The 19th century produced dozens of independent designers, particularly towards the end of the period. As the furniture trade developed, so manufacturers and retailing split. Catalogues began to be used in retail shops as they are today. Competition between retailers and the use of the new design books resulted in a large number of designs, not only new ones but also a constant looking backwards to earlier centuries for inspiration. This change in the structure of the industry made full use of highly individual interpretations of Gothic, Renaissance, Elizabethan, "Naturalistic" styles, Egyptian, Old French, Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze and Italian decorations, all applied to a wide variety of furniture. The complexity of the subject is explained by a number of illustrations and this is the reason why some 6,000 appear within this book. The Dictionary is made up from 49 contemporary design and pattern books issued by manufacturers such as Heal's, Smith, Tatham, King, Pugin, Morris and Liberty's. Each piece of furniture has been sorted into its physical characteristics (e.g. table with three legs) so that it is only necessary to glance down the list of contents to identify into which category any particular piece belongs.
Within each category the pieces are arranged in chronological order so that the evolution of each type is clearly seen. This "Pictorial Dictionary" provides the first major study on the very wide range of furniture produced in this prolific century and it has, consequently, become the standard work of reference on the subject.