Sympson the Joiner

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Sympson the Joiner (fl. 1660s) was a London joiner (and perhaps cabinet maker), who is remembered only because Samuel Pepys is known, from his diary, to have hired Sympson to build book cases, presumed to be those, of exemplary craftsmanship, that have been preserved in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College in accordance with the requirements of Pepys's will. A "joiner" built furniture out of frame-and-panel construction, a refined version of the techniques that were also used to frame up doors and for the panelling of rooms. A "cabinet-maker" built furniture with flush surfaces suitable for veneers or marquetry, assembled using dovetails. In the 1660s the two trades were still distinct, and separate from the "upholder's" (upholsterer's) craft.

Pepys wrote on 17 August 1667

So took up my wife and home, there I to the office, and thence with Sympson, the joyner home to put together the press he hath brought me for my books this day, which pleases me exceedingly.

and a few days later wrote

and then comes Sympson to set up my other new presses for my books, and so he and I fell into the furnishing of my new I think it will be as noble a closett as any man hath.

The surviving bookcases have paired glazed doors each in 21 small panes, over a low section, also with glazed panes, made to hold large folio volumes. The door of the lower section slide to the side like a sash window, probably Pepys' own invention. The base moldings and cornices are finely and robustly carved with acanthus leaf. Such tall bookcases with doors glazed like paned windows, were a contemporary innovation, but Pepys was alert and curious and well-connected in London, and there is no reason to think his "book-presses" were the very first with glass-paned doors.

Pepys began with three or four and kept adding to them until he had twelve.

Sympson did other work for Pepys in his house in Seething Lane, London:

At home I find Sympson putting up my new chimney-piece in our great chamber which is very fine, but will cost a great deal of money, but it is not flung away. (August 14, 1668)

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