Some Splendid Examples
We seek for the finest examples of Elizabethan furniture in the old English halls of the older aristocracy where they have remained from the days of Elizabeth, and may, for aught we can tell, have been examined and admired by her. They are mostly furnishings of the homes of which their owners are proud, and, like the Tudor mansions themselves, precious heirlooms. Alas, changes have come over rural England during the last few decades, and almost every season some old home is broken up, and connoisseurs and dealers bid against one another in the auction mart for the coveted pieces —genuine antiques.
The prices paid for such relics show that the supply is far short of the demand. Some fine examples cross over to American soil and join the treasured English furniture taken over to the States in the eighteenth century (see chapter xviii.), and others are placed in private collections and museums.
There are several well-known dealers who have acquired fine old historical houses, in themselves worth a visit, wherein they house the collections gathered together. In such fitting places buyers can fully appreciate the value of the antiques they are securing. In the Victoria and Albert Museum there are many choice pieces. As an architectural piece it would be difficult to find anything finer or more suggestive of old English town houses than an oak staircase taken from a house dated 1646 which formerly stood in Great St Helens. As typical of the interior woodwork of a good provincial house there is the panelling of carved oak, probably made about the year 1600, from a house near Exeter. The colour is rich dark brown, the panels are divided by pilasters beautifully carved and capped with the heads of grotesque monsters. The doors fit in their frames quite flush with the panels, a noticeable feature being the old latches and wrought iron hinges of H pattern, the straps of which are of fancy design ; the handles on some of the doors are of simple Suffolk latch pattern. The furniture shown represents the characteristics of the different pieces already referred to.
The accompanying illustrations are taken from noted collections, and include some very fine examples of Elizabethan furniture.
Fig. 10 is an exceptionally fine Court cupboard of the late Tudor or Stuart period. There are two beautifully carved figures supporting the upper corners. With the exception of the lower panels of the doors of the cupboard this piece is carved all over. The split turned ornament, a feature in later Jacobean furniture, is noticeable, as well as the finely carved rosettes on the cornice.
Fig. 13 is another Court cupboard with turned columns, a plainer piece, but somewhat larger. It is a genuine antique in the condition many of the old Court cupboards are met with. Fig. 14 represents a buffet with large bulbous supports, so frequently met with in the time of Queen Elizabeth—an exceptionally fine piece in the possession of Messrs Gill & Reigate Ltd. of Oxford Street. The carving is excellent, and it is in a good state of preservation.
By the courtesy of Mr Phillips of Hitchin, we are able to illustrate a very similar piece showing the panelled ends, and the somewhat lessened size of the bulbous supports. In this buffet there are small trusses under the cornice, and drop handles to the doors. In both this and the former piece the circular arches are well defined and the design carefully carried out.
Fig. 15 is slightly more decorative in its scroll ornament. Another exceptionally interesting carved oak buffet is illustrated in Fig. 16. In this the scroll work predominates, and there are no arches. Instead of bulbous supports there are pendant drops, and, what is still more interesting, it is a dated piece, the date 1640 being carved in the centre of the cornice. The lower panels of the cupboards of this buffet are also decorative ; the leaf ornament in the upper long panels of the lower cupboard being somewhat unusually clear and distinct.
Fig. 17 is a well preserved oak cupboard, early seventeenth century. Fig. 18 is an exceptionally interesting piece, being one of the rare early seventeenth century game cupboards. Its height is 2 ft. 10 in., width 3 ft. 11 in., and depth, 1 ft. 8 in. The doors are perforated, and the centre panels too are covered over with a perforated design, the stiles of the cupboard being well carved. The top is plain, but there are two turned pinnacles.
Many benches and rough oak tables were made in the seventeenth century, as well as the more decorative pieces, in which the carver's art is seen to such perfection. Fig. 19 represents a table bench, strong and serviceable, and Fig. 20 illustrates an old oak settle, one of those which were so commonly in use at that period, and even at a later date. Fig. 21 shows two smaller oaken cupboards, technically called spice cupboards, and no doubt they were found very useful in Tudor and Elizabethan days those illustrated, by the smallness of their panels and the depths of the moulding, indicate a somewhat later period. The split ornament is also used. The dimensions of these cupboards are as follows :-21a, height 1 ft. 5 in., width 1 ft. 2i in., depth 7 in. ; Fig. 21b, height 1 ft. 2 in., width 1 ft. 7 1/2 in., depth, 11 in. The last illustration representative of this period, Fig. 22, shows an oak chest of drawers of Cromwellian or late Stuart type, probably made about 1660. The drop handles are a special feature as well as the panels and moulding of the front. The bracket foot is also worthy of special note. This strong and useful chest measures 2 ft. 9i in. in height ; its length is 3 ft., and depth 1 ft. 9 in.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )