In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, professional cabinet-makers used pattern books to keep up with fashions in furniture design, to direct their own designing and to guide the choices of their clients. This leather-bound publication, with numerous hand-coloured plates, was one of the most successful pattern books of the early 19th century. Peter Nicholson (1765–1844) was a Scottish-born architect, known for his many publications in the fields of architecture, masonry, carpentry and joinery, engineering and furniture design. Michael Angelo was his co-author and brother,
This is one of very few pattern books –that can be assigned to a known colonial Australian cabinet-maker. It belonged to – and is inscribed by – George Best (1796–1889). Best migrated to Tasmania from Surrey, England in 1833, and conducted a cabinetmaking business in Launceston until 1854.
Pattern books were products of an information revolution created by a proliferation of ever-cheaper illustrated books. These books meant that fashions and designs travelled both more quickly than before, but also more accurately. Designs travelled from Britain to the far-flung colony in the space of ship's journey. Furniture-makers both in the mother country and in the colony were using the same books to both inspire their designs and to sell them to clients.
Like most similar publications, the Practical Cabinet-Maker includes a large section on geometry and perspective drawing. While this was useful information for many cabinet makers, it also served to elevate their trade by aligning perceptions of it with the liberal arts and discouraging association with manual labour and the crafts. For similar reasons, such books invariably reproduce the classical Greek and Roman architectural orders, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, as well as the Roman Composite and Tuscan. These were, of course, useful for designers in an age where classical precedents informed most designs.