ROLLO, JAMES, cabinet-maker, upholsterer, and furniture importer; b. c. 1788, probably in Scotland; m. Frances McCaulay; d. 30 June 1820 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
James Rollo was established as a cabinet-maker in Montreal by 1816. His premises, at that time situated at, Rue Saint-Vincent, were removed two years later to Rue Notre-Dame, near Saint-Laurent, a more prestigious location. Like some of the other leading Montreal cabinet-makers of the period, Rollo imported furniture from England. In 1816 he was selling “elegant” English-made mahogany bedsteads, tables, chairs, sofas, and music-stools. Imported furniture provided colonial cabinet-makers with highly saleable stock, as well as fashionable models to be copied in their work-rooms. In 1819, for example, Rollo advertised his usual English goods, “agreeable to the newest fashions,” and in the same announcement offered to make, “on the shortest notice,” any articles of furniture required “in the newest pattern.” Among items he did produce were card- and Pembroke tables in pillar-and-claw style, mahogany bureaux, chests of drawers, wardrobes, dining-tables and chairs, and ladies’ work- and toilet-tables, all “manufactured under his immediate superintendance.” Handsome mahogany bedsteads, with and without draperies, and sofa-tables in rosewood were also found in his show-rooms. He made use as well of native woods, such as cherry, maple, birch, and ash.
Following the practice of the times, Rollo sold woods to smaller cabinet-makers. He kept ample stocks of both Honduras and what was then called Spanish mahogany, the latter being either Cuban or San Domingo mahogany. Most cabinet-makers of this Regency period also sold articles not necessarily connected with the cabinet trade, and Rollo was no exception. He stocked fowling pieces and paper-hangings, as well as the expected variety of upholstery and curtain materials (haircloth, chintz, moreen) and brass hardware.
That Rollo’s customers included John and Thomas* McCord indicates that he managed, within the short time he was in business, to gain the patronage of leading Montrealers. John McCord paid him £5 in 1818 for two “Elbow Chairs,” and in March 1820 Thomas purchased for £14 a mahogany couch upholstered in haircloth. For Thomas, Rollo also fitted up a pew in Christ Church, laying a new carpet and restuffing the cushions.
In addition to being prominent in the Montreal cabinet trade, Rollo took an active part in the affairs of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church, where he was appointed precentor in 1817 and ordained an elder two years later. In 1818 a son and in 1820 a daughter were baptized there.
In the early summer of 1820 Rollo went into partnership with another cabinet-maker, George Gray, who may have been his brother-in-law. The new firm, with Rollo as the senior partner, made a bold start, advertising that it could make up “in the most modern style,” and in well-seasoned mahogany, such fashionable articles as Grecian couches and loo- and tea-tables. Within a month, however, Rollo was dead at about age 32. The subsequent sale of his own furniture and other household goods also offered horses, a calèche, a cart, and carrioles, an indication that he had achieved a considerable degree of success.
One of Rollo’s former employees, Charles Forrest, opened an upholstery business of his own in 1817, mentioning his experience with Rollo in his advertising. Gray, who acquired the patronage of at least one member of the Molson family, earned on alone, continuing business until well into the Victorian period.
McCord Museum, McCord papers, bill paid by John McCord, 10 Oct. 1818; bill partially paid by Thomas McCord, 30 March 1820. PCA, St Gabriel Street Church (Montreal), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 26 Feb. 1818; 17 April, 20 May, 2 July 1820 (mfm. at ANQ-M). Montreal Gazette, 5 July 1820. Montreal Herald, 22 June, 2 Nov. 1816; 5, 31 May 1817; 9 May 1818; 24 July 1819; 17, 24 June, 1, 15 July 1820. An alphabetical list of the merchants, traders, and housekeepers, residing in Montreal; to which is prefixed a descriptive sketch of the town, comp. Thomas Doige (Montreal, 1819), 162, 192. R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 320. Elizabeth Collard, “Montreal cabinetmakers and chair-makers, 1800–1850: a check list,” Antiques (New York), 105 (January–June 1974): 1145.