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Pegs and 'Tails
The chair illustrated below was recently offered for sale by an upmarket antiques dealer who described it as eighteenth-century Irish Chippendale, made from dense first growth mahogany.
Stylistically, I don’t see anything Irish about the chair at all; in fact, it displays features more prevalent in chairs from the north of England and across the border in Scotland (the ‘V’ carved into the knees of the front legs is a frequently occurring feature of Scottish chairs).
It is not uncommon for dealers to bestow antiques with sentimental or utopian origins – especially of Ireland. Although it irks me, it wasn’t the geographical misattribution that caught my eye on this occasion, but the ascribed timber and justification for citing it.
With regard to the chair’s colour, I can see how it might be mistaken for some faded cuts of mahogany, though the unvarying grain and absence of pronounced figure are wholly uncharacteristic of early mahogany. The bland timber employed in the chair’s construction (figs. 2, 3 & 4) is distinguishable as common alder (Alnus glutinosa) which would lend credence to the geographical origin of the chair being the north of England or Scotland where alder was widely employed as a cheap substitute for mahogany…
In Scotland and the north of England, this [alder] wood is frequently used in furniture.[i]
Alder is an unusual choice of material, for this wood is not extensively used elsewhere in the English chair making tradition, and is, therefore, often useful in providing a key to the origin of a particular chair design to the North West.[ii]
In the Highlands, where few other timbers were available, alder logs were sometimes immersed in peat bogs after felling, when they assumed an attractive reddish stain. This “Scots mahogany” was then used for furniture making.[iii]
Old growth mahogany is indeed dense stuff, yet alder is relatively light… perhaps another case of dealer sophistry.
The final piece of evidence in repudiation of mahogany is its resistance to attack from furniture beetle and conversely, alder’s marked susceptibility to it (figs. 5 & 6).
[i] Blackie and Sons, The Victorian Cabinet Maker’s Assistant, Dover Publications, New York, 1970, p. 46.
[ii] Cotton, Bernard D., The English Regional Chair, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1999, p. 325.
[iii] Edlin, H. L., Woodland Crafts in Britain, Batsford, 1949, cited by Cotton, p. 325.
Filed under: Antiques, Distractions Tagged: alder, Alnus glutinosa, chair, furniture beetle, Ireland, irish Chippendale, Mahogany, north of England, Scotland, Scots mahogany, Scottish
Although this blog’s focus is mainly on late seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century English and Irish furniture, I do have a number of North American readers, who, on occasion, struggle to keep up. In their defence, attempting to decipher North American dates, periods and styles is notoriously fraught with perils.
Luckily enough then, several notable New England institutions have collaborated in an interactive on-line venture, Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, heralded as “A celebration of craft and industry, tradition and innovation”.
If, like me, the end-grain-rich mouldings of the William and Mary, Queen Anne and early Georgian periods are your thing, then you might want to begin at From Joiner to Cabinetmaker: The Early Baroque Style, 1690-1730.
Filed under: Distractions Tagged: baroque, Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, Georgian, Queen Anne, rococo, William and Mary
Robin Wood posted this wonderful old film about bodging in the Chilterns and I had to share it.
Filed under: Seating Tagged: bodgers, Chilterns, Windsor chairs
The candle arms required only the minimum of fettling prior to gold lacquering them to match the gilding on the frame.
A suspension wire was attached to the back of the girandole and the candle arm mounts were then screwed to the skirt.
Filed under: Mirrors & Girandoles Tagged: candle arms, girandole, gold lacquering
A Qianlong vase, drilled to accept a lamp cord, could have made £500,000 ($767,665) at auction.
Full story at ukauctioneers.com
Filed under: Antiques Tagged: lamp, Qianlong vase
If ever there was any doubt that inset campaign brasses weren’t scraped flush after installation, then this image should dispel it.
Note also that the screws have been seated naturally and not fallaciously under- or over tightened for the purpose of orienting the slots ornamentally (clocked).
I find it somewhat bizarre though that a piece of campaign/maritime furniture – with flush handles and destined to be shoehorned into a packing case for transportation – should have prominent cockbeading and mouldings.
Filed under: Cabinet Fittings, Distractions Tagged: campaign furniture, clocked screws, kneehole desk
The First Fleet (comprising eleven ships of which six were convict transports conveying around seven hundred convicted felons) departed Portsmouth on the 13th of May, 1787 bound for New South Wales, Australia. The fleet dropped anchor in Botany Bay between the 18th and 20th of January, 1788.
Over 162,000 convicted felons were transported to the Australian colonies between the years 1788 and 1868.
To this day many Australians proudly continue in the pattern of their forefathers.
Filed under: Distractions Tagged: Australia, Botany Bay, convict, First Fleet, New South Wales, Portsmouth
A reader enquired if I tidied up the sawn surfaces of the fretted sides of the Chippendale hanging shelves I made last year. I replied that I performed the minimum of cleaning up as that was how equivalent surfaces appear on period work.
The image of the Chinese hanging shelves below clearly illustrates the typical degree to which mid-eighteenth-century fretwork was finished. The image is quite large (1815 x 2180 pixels), so you can zoom in and have a close look at the surfaces.
Filed under: Distractions, Furniture Making Tagged: Chippendale, fretwork, hanging shelves
As has been mentioned here before, imitating tortoiseshell on furniture has been achieved with varying degrees of realism down the centuries. The tortoiseshell backgrounds of japanned work often consisted of nothing more complex than daubs of opaque black paint on an opaque coloured (predominantly red) ground, while original standalone testudinal painted finishes usually exhibit more artistic accomplishment. As with grained wood finishes, a proportion of absolute painted tortoiseshell finishes developed into an art form in their own right.
All the same, great strides were made by a number of artists to more accurately recreate natural tortoiseshell, which process involved laying metal foil (brass, gold or silver) on a substrate over which were laid numerous coats of coloured translucent varnish.
Venetian born Joachim Becher developed a method of extracting tar from coal which he used (in conjunction with asphaltum and pitch) to tint varnishes for simulating tortoiseshell.
The ‘projecting genius’, Thomas Algood, (d. 1716), a Northamptonshire Quaker, applied brown lacquer [presumably asphaltum- or tar-based] over irregularly shaped pieces of foil to imitate tortoiseshell.
John Baskerville of Birmingham took out a patent for his simulated tortoiseshell in 1742, describing it as “An imitation … which greatly excells Nature itself both in Colour and hardness.”
The finish on my William and Mary chest of drawers adhered to the practice of building up layers of contrasting paint and translucent varnish to simulate tortoiseshell; however, this girandole attempts to replicate the work of these latter craftsmen using asphaltum and other naturally tinted varnishes over metal foil.
Due to the complexity (and presumable cost) of foil-and-varnish tortoiseshell, it was normally reserved for smaller, more intimate objects for the bed chamber and parlour.
While my chest’s distinct painted finish displays considerable depth and a charm all of its own, it can’t compete with the chatoyance of the girandole’s finish. It’s quite mesmerising and virtually impossible to describe in words or portray in pictures. In the early morning sunlight, the deep scarlet flickers to searing yellow with the merest shift of the body.
The frame and looking glass have been sympathetically aged and I’m just awaiting the arrival of the candle arm castings to complete the girandole.
 HUTH, Hans, Lacquer of the West – The History of a Craft and an Industry 1550-1950, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971, pp. 111-112.
 JONES, Yvonne, Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c.1740-1940, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2012, p. 43.
Filed under: Mirrors & Girandoles Tagged: asphaltum, foil, girandole, Joachim Becher, John Baskerville, pitch, tar, Thomas Algood, tortoiseshell
History doesn’t relate who invented the wheel, but some of the earliest examples of wheels employed on furniture were in the mid 1600s under heavy trundle beds.
Castors (wheel assemblies whose wheel axes are offset from the vertical axes about which they pivot) first appeared in the late seventeenth-century and were in widespread use by the early eighteenth-century, beneath chairs, settees, tables etc. – anywhere manoeuvrability was desirable.
Reinventing the wheel
In their latest comedy instalment, Horton Brasses make a somewhat different attribution.
Filed under: Cabinet Fittings, Distractions Tagged: castors, comedy, Horton Brasses
The pine girandole frame consists of two parts; the main fretted frame, and a thinner, moulded frame that is attached to the front of the fretted frame.
With the frame components assembled and dry, I trimmed the joints, faired the curves and moulded the front frame edges.
The two separate frames received four coats of gesso (fig. 3) before being glued and nailed together.
The assembled frame was given a final coat of gesso before being made perfectly smooth and gilded (fig. 4).
Filed under: Mirrors & Girandoles Tagged: fretted frame, gesso, gilded, girandole
Virginia has been voicing her disdain of homogenous, cheaply made footwear. I commiserate whole-heartedly with her as I firmly believe a man – or woman – should be elegantly and comfortably shod when stepping out.
Yesterday a much anticipated parcel arrived containing the first of several pairs of reproduction eighteenth-century shoes and boots from American Duchess. Made in China, the quality of the shoes is natheless, astonishing (fig. 1) and after gambolling about in them for twenty minutes like one of the Bennets at the Netherfield Ball, Virginia assures me they are exceedingly comfortable to boot.
American Duchess also offers three styles of fairly convincing reproduction buckles to compliment their period shoes. Virginia ordered a pair of, again, very reasonably priced, imitation rhinestone buckles for every-day wear (fig. 2).
For special occasions, I have offered Virginia the use of a pair of genuine eighteenth-century silver shoe buckles that belonged to one of my antecedents (fig. 3).
Filed under: Apparel Tagged: American Duchess, chapes, Joseph Angell, Netherfield Ball, reproduction shoes, rhinestone buckles, silver shoe buckles
I see both the vase (positive) and the faces (negative space) simultaneously.
I’ve been cutting dovetails for many, many decades and I’ve yet to encounter a ‘pin’ (metal trades nomenclature anyway) during their fabrication.
As with other interconnecting joints with male and female elements (box joint, bridle joint, dowel and hole, hinge joint, housing joint, mortice and tennon, peg and drawbored hole, rule joint, tongue and groove, to name some), dovetails’ counterparts are the sockets (or tapered housings) on adjacent components and not the lands that are frequently referred to as ‘pins’ (C, fig. 2).
I’m not claiming the high ground in the dovetail-naming stakes and suggesting the ‘pin’-sawyers all be locked up with the drawbore-’pinners’; I just can’t comprehend how the scenario came about where the all-important female part of the joint was usurped by the no-man’s-land of the joint. After all, there aren’t names for the immediate areas of wood surrounding mortices, or peg and dowel holes etc.
Isn’t the assembling of a dovetailed- or mortice and tennon joint similar to inserting the pins (correct usage of the word) of a power tool’s plug into an electrical socket (see, there’s that word “socket” again)?
I don’t see how the lands warrant any more deliberation than the tapered voids that they occupy… which, no doubt, someone will point out, the ‘pin’-sawyers probably have a name for too. I’m very easily confused and not ejamacated in the ways of wood, so I really can’t lend verisimilitude to the enigma.
Filed under: Distractions, Techniques Tagged: dovetails, joints, lands, pins, sockets
At the behest of George II, the first official performance of The Music for the Royal Fireworks was performed by the composer George Frideric Handel on the 27th of April, 1749 at the Royal Fireworks celebrations in Green Park.
The performance was enthusiastically anticipated by thousands of London revellers, but the event didn’t pass without incident: A stray firework ignited the enormous theatrical wooden bandstand, causing the collapse of an effigy of George II.
Handel stood fast amidst the conflagration, baton in hand, while the crowds fled, fearing for their lives.
Filed under: Distractions Tagged: George Frideric Handel, The Music for the Royal Fireworks
Virginia and I have decided upon an early Georgian simulated tortoiseshell girandole to hang in a bedroom, however I couldn’t find an image of precisely what I had in mind, so I’m going to take a degree of liberty with a genre of fretted girandoles and looking glasses that were fashionable during the second quarter of the eighteenth-century (fig. 1).
Giles Grendey (1693-1780) was made freeman of the Joiners’ Company in 1716, elected to the Livery of the company in 1729, appointed Upper Warden of the Company in 1747 and elected its Master in 1766.[i]
Grendey was one of London’s pre-eminent cabinet- and chair-makers who ran a substantial export business (of which japanned goods formed an important part) from his premises at Aylesbury House in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell. Grendey’s trade card declares he ‘Makes and Sells all Sorts of Cabinet Goods, Chairs and Glaſſes & co.’[ii]
I admit I can find no evidence Grendey ever produced a painted tortoiseshell girandole or looking glass (though much japanned work was painted on faux tortoiseshell grounds), but if he did, there’s a reasonable chance it would have resembled the form of that in fig. 1 with possibly the decoration of that in fig.2.
[i] Gordon Campbell, The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts – Volume I, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 450.
[ii] Sir Ambrose Heal, London Furniture Makers: From the Restoration to the Victorian Era, 1660-1840, David & Charles, 1989, pp. 71 & 240.
Filed under: Mirrors & Girandoles Tagged: Giles Grendey, looking-glass, tortoiseshell
I was about five minutes into staining the second chair when light rain began falling which, annoyingly, forced me to revise the whole colouring and polishing procedure. The chairs were in and out of the shed a dozen times that day, but once I had the first coat of varnish on all six chairs I was able to relax as the weather had little or no effect on them then.
I left the varnish to harden for a couple of days before giving the chairs a good waxing.
The image below is of the back of a mahogany side chair from the third quarter of the eighteenth-century.
At first glance, the well drawn blend of gothic and rococo carving appears to be competently done. However, the foliate scrolls on the extremities of the crest rail are asymmetrical.
The right hand scroll would have been carved first and presumably, after the discrepancy became apparent, the left hand flourish was intentionally left untouched.
The lapse is quite endearing.
Filed under: Antiques, Distractions Tagged: gothic, Mahogany, rococo, side chair
Autumn has arrived gently and without ceremony. The mornings are cool; not bracingly, but very pleasant and conducive to immersing oneself in toil.
I completed the back sticks and glued them into the holes in the seats’ bob-tails. The crest rails were glued on, after which I drilled six holes in each rail and pegged the back sticks in place.
Filed under: Seating Tagged: back sticks, bob-tails, Claremont chairs