of the largest collections of lime and oak carvings and this alone is calling me back – I am not saying that the food and wine was not completely delicious but its the carving I would love to see.
I will try and fix up a trip there next year especially if my Daughter can come with me.
Cheers says my glass of schnapps or prost as they say there.
Awe inspiring–the cabinet, the history, and your post.
I’m afraid I made rather too merry this eve. It started by raising a pint of apple-ee ale to all the unsung Jacob Arends of the past and ended celebrating the Cub’s victory.
Thanks go out to Suzanne and all the other supporters of this fine day.
Move over fat bottomed girls! Next round is on me as we make the rocking world go-round.
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