Barnstaple-made music cabinet found its way to Hawaii

SHAPLAND and Petter furniture is well-known for finding its way into the far corners of the globe; but the discovery of an antique music cabinet in an Hawaiian thrift shop has surprised even museum experts. The ornate late 19th century Barnstaple-made cab

SHAPLAND and Petter furniture is well-known for finding its way into the far corners of the globe; but the discovery of an antique music cabinet in an Hawaiian thrift shop has surprised even museum experts.

The ornate late 19th century Barnstaple-made cabinet, complete with peacock and rose blossom motif door panel, was bought for $100 by collector John Cook in Honolulu in December 2006.

Mr Cook, who collects vintage Hawaiian memorabilia, has spent the last three years researching the cabinet. He believes it once belonged to the last reigning monarch of The Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani and was most likely an ascension gift given by Queen Victoria in 1891.

"The day I brought the cabinet home, within ten minutes of online research, I was certain it was a monarchy piece," said Mr Cook, who has lived in Hawaii since 1989.


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"Lili'uokalani was a songwriter and the cabinet was designed around her most famous composition, Aloha 'Oe, written in 1878."

Before she was crowned, Lili'uokalani is known to have travelled to England to attend Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. She played a number of different instruments and was affectionately known as "The Peacock Princess" after the peacocks that roamed freely around the grounds of her estate.

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Mr Cook has already been in contact with the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, as well as the Victoria and Albert museum in London to seek verification of his findings.

"With the help of Alison Mills at the museum in Barnstaple, we were able to locate the cabinet in their on-line archives. The furniture department at the V&A museum has also been following my research but there is still more to learn about the cabinet."

Julian Vayne, learning and outreach officer at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, said the museum was aware of the cabinet's discovery.

"Shapland and Petter were producing high-end stuff at the time and it is entirely possible that it would appeal to someone reasonably wealthy who wanted a beautiful piece of furniture," said Mr Vayne.

"Although most pieces are still in Britain, it was the high-class furniture of its time, and in the same way as you'd expect to find fabric by Liberty across the globe, it would not be unusual to find some pieces of furniture in other countries."

Mr Cook is still researching the cabinet's history and its links to the political relationships between England, Hawaii and the US, which overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.

His findings have lead him to believe that the Shapland and Petter piece could have played a key role in the overthrow by the US and was potentially one of the most important discoveries in Hawaiian history.

But he added: "Hawaii is the most isolated grain of sand on earth and most would agree, just finding a piece of Shapland and Petter furniture in Hawaii from any era is almost an impossibility.

"I have no connections to North Devon but I plan to visit Barnstaple and see, firsthand, the things I've been studying.

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