Rich reddish-brown wood of trees of the Central and South American genus Swietenia (family Meliaceae). In early use the term denoted Swietenia mahagoni (Cuban mahogany or ‘Spanish’ mahogany), but from the 18th century it increasingly denoted Swietenia macrophylla, which was imported from Jamaica. In the 1720s mahogany became the most widely used wood in English cabinetmaking. Robert Walpole (1676–1745) not only exempted Jamaican mahogany from import duty, making it cheaper than the more sought after Cuban or ‘Spanish’ mahogany, but he also had the staircase and panelling at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, made in this material. Mahogany was popular with cabinetmakers as it enabled crisp, high-quality carving, it was stable and resistant to warping and woodworm and it came in large planks, making it suitable for all kinds of furniture. The use of mahogany remained an English specialism until the 1760s, when it was taken up by French cabinetmakers; in the 1780s ‘anglomania’ in France created a fashion for mahogany chairs and dining-room tables. By the end of the century mahogany had become a fashionable wood all over Europe.
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