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History Of Antique Sideboards

The sideboard as a standard piece of dining-room furniture is only about one hundred and forty years old, but it was developed to such a high degree of utility and beauty toward the close of the eighteenth century that there are few types of old furniture more to be desired by the collector. Even during the first half of the nineteenth century they possessed merit, so that the period of old sideboards extends, roughly speaking, from 1765 to 1840

The sideboard was a development of the side-table or serving-table- a plain table set against the wall in the dining-room for holding dishes to be served. Silver and glassware were not displayed on this, but were first kept in a movable cupboard, often standing on a chest of drawers that held the table-linen.This cupboard was followed by the built-in closet or buffet in the eighteenth century, and a larger table was desired for the display of ornamental glassware and silver, as well as for the needs of service.

The side-table or serving-table appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century. About 1740 marble-top tables were used to some extent, but though these were useful for hot dishes, and cleanly, they soon gave place to more or less ornamental tables of mahogany and other woods. Two little pedestal cupboards were occasionally provided, placed one at each end of the side-table, and matching it in style and material.One of these was for hot plates and the other for wine. On top of these usually stood mahogany vases or urns containing receptacles, one for iced water, and the other for hot water for rinsing knives and forks, articles not as common in those days as they are now.Beneath the table sometimes stood a separate oval tub or cellaret, frequently made of mahogany and standing on short legs. These features were further developed in the Adam and Heppelwhite periods as parts of the sideboard.Soon an ornamental brass rail was added at the back, sometimes supplied with candle-holders. Knife-and-spoon holders also began to appear as the side-table became used more and more for display.

From this table and the accompanying pieces developed the sideboard, which was in reality a combination of them in one piece. The pedestal cupboards became a part of the sideboard, and often the cellaret as well, and urns for knives, forks, and spoons were attached. This development took place about the time of Chippendale that is, after his earlier work and there seems to be some dispute as to whether or not the great cabinet maker produced any sideboards. His first designs, in 1745, included none, though there were marble-top side-tables with carved mahogany frames. They had four legs, the front ones carved, and straight or curved, and the back ones less ornamental. His later designs show a nearer approach to the sideboard, with solid mahogany tops and carved frames. He also designed knife-boxes. He is said to have made a few sideboards to order, however, after designs by the Adam brothers.

Few, if any, of these old serving-tables found their way to this country, and it is useless for the collector to look for them here, except in the shops of responsible importers.

The Adam brothers also designed a serving table, oblong, with six legs, and with knife-urns on separate pedestals at each end, and a cellaret beneath. Their later designs, about 1770, included a swellfront table.

The earliest sideboards now to be found in this country include some that may possibly date back to 1765, but the probabilities are strongly in favor of their being much later. There is one type an inlaid mahogany sideboard with slender legs-that has been wrongly attributed to Chippendale; and is some times called Heppelwhite. It was more likely the work of Thomas Shearer, a London cabinet-maker of that period.

While Chippendale, Heppelwhite, and Sheraton are sharing the honor of producing much of the finest furniture ever made, to Shearer should be given the credit for originating the sideboard. He published a book of designs in 1788 which included sideboards with curved and serpentine fronts-a style brought to perfection later by Heppelwhite. He also designed extremely graceful knife-boxes.

Heppelwhite adopted this design, and it is *not always easy to distinguish between Heppelwhite's earlier work and Shearer's. Heppelwhite's first designs appeared only a year later than Shearer's. In general, his early work depended on carving for ornament; later he adopted inlay.

Heppelwhite unquestionably improved the sideboard, and developed it into a piece of furniture of rare beauty. The collector who owns a good Heppelwhite or Sheraton sideboard is indeed fortunate. The graceful curves of the front, the slender legs, and the delicate carving or inlay, place them among the finest examples of craftsmanship that the Georgian period produced.

The fronts of Heppelwhite's sideboards were usually curved or serpentine.The swelling curve in the center, with concave curves each side of it, is commonest, though many designs were made with the plain convex front.

In some cases the front was made up of tambourwork-strips of wood glued on cloth, much as on the modern roll-top desk. Where the wine-cooler was incorporated in the sideboard it was often inclosed in this way. Sometimes there were drawers, and sometimes little cupboards, containing places for bottles, etc.

But though the outlines of sides and front varied, as well as the arrangement of drawers and other features, there were always six straight, tapering legs. Heppelwhite's favorite leg was square, and he made use frequently of the spade foot.

Most of the best Heppelwhite sideboards are of mahogany, either solid or veneered, and in his later pieces he made some use of satinwood, tulip-wood, rosewood, maple, yew, and other woods in his inlay work. Sometimes this inlay was in the form of a narrow line border; sometimes it was more elaborate, the fan pattern and wreath designs being characteristic. The legs were often ornamented with fine lines in sycamore or tulip-wood, or vertical patterns of husks. Heppelwhite made use also of the meander pattern and the Greek fret in his inlay.Sometimes carving is to be found on these sideboards, as well as inlay, chiefly in patterns employing ribbons, flowers, husks, urns, and the wheatear.

The handles of doors and drawers were almost always of brass, with oval plates; silver handles and escutcheons are to be found rarely. Heppelwhite included with some of his sideboards a pair of knife-and-spoon holders of mahogany, set on top at each end, and provided with locks with brass escutcheons.

A sideboard of similar type is occasionally to be met with which was undoubtedly made in this country. These are usually veneered on pine, and are plainer in form and ornament than the English pieces.

Thomas Sheraton published his book of designs, including sideboards, in 1791. Though Heppelwhite and Sheraton sideboards are sometimes confused even by those familiar with their chairs, there is really little excuse for this if the prominent characteristics of each are kept in mind. In general appearance Sheraton's sideboards do resemble Heppelwhite's somewhat. There is the more or less heavy body on the six slender legs. His fronts, however, are characterized by bold, swelling curves rather than serpentine or reverse curves.A favorite design was a straight center, a square jog at each end of it, and rounded corners and ends.

More noticeable was the difference in the legs. Heppelwhite's sideboard legs were usually square, oiten ending in the spade foot; but while Sheraton often used square legs on his chairs, his sideboard legs were almost always round, slender, and tapering, and usually reeded.

Sheraton also made use of inlay, and some of his sideboards were elaborately ornamented by this means, in both wood and metal, eclipsing even Heppelwhite's later work in this respect. His patterns included medallions, fans, vases, shells, etc. His carving was very simple when it appeared at all, and was mostly in conventional Greek patterns.

In some respects Sheraton's designs were superior even to Heppelwhite's, and his sideboards are perhaps the most superb examples of cabinet-making that are likely to reward the search of the amateur antiquarian. They were complete with every sort of device to delight the butler's heart- cellarets, closets for wine-bottles, slides for the serving-tray, and racks for glasses and plates. At the back of the top was often a brass railing, sometimes elaborately ornamented, and bearing candlesticks. Frequently, too, there were very cleverly fitted urn-shaped knifeboxes, usually inlaid.

A number of sideboards were made in this country based on Sheraton's designs, much simplified, and without inlay.

In general, these Georgian sideboards, dating from 1778 to 1804, averaged six feet in length and two feet in width, though other sizes were made, as well as some odd shapes that have not been here described. Small ones were made to serve simply as cellarets, and a few were so shaped as to fit into the corner of a room.

About 1800 other cabinet-makers in England, as well as in this country, were making sideboards based on Sheraton's designs, usually simplified and otherwise modified. There were many variations in shape, size, and arrangement, but most of them followed Sheraton in respect to the round, slender, reeded legs. Many of them were of mahogany, and, though not Sheraton's work, are desirable acquisitions.

After 1804 the character of the sideboards changed. Massive, round, turned, twisted, or ropecarved pillars appeared. The body was placed nearer the floor, and the legs, sometimes an extension of the pillars, became shorter. The brass claw foot was occasionally used.

In this country the influence of the French Empire styles became evident in the sideboards as in other furniture, though the American makers continued to depend for ornament rather on carving and the grain of the wood than on the French ormolu work and brass or gilt trimmings. To these American-Empire creations the name American Colonial is sometimes erroneously given.

These sideboards almost always had three drawers, side by side, just below the top, the front of which was sometimes curved. For handles the rosette and ring, the lion head and ring, and glass or brass knobs were used. Below the drawers there were three cupboards, the middle one usually wider than the other two and furnished with double doors, the cupboard doors being often paneled in an oval or Gothic pattern. There was usually a paneled upright piece at the back.

For ornament little carving was used, but more often a veneer of selected mahogany with beautiful grain. Occasionally there were brass trimmings. Often there was a serving-board which pulled out from directly beneath the top. Sometimes the middle cupboard was omitted to make room for a cellaret. The more elaborate examples in this country, some of which are carved, are to be seen in the South, especially in Virginia and Maryland.

From 1820 to 1830 a plainer sideboard of American make was commonest here.It had four legs, one cupboard, and deeper drawers.It had turned pillars at the front corners, and turned feet.The front of the deep central drawer could sometimes be let down to form a writing-desk, with pigeonholes and drawers inside.This was an adaptation of one of Sheraton's inventions, and was originally intended for the steward or butler, who kept the household accounts.

Further modifications followed, with more or less of the heaviness of the Empire style apparent, until about 1850, when beauty and merit departed.

It is impossible to give an idea of the money value of these old sideboards . The values vary widely with individual pieces; a great deal depends on purity of style, excellence of condition, etc.

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