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Trolley - Dinner Wagon
  • Dinner Wagon
    Summers, Gerald, born 1899 - died 1967
  • Enlarge image

Dinner Wagon

  • Object:

    Trolley

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)
    London (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1935 (designed)
    1935-1939 (manufactured)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Summers, Gerald, born 1899 - died 1967 (designer)
    Makers of Simple Furniture (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Birch plywood, rubber and metal

  • Museum number:

    W.101-1978

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The firm that made this trolley was called the Makers of Simple Furniture and it lives up to the promise of the name. There is no decoration or elaboration and the plywood on this example is left unstained. The design derives entirely from the use of the trolley. Easy access to the lower tier is ensured by dispensing with uprights at two of the four corners, giving the impression that the upper shelf is cantilevered from the frame. It was designed by Gerald Summers who ran the Makers of Simple Furniture. His original design drawing, dated 28 January 1935, specifies that it should be fitted with 'Flexello' castors, and the sales catalogue added that each level was covered with rubber that could be removed for cleaning (the rubber is no longer present on this example). Many variations on the appearance of the trolley were possible. The rubber was offered in brown, green, red, blue, black or white, and the wood came in a choice of white, black or natural polish (as here). The original list price was £6 6 0.

Physical description

Oblong tea trolley with two shelves constructed of panels of birch plywood. The end panels have opposing uprights supporting the upper shelf which appears to be cantilevered. The whole structure is on rubber wheels.

Place of Origin

London (designed)
London (manufactured)

Date

1935 (designed)
1935-1939 (manufactured)

Artist/maker

Summers, Gerald, born 1899 - died 1967 (designer)
Makers of Simple Furniture (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Birch plywood, rubber and metal

Dimensions

Height: 69 cm, Width: 76.5 cm, Depth: 43.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased by the V&A in 1978 from John Simons, Esq., of London (RF 78/1124).

Historical context note

Gerald Summers’ interest in the use of plywood in furniture design began following his return to London following his service in the British Army in the First World War. Like many of his contemporaries, he was interested in improving conditions in crowded cities, material honesty and simplicity of design, and in the use of modern materials and techniques of production. Until this period plywood had been used mostly to make packing cases and the hidden structural parts of furniture. The interest of many designers in the potential applications of industry and modern materials in the improvement of peoples’ lives meant that mouldable plywood became increasingly prominent in furniture design.

Summers worked for Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, a progressive communications firm, from 1926-1933, where he met his future wife, Marjorie Butcher. His suggestion to her that he make simple plywood furniture of his own design for her new flat was the beginning of a fruitful partnership between the pair. In 1929 they began renting a basement flat on Fitzroy Street, near the British Museum, which they used as a home and workshop. Their first sales were to Mr. Rose of Rose and Blairman, a women’s clothing wholesaler, who had mistaken their workshop for a showroom after spotting their finished designs through the window.

The pair’s company, Makers of Simple Furniture, was founded in 1934. Their furniture was sold through major department stores, such as Heal’s and Harrods in the UK and James Pendleton in New York. They also supplied furnishings for Jack Pritchard’s Isokon Building, located at Lawn Road, Hampstead, which during the 1930s could boast Bauhaus instructors Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy as residents.

Following their initial successes, Makers of Simple Furniture moved to a new premises at nearby Charlotte Street, where their workshop employed a dozen craftsmen. Their designs were usually made to order, which Summers felt gave the firm greater flexibility in meeting individual clients’ requirements, but which also made their prices prohibitively expensive to most people. Hand-crafting rather than the industrial manufacture their furniture was a legacy of Summers’ involvement in the Design and Industry Association, a group formed from the Arts and Crafts Movement, whose principles advocated the use of modern industry and technology in improving the design of household objects.

Descriptive line

Trolley, designed by Gerald Summers, birch plywood, Britain, designed 1935

Materials

Birch plywood; Rubber

Categories

Furniture; Tea, Coffee & Chocolate wares

Production Type

Mass produced

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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