click image to zoomJennifer Anderson's Mahogany traces the history of the wood in furnishings. In the mid-eighteenth century, colonial Americans became enamored with the rich colors and silky surface of mahogany. The colorful history of this tropical lumber is recounted in the recently published book, Mahogany, by Jennifer Anderson ($35, Harvard University Press.)
Seated in a mahogany Chippendale chair, George Washington presided over the Continental Congress. The exotic wood, imported from the West Indies including Jamaica, and from Central America, displaced local species as the most fashionable in colonial America.
As demand grew, mahogany sources were depleted, and lumber buyers looked to new regions. Mahogany traces the historic path of the wood from source to sale: covering African woodcutters, including huntsmen who located the trees in dense rainforest, to the ship captains, merchants, and timber dealers, and the skilled cabinetmakers who crafted the wood.
As the trees became scarce and intense international conflicts arose over this diminishing natural resource, 19th century American furniture makers turned to other materials, surviving mahogany objects were revalued as antiques evocative of the nation’s past.