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White Star Line, RMS "Britannic" & "Olympic" 1st Class stateroom dressing table & chest of draws.

by Jonathan Quayle |

A 1st Class stateroom dressing table/chest of draws, originally created for the RMS 'Britannic' C-1914, and later reinstalled and repurposed on the RMS 'Olympic' C-1918/19.

This months stellar arrival, one of the finest pieces of Olympic furniture seen on the open market for many years, a beautiful dressing table/chest of draws from RMS "Olympic" with a stunning pedigree I thought some of you might enjoy reading about.

Fashioned from the finest english oak this beautiful piece of furniture made by the hands of the skilled men of the Harland & Wolff ship yards of Belfast, has stood the test of time. 100 years after it was first created it looks as good as the day it was made. But this is no simple piece of furniture manufactured for just any ship, it has a rich and fascinating history. 

Originally manufactured by the same men who had made the identical furniture for the first of the 'Olympic' class liners, 'Olympic' & 'Titanic' in 1911, this dressing table was intended for the final liner of the trio, the 'Britannic' of 1914. Clearly stamped to the reverse of the mirror, twice, are the identification marks made by the craftsman who created it, originally intended for the 'Shell Deck, cabin/stateroom 163, with her yard number '433' also stamped. Wether this piece actually ever made it onto the mighty third Olympian can only be guessed at. The majority of furniture had been completed for the ship and was either already installed or waiting within the shipyard to be fitted. Britannic would never see passenger service being requisitioned by the British government for war service. Much of her fixtures and fittings that had been installed were promptly removed and placed into storage in Belfast at her builders, with the intention to be re installed once the war had ended, Britannic would never return to her builders for that post war refit, unlike her luckier sister, 'Olympic'.

So this piece of furniture survived the ships sinking and remained in storage in Belfast until 1918. At this stage this piece of furniture was a dressing table, identical to those fitted onto Titanic and shown in the famous photo taken by Father Brown in his stateroom. Olympic of course showed sterling war service, but the ship paid a heavy price on her once fine pre war fine Edwardian interiors. Used and abused by 1000's of service people and war, much of her interiors would have to be fully restored and in some cases totally replaced, like many pieces of furniture.

It seems that during Olympic's post war refit it was identified that some of the ships staterooms did not have sufficient storage for passengers clothes and belongings. With this in mind the builders seem to have repurposed a Britannic dressing table top and married it was a chest of draws, possibly a pre existing Olympic or Britannic dressing table, and combined them into the piece we see today. The chest is clearly marked in typical shipyard blue pencil markings 'A-36' and 'Olympic'. A-36 as shown in the deck plans detailed below, was a premium stateroom, close to both the grand staircase and the enviable location of near midships, this actual piece of furniture can be seen on the deck plan, 'DT' indicating 'dressing table'. 

And so, fused together a piece intended for Britannic, ended up returning to sea on her luckier sister ship, the RMS 'Olympic' where it remained until 1935 giving faithful service until the end, but this was not the end of this piece of furnitures story.

Like much of Olympic's fixtures and fittings, the majority was reused and recycled. There were two auctions that we know off, one in Southampton of some of the smaller articles and loose furniture. Then there was the big Ward sale that saw the bulk of material being resold and then finally Ward themselves retailing individual pieces of what was left, unsold or found after the first sales.

I purchased this chair direct from a charming lady who had known this piece all her life, it was known as the 'Olympic' dressing table, much pride was taken in it and its storied history. It was given to her as a child as her personally dressing table from her mother whom inherited from her own farther. It has been purchased on the quayside in Newcastle from Ward's direct. It remained in the same family from around 1935/6 until this year (2019), passing through three generations. 

I was very happy to have purchased this beautiful piece, and like all good things they sadly do not hang around for long, I didn't even get a chance to properly market this item, it sold very quickly to a great collector & collection and will happily remain in the UK.


A very handsome piece of furniture, it has an impressive scale & quality.

A fascinating detail of this piece was the original built in adjustable pivot to the mirror, to deflect the light from the main stateroom light overhead whilst getting ready for dinner or a walk along the Promenade Deck. Two original silver plated tags pull to reveal an elaborate adjustable pivot and guard, all in heavy quality silver plate with ballbearing clips to secure in place during rough weather.

Happily this piece retained all of its removable quality heavy gauge silvered bronze 'fiddle' rails. I had initially figured it had front rails that had been lost over time, but it's clear that this example never had any. Theres no evidence of the inset reinforced brass channels that the rails fitted into. This lack of central rails may be due to the staterooms high midships location and was not thought unnecessary.

The inset brass channels installed into the top surface to accommodate the removable (for cleaning and polishing purposes) are not visible on the front sections, indicating this example never had them.

As an interesting note and social history commentary, I love this little detail to survive her passenger service life. The family who owned this were non smokers yet the surface of the top shows several areas of cigarette damage from an obvious careless smoking passenger!

The fine and original silver plated bronze handles seen through this piece, identical handles can be seen in various illustrations of the ships staterooms, and in particular they appear to match those seen in the famous Father Brown image of his own staterooms dressing table on RMS 'Titanic'.

The reverse, showing the amazing quality of this piece of furniture, there are literally hundreds of bronze screws throughout to keep it strong during the movement of the ship in heavy seas.

Marked twice on the back of the main mirror, top and bottom, the stamps read:- '163 Shell Deck', the intended stateroom onboard RMS 'Britannic' and her yard number, '433'.

The underside of the mirror was also re numbered to match the chest of draws below it, 'A-36'.

C-1927 deck plan of Olympic's 1st Class accommodation, clearly shows the final location within the ship. Interestingly this actual piece can be seen on this deck plan, the 'DT' on the plan indicating 'dressing table'. An enviable location being literally next door to the grand staircase and being near midships, to ensure a smooth and comfortable crossing as possible.

Probably dating from around 1918/19 the subsequent shipyard workers marks to indicate the final stateroom number, 'A-36'.

A typical image from a publicity brochure for 'Olympic', showing very similar dressing table in situ. This example even sports what looks like identical draw pulls.

The famous Father Brown image of his stateroom, again the handles on his dressing table appear to match those found on the discussed dresser. In this image you can clearly see the over hanging electric stateroom light, which is why the mirrors were adjustable to deflect the light when needed.




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