R.M.S. Titanic: An Important George III Mahogany Supper Table Formerly Owned by J.Bruce Ismay


Origin: English
Period: George III
Provenance: The Estate of Joseph Bruce Ismay (12 December 1862 – 17 October 1937)
Date: c.1770-90
Height: 28 inches
Diameter: 32 inches (at maximum)
In Upright Position: 45 inches high

The George III Chippendale period mahogany birdcage action tea table having a one piece circular pie crust top, raised on a pillar birdcage action platform tilt support, on central turned support, with three carved ball and claw feet, the underside stamped ‘Ismay, 15 Hill St, B. Sq.’, survives from the second half of the eighteenth century, and later, from Ismay’s private residence.

From 1911, one year before RMS Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage, Ismay and his family purchased 15 Hill Street, Mayfair, to act as their London residence, and would later make it their main residence in 1920. Ismay was known to have left the property on the morning of April 10th 1912 to board his ship, the ill-fated RMS Titanic.

In good, and importantly, original condition, there has been no restoration since the time of Ismay’s ownership. We have tightened the movements and joints and the birdcage movement is operational and the mahogany has a good colour. We have given her a good professional wax. The top has some surface scratches; if you are interested in a French polish we can carry this out on request on purchase. The stamping is definitely early twentieth century of Ismay’s name and address to the underside of the tabletop and would have almost certainly have been either carried out by the removal firm when his belongings were stored and moved to the Mayfair address or by a furniture retailer in London. Ismay’s wife, Florence Schieffelin, collected antique furniture and this table may have been her personal choice.

Lord Bruce Ismay was the chairman and M.D. of the White Star Line who owned the RMS Titanic. He came to international attention as the highest-ranking White Star official among the 705 survivors (vs. 1,517 fatalities from crew and passengers totaling 2,223) of the maiden voyage of his company's marquee ocean liner. Vilified as a coward who left the Titanic in one of the last lifeboats, while his customers and employees stoically faced their doom on the ship, J. Bruce Ismay was born at Enfield House, Endbutt Lane, Crosby on 12th December 1862.

In 1907, at a party held at the home of Lord Pirrie, director of the shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, Ismay sketched out on a napkin his plans for the largest liners the world had ever seen - Olympic, Gigantic and Titanic.... Many evenings were shared between the Ismays and the Pirries when they were all in London, and this evocative image of an opulent candlelit dinner enjoyed by two successful businessman and their glittering wives, in the Mayfair of the gilded age.

He was travelling, technically as a passenger, in his private suite on the second to be built - Titanic - when she struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage at 11.40 p.m. on Sunday 14th April 1912. The Titanic was advertised to sail on the 10th of April and the company was determined that she should do so. Unfortunately there was a coal strike at the time and it was decided to take coal out of the Oceanic and the American liner New York consequently both ships were laid up.   

Mr. & Mr. J Bruce Ismay motored down from his Hill Street home with there three children in their Daimler Landaulette. It was one of the few occasions when Bruce Ismay would journey by car because he disliked motoring so much. That night they all stayed at the South Western Hotel, Southampton. Bruce was in good heart a fortnight earlier he had seen his eldest daughter happily married, now he was about to go on the maiden voyage of his new ship. After his maiden voyage aboard the Olympic he had suggested some improvements, these had been incorporated on the Titanic and was looking forward to seeing the in action. As it was the Easter holidays his wife had decided to stay at home with the children who were not home for very long. At 9:30 on the 10th April Ismay boarded the Titanic in Ocean Dock and she sailed at noon that day. Mrs. Ismay and the children watched her depart the set off to tour Devonshire and Wales. His life was never to be the same.

Quickly informed by Captain Smith and designer Thomas Andrews that the Titanic was doomed, Ismay did his best in encouraging reluctant women to enter the all too few lifeboats, and urged them lowered - to the extent that he was told "to get the hell out of the way" by the fiery Welsh 5th Officer Lowe. Several women testified that Ismay urged them to enter the boats, and at least one later swore she owed her life to him.

The circumstances of Ismay's leaving the Titanic would be cause for endless speculation, but there is no evidence to contradict his testimony that he entered the partially-empty collapsible 'C' on the spur of the moment as it was being lowered, after first checking there were no women or children nearby. He was by no means the only man to enter a lifeboat,  and as Ismay pushed the brute oar, his eye fell on his ring. The ring ironically inscribed:- ‘Be Mindful’.
Ismay was then a broken man by the time the lifeboat was rescued by the Carpathia, and spent the entire journey to New York in the doctor's cabin - "under opiates" according to Captain Rostron of the Carpathia.

Inflamed by his silence, the American press needed someone to blame for the disaster, and Ismay provided a convenient scapegoat; a position maintained in the most recent Titanic film. Wounded by these hysterical allegations and imputations on his character, Ismay cabled a long statement to the London Times. On his return to Liverpool he was met by cheering crowds at Princes Landing stage.

Although both the American and British Enquiries exonerated J. Bruce Ismay of any wrongdoing, he never lived it down. Before the Titanic disaster he had already announced his impending retirement as President of International Mercantile Marine, the American conglomerate which had bought White Star Line in 1902. Now they denied him the option of remaining chairman of WSL, the company his father had founded in Liverpool.

Ismay divided his time between his homes in London and Ireland. The family home was 15 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London from 1920, though Ismay owned the property long before this, in 1911, and most of the furniture and fittings were moved from Sandhey's, Merseyside to this residence, which would have included this table. Ismay kept out of the public eye for most of the remainder of his life. Although he did not have an active role in his business, he did not become a recluse, and his Hill Street home became a meeting place for family and friends. Before his eyesight began to fail he spent many seasons at a rented lodge near Gleneagles in Scotland where he participated in two of his favourite sports- shooting and fishing. Largely at the insistence of his American wife, J. Bruce, Ismay sold "Sandheys" in Mossley Hill in 1920 and he lived the rest of his life at 15 Hill Street.

Every week he would travel by train up to Liverpool on Sunday evening, returning Wednesday, to conduct his remaining business and charitable interests in the city. Towards the end of his life he could be found at the back of the crowd, watching parades go by in London, or feeding the pigeons in the parks near his home. Often he would chat with strangers down on their luck, proffering advice and money, they never guessing who he was. An exert from the excellent book How to Survive the Titanic Or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay By Frances Wilson reads: “Ismay’s grand daughter remembers the solemnity of her grandparents’ Hill St home…’Anyone arriving at the house was met by triumvirate; two footman, one as dark as the other was fair, would be standing on the steps either side of the door, flanking the heavier figure of the butler, poised to take the name of the visitor”.

Due to circulatory illness, Ismay suffered the amputation of his right leg (carried out at his Hill Street abode) and he died of a stroke on 17th October 1937, aged 74 in the Hill Street residence where he had lived permanently since 1920. In Liverpool, flags on civic buildings were flown at half-mast and his estate amounted to almost £700,000. His funeral was held on 21 October 1937, and he is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery London. He was survived by his wife, Florence Schieffelin. After his death, she renounced her British subject status in order to restore her American citizenship on 14 November 1949. Ismay left in his will the prestigious address of 15 Hill Street and also willed her his wearing apparel, watches, jewels, trinkets and all other articles of personal use or ornament belonging to him.

Ismay further added in his will: “I give to my wife for her absolute use and benefit all my freehold and leasehold land, fisheries, sporting rights and other property in the County of Galway in Ireland, and all household or domestic furniture, and all boats and their furniture, and tackle fishing appliances, and other effects belonging to me and used or intended to be used in connection therewith”. This table, therefore would have passed to Florence and kept in her possession until she died on 31 December 1963, aged 92, in Kensington, London.

As well as being a very high quality Georgian period piece of English furniture this table represents a very rare opportunity indeed to own a piece of original White Star Line and RMS Titanic history. Whether or not you believe that Ismay was the "Coward of the Titanic", or merely an easy scapegoat for the biggest maritime catastrophe seen in modern times, it is quite feasible that this was the very table he took tea upon on the morning of Titanic’s maiden voyage on April 10th 1912, or at least the table he rushed past, collecting his keys, his coat tails flailing behind him, as he left 15 Hill Street for the last time with his sanity truly in tact… for he could have not foreseen his magnum opus becoming one of the most famous and tragic stories of all time.