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The Thebes Stool

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)
    High Wycombe (made)

  • Date:

    1884 (design registered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    William Birch (maker)
    B. North & Sons (maker)
    Liberty & Co. Ltd. (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mahogany or walnut, with leather seat

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case 12

Object Type
The stool is made of turned mahogany legs and a dyed and shaped leather seat attached with leather thongs. Each stretcher is connected to the seat by four decorative struts.

People Route
This stool was made for Liberty & Co., probably by the firm of William Birch or by B. North & Sons, both of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and designed by Leonard Wyburd, the director of Liberty's Furnishing and Decoration Studio, established in 1883.

Liberty's patented the design of the Thebes stool in 1884, and it continued to be sold until about 1919. Egyptian-influenced furniture had also been made in the 1850s by Morris, Faulkner & Co. between 1857 and 1858, and designed during the 1870s by Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) and E.W.Godwin (1833-1886).

Physical description

Low mahogany or walnut stool, with turned decoration on the legs, and a leather seat, copied from an ancient Egyptian original.
Stool constructed from solid walnut, the leather seat being dyed, shaped and stitched to the carcase. Three of the legs have a distinctive interlocking joint, while the fourth corner simply 'sits' on the leg. Each stretcher is connected to the seat by four struts, which are more decorative than functional.

Place of Origin

London (designed)
High Wycombe (made)


1884 (design registered)


William Birch (maker)
B. North & Sons (maker)
Liberty & Co. Ltd. (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Mahogany or walnut, with leather seat


Height: 36.3 cm, Width: 43.5 cm, Depth: 43.5 cm, Height: 28 cm centre of seat to floor

Object history note

Made for Liberty & Co., probably by the firm of William Birch or B. North & Sons, both of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

The inspiration for the Thebes stool was the collection of Egyptian domestic furniture disovered at Thebes which had been acquired by the British Museum between 1829 and 1835. This collection included a stool with shaped inlaid legs and fragments of a leather seat, XVIII Dynasty (reference: EA 2472) which apparently inspired various 19th century designs. One of the earliest was a chair, with a seat and legs similar to that on the British Museum stool, designed by William Holman Hunt and made in 1856 by J.G. Crace (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Other versions include Ford Madox Brown's simplified chair, with ladder back and cane seat, c. 1860, stocked by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.

Liberty registered their own design, No.16673, in 1884, which had a slatted wooden top and square section legs joined by vertical, diagonal and horizontal rails.Various examples seem to have been produced, including the version in the Museum and a stool with three splayed legs.It was advertised as being available in walnut, mahogany or oak, but examples exist in various woods, including beech. An example of the stool in the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Trondheim, Norway, was apparently acquired from Samuel Bing's Salon de l'Art Nouveau, Paris, in 1896.

Historical context note

A revival of interest in the art and architecture of Ancient Egypt may have been stimulated by the Egyptian Court in the reerected Crystal Palace at Sydenham, opened in 1854. The exhibits included full-size copies of the Abu Simbel colossi and the Court was recommended as a source of Egyptian ornament by Christopher Dresser in Principles of Ornamental Design, 1873, p. 8. Designers could also consult publications featuring the collection of ancient Egyptian furniture from Thebes at the British Museum, notably Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians by Sir J. Gardiner Wilkinson, first published 1837 and reissued in a revised edition in 1857.

Descriptive line

Thebes Stool, mahogany or walnut, with leather seat, designed by Liberty & Co., and probably made by William Birch Ltd. or B. North & Sons, Britain, 1880s

Labels and date

The ancient Egyptian original, from which this stool is copied, was reputed to have been discovered at Thebes. The design for this Liberty version was registered at the Patent Office in 1884 and other examples of the design and variations on it survive. Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema owned an elaborate version of ebony and ivory which was in his studio with the seat shown nearby. [pre July 2001]
British Galleries:
This stool is based on one in the British Museum, said to be from Thebes, Egypt, and made in 1400-1300 BC. The fashionable interest in Egypt and the classical world was taken up by the retailers of artistic goods, such as Liberty & Co., who sold many versions of the stool. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Attribution note: The design for the Thebes Stool was registered with the Patent Office in 1884, and appeared in Liberty catalogues from that year. It is not clear who manufactured the Thebes Stool for Liberty, but it seems likely that William Birch Ltd of High Wycombe or B. North and Sons supplied them. The stool was originally sometimes sold with a matching cushion.
Reason For Production: Retail


Walnut; Leather; Mahogany




Furniture; British Galleries

Production Type

Mass produced


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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