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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Corner Cupboards



CHARMING and useful, the corner cupboard is again becoming an indispensable piece of furniture in American households. In this vogue furniture history is distinctly repeating itself, for a hundred and fifty years ago and more every dining room had at least one of these attractive pieces of furniture. Today, whether the room is in early American, late eighteenth century or Empire style, a type of corner cupboard to fit into the ensemble is available. Antiques are obtainable; but for those who wish new furniture excellent reproductions are being made from the simplest example in pine to beautiful designs in inlaid mahogany.

The portable corner cupboard, whether an old one found in an antique shop or its modern reproduction, seems a peculiarly useful piece of furniture in these days of migratory households, when October may mean a new apartment with adjustments necessary to make furniture fit into new conditions. A cupboard in the corner, cheerfully displaying its colorful Staffordshire ware or Bennington ornaments or Pennsylvania German pottery, goes a long way toward lending the new room at once a homey and settled air.

For, of course, a corner cupboard in the dining room presupposes that there is blue Canton ware or Sunderland luster china to place on its shelves. But as a shrine for other relics besides china the corner cupboard is also useful. A collection of brass or pewter may be displayed therein, although these wares are perhaps best seen on the oldfashioned dressers. Ship models may grace the shelves; or quaint curios, now that the glass-enclosed curio cabinet has been banished, may find a resting place on the gracefully curved shelves.

Corner cupboards are really of two types. One is the kind which formerly was built into the corner of the room with the panels of the lower cupboard designed in the same style as the wainscot of the apartment. These are the tall, often painted, pine cupboards, reaching from floor to ceiling. They were usually made by the same carpenter who did the interior woodwork of the house.

The other type is an obviously portable cupboard made by cabinetmakers, the finest examples of which show all the skill and artistry of the craft. Both of these types are available today for the dining room or living room, foreven the built-in cupboard was generally so well constructed that it can be detached from its original setting and, with a few touches by a cabinetmaker, readjusted to another interior.

The early corner cupboards, simply designed of pine in the first part of the eighteenth century, were built in Colonial mansions by local carpenters, imitating, no doubt, the more elaborate side cupboards or buffets made in England. One of the earliest forms was without doors on the upper part and with sides cut in a pattern of repeated curves, of the type known as the Grecian "line of beauty"-so frequently found in early American furniture decoration.

A richer flavor of Colonial days clings to later corner cupboards, the interiors of which were ornamented with a half dome carved in the shape of a huge cockle shell. These domes, with supporting pilasters just inside the door, are appealing both in beauty and simplicity. Characteristic of them is the graceful curving of the outer edge of the shelves, whose shape provides a place for the proper display of the most precious teapot or sugar bowl. The interiors of the shell cupboards were often gayly colored in a vermilion or sky-blue hue, the edges of the shell being touched with gold. Sometimes the inside was papered to match the wall of the room in which the cupboard was placed, and today one may still find cupboards with the original paper intact.

The cupboard made by cabinetmakers here and in England, more elaborate and of different woods than the shell-top kinds, are closely related to the portable side wall cupboards and wall cabinets. American cabinetmakers produced many fine examples of these portable cupboards and these are now being reproduced with commendable fidelity by makers of fine furniture. Chippendale lent his art to the making of corner cupboards and one may find pieces in his style enriched with the elaborate carvings and fretwork for which this master was famous.

Still another variety of corner cupboards of the cabinetmakers are the wonderfully lacquered ones, in whose decoration the eighteenth century craftsmen excelled. These are usually of English make, although American craftsmen of the times also produced some fine examples. On black backgrounds of shiny lacquer, scenes of an imaginary China or Japan were wrought by the artists-figures of men and women, pagodas, cranes, mountains and lakes in a fanciful picture of Cathay.

The decoration on these lacquered cupboards generally extended over the two lower doors and completely covered the woodwork surrounding the two glass doors of the upper part. With the dull gold paint further enriched by touches of vermilion, these cupboards were indeed richlooking affairs. Today, with the decorations dimmed by time and use, these relics of the past may still be found by the alert searcher for originals which are still setting the styles for today. The portable cupboards are not as tall as those 4riginally constructed to be part of the woodwork of a 'oom. These had to be high enough to fill completely a corner from floor to ceiling. So one finds on the tops of the portable cupboards similar decoration to that which enriched the wall cabinets and bookcases of the day. The "broken pediment" of Georgian times-two upward-springing cornices with an urn in the space where they should have joined-was frequently used to top off. On others the tops are curved into three points surmounted by small balls of brass, similar to those found on the tops of old clocks.



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