Story: Seuffert, Anton
This biography was written by Joy M. Bilkey and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990
Anton Seuffert, known before 1869 as Anton Seufert, and sometimes mistakenly referred to as Antoine Siefert, was born in Bohemia probably in 1814 or 1815, the son of Anton Seufert and his wife, Anna Bower or Bauer. Anton Seufert senior was a 'worker in wood', and having inherited this skill, his son became a foreman in the firm of Leistler and Sons of Vienna. At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Seuffert was sent to London to assemble furniture for four suites of rooms. Some of this furniture was later presented to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Emperor of Austria.
Probably in 1855 or 1856 Seuffert married Anna Piltz, a woman of Austrian birth, in London. Two children were born to the couple in London, and four others after their arrival in 1858 or 1859 in Auckland, New Zealand. Seuffert soon became well known for his craft, and was commissioned to construct items of furniture for people of note visiting Auckland. He worked and lived mainly in leased premises in Wellesley and Elliott streets. In 1861 he became a naturalised New Zealander and he spent the rest of his life in Auckland.
Judging from his work, Seuffert must have made detailed studies of native woods with their various and interesting textures, as he used them to complement his intricate designs. It is thought he may have had contact with Johann Levien, an expert on New Zealand woods and their uses, before coming to New Zealand. He must also have become familiar with the flora and fauna of New Zealand, and Maori designs and carving, which were all features of his work.
During 1861 and 1862 Seuffert made an important piece of furniture, which brought him much praise, and placed him in the first rank of New Zealand cabinet-makers. It was a writing cabinet, inlaid with New Zealand woods, 'consisting of 30,000 pieces, valued at 300 guineas, which was purchased and presented by the citizens of Auckland to her Majesty the Queen.' This article of furniture is still in use in Buckingham Palace, London.
Seuffert was cabinet-maker to Governor George Grey during 1862 and 1863. Four beautiful inlaid panels, all bearing the Grey coat of arms, were produced for the library at Mansion House, Grey's residence on Kawau Island. They were later made into tables and are still in existence today in private collections.
Seuffert also made for Grey an inlaid cabinet of Louis XV style. This style of cabinet seemed to be the most common that Seuffert executed as it is known that he constructed at least eight similar cabinets during his lifetime. Other known recipients of these cabinets were David Limond Murdoch, Captain Henry Burton, Joseph Hooker, John Frederick Lloyd, archdeacon of Waitemata, and one of the Wakefield family, possibly Edward Jerningham Wakefield. One cabinet is owned by the National Museum, Wellington, and another, part of the MacKelvie collection, is among several Seuffert items displayed at the Auckland Institute and Museum. Also on display there is an inlaid desk presented to Bishop G. A. Selwyn on his retirement. It is on loan to the museum from the Anglican church, to which it was donated by members of Selwyn's family. Other extant items of Seuffert's work include several inlaid table tops, boxes of various sizes, and the inlaid covers of a book of pressed ferns, which is owned by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
In 1869, after the Duke of Edinburgh's visit to New Zealand, Seuffert received a royal appointment, the result of his making a matching chest of drawers and bed for the duke's use during his stay in New Zealand. A work table bearing the initials AE may also have been made for the duke. About this time Seuffert seems to have changed the spelling and pronunciation of his name from Seufert, presumably to assist speakers of English. However, he never completely mastered the English language, and wrote and spoke mainly in German.
During his lifetime Seuffert exhibited at the international exhibitions of 1862, 1873, 1879 and 1880–81, the New Zealand Exhibition in Dunedin in 1865, and the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886 and received numerous awards. He also exhibited work at the Auckland Society of Arts.
Seuffert was a man completely dedicated to his work and to his family. After a long and productive life he died at Auckland on 6 August 1887. His craft did not die with him as he had taught it to his son, William, who in turn acquired a reputation as a highly skilled cabinet-maker and inlayer.