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Furniture (M) - Encylopedia Of Antiques

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MAHOGANY: The use of mahogany for furniture, displacing walnut, in England came about 1715; in this country, somewhat earlier. It is said that Jonathan Dickinson of Philadelphia imported mahogany in 1699 and that he had some furniture made from it at that time. By 1720 it came into common use. It was strong, tough, and admitted of methods of treatment that were before impossible. Mahogany is a native of the West Indies and Central America. The best comes from San Domingo and Cuba and is known also as Spanish mahogany. That from Honduras is straighter grained, softer, lighter in color and much lighter in weight. The years from 1720 to 1810 may well be called the Age of Mahogany for furniture.



MANTELS: Mantels of wood are a development of the elaborately carved stone chimney breasts of the 15th and 16th centuries. Wood was first employed late in the 16th century, and early in the next century the influence of Inigo Jones began to show itself, continued by Sir Christopher Wren and Grinling Gibbons. In this country it was not until about the middle of the 18th century that the mantel was given prominence. By 1800 it had become one of the chief features of the room. The wood used was pine, painted white, ornamented with carved or molded design in relief and supported by classic columns or pilasters. The mantels by Samuel Mclntire at Salem, Massachusetts, are outstanding examples of the work of one of the leading craftsmen of that period.

MAPLE: Maple was one of the most popular woods used by Joiners and chair-makers during Colonial times, and won increasing appreciation throughout the 18th century. It is distinctly an American development. The wood of the common maple is compact, fine grained and takes a high polish; that of the sugar or rock maple, sometimes marked with undulations of fiber and known as curly maple, was used a great deal for veneering. It is, however, hard, brittle and of a grain almost impossible to carve successfully. From the knotty parts of these trees the bird's-eye maple is also obtained.

MARBLE: Slabs for table tops were not used until the 18th century in England. They were usually imported. Rare varieties of marble were obtained from ancient Italian palaces. See SCAGLIOLA.

MARQUETRY: This is an inlaying of veneer on furniture surfaces by patterning and cutting to design two layers of rare woods, and inserting the design, one into the other. It is a development of the Italian intarsia (q.v.). In Western Europe, during the 17th century marquetry became the leading feature of furniture decoration. It was introduced into England from Holland about 1615 although it did not become popular until the reign of William and Mary under the influence of Dutch and Huguenot craftsmen. The older designs represent flowers, foliage, birds and animals. Later, so-called seaweed and arabesque marquetry became popular.

MASK OR MASQUE MOTIF: A full face, human, animal or grotesque used as a form of carved ornament, of great antiquity and common to many countries. The lion's head and the satyr-mask are examples of its use in England first half of 18th century, on both walnut and mahogany furniture. The mask is also seen on English furniture of the 16th century.

MAZER BOWLS: Of maple.

MEDALLION: Carved, painted or applied, circular, oval or square ornament, much used latter part of 18th century.

MIRRORS: Called also LOOKING-GLASSES. In their earliest form, mirrors consisted only of well-polished pieces of metal and they continued in that form for many centuries. The amalgam of mercury and tin which produces a silvered surface on glass was not discovered until the 16th century, although mirrors of glass backed by tin, lead, etc., in various crude forms, were produced in Europe as early as the 13th century. In 1670 workmen from Venice were brought to England and in 1673 mirrors were produced at the Lambeth glass works. Soon after the use of mirrors in England became quite common. Until late in the 18th century, mirrors there were made from blown cylinders of glass, split open, flattened and polished, the backs being silvered by mercury floated over tin foil. The glass was very thin and the sheets were small, shaped to, conform to the intended frame, and the edges were slightly beveled. One can distinguish an old bevel by rubbing one's finger over it. It is so slight it can hardly be felt, where the modern bevel is sharp and distinct. Until the Queen Anne period, mirrors were attached to the walls securely instead of being hung on them. These early mirrors were made in two parts, joined by simply lapping the glass.

Mirrors were imported into this country from England and from Italy during the Colonial period, although because of their cost they were to be found only in the homes of the wealthy. The frames of many mirrors of the late 18th century follow the pattern of frames of the Queen Anne period very closely, and are often mistaken for each other. Mirror frames reached their final expression of originality in the first quarter of the 19th century. To the 18th century belongs the convex or distorting mirror, an idea borrowed from Venice where they were made in the 17th century.

Balboa or Bilbao Mirrors. These mirrors were brought to New England ports, presumably from Bilbao, Spain, but their style suggests Italian origin. The frames were of marble with gilt ornaments, and double scroll at the top. Late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Cheval Mirrors. Toilet mirrors, sufficiently large to reflect the entire person. Candle branches were often fixed to the standards supporting the glass.

Constitution Mirrors. The frame embellished with gilt ornaments on wires at the side, and with gilt eagle of carved wood or plaster in the broken arch at the top. The frames were flat, of solid or veneered mahogany, resembling the style of Queen Anne period. Late 18th century.

Courting Mirror. See COURTING GLASS.

Dressing Mirror. Also called Toilet Mirror. A small mirror in use during late 18th century, usually oval or rectangular in form, attached to uprights above a small cabinet with drawers to contain toilet articles. These mirrors were probably introduced into England from France.

Florentine Mirrors. Frames of pine, elaborately carved and gilded, oval, square, or irregular in shape. Very popular in this country early 19th century.

Girandole Mirrors. This name was used during the 17th and 18th centuries to designate circular glasses, sometimes flat or concave, but usually convex. They always had a pair of metal candle branches affixed to the frame.

Mantel Mirrors, also called Overmantel. Oblong in shape, in three sections separated by molding, the two end sections narrower than the center. Cornice top with acorns beneath and light pillars, often fluted at the sides, was the usual frame, 1780-I800. After 1800 heavier pilasters divided the sections.

Pier Mirrors. In use over pier or console tables. Tabernacle Mirrors. This name was given to the Empire mirrors common to both England and America of the early decades of the 19th century. They were vertical in shape, in two sections, the upper with a painted glass or modeled stucco panel in bas-relief, and they are usually found with balls beneath the cornice, varying in number, although occasionally acorn pendants were used. The frames are in gold or black and gold and sometimes in mahogany.

Toilet Mirrors. See Dressing Mirrors.

MIRROR KNOBS: The vertical mirrors frequently rested on knobs, usually of brass, with glass or enameled copper medallion, decorated.

MITRE: The mitre is employed in the moldings of paneled and other work in furniture. It is cut obliquely to form an angle and first came into use about 1600.


MOLDINGS: Ornamental or shaped strips either carved or applied on furniture. Those of early times were cut by hand labor.

MORTISE: A space hollowed out to receive a tenon. Almost all chair jointing is by this method. A dowel driven through holes bored in the mortise and tenon prevented the joint from working loose. In general use in this country in Colonial days.

MOTIF, MOTIVE: The controlling idea or leading feature in a piece of work.

MOUNTS: The handles, escutcheons and other ornamental metal work, decorating a piece of furniture. See BRASSES, PART 5.

MUNTIN: A vertical member of framework, similar to a stile but occupying a central or intermediate position between panels.