A Canterbury is a low, open-topped stand with slatted partitions and a drawer beneath, sometimes with short legs on casters, designed for holding sheet music. Originally found in England during the 1780s, they were made in mahogany from about 1800, and later in rosewood and walnut. In a period when printed music was more widely available and disseminated due to more affordable printing techniques, sheet music was very popular and therefore storage for such favored tunes as might be bound became an exquisite luxury and an opportunity for innovative design.
According to famed furniture designer Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) the reason for the name is that “A bishop of the see first gave orders for those pieces”. The “bishop of the see” referred to is none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most important English bishop and leader of the Church of England. Given the dates from which the earliest known models appear, the patron in question would likely have been Frederick Cornwallis (1713-1783), who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1768 to 1783. Cornwallis had been George III’s chaplain and had aristocratic associations prior to his ascension as Archbishop, therefore his connection with some of the most illustrious cabinetmakers at the time seems plausible.