Furniture - Miscellanea
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN the broader and more expansive phrase " furnishing of the home," many smaller objects which go towards making up the sum total of antique furniture are suggested. The furnishing of the home is not completed when bare furniture is purchased that is the experience of all who set up housekeeping, and it was ever the same. In olden time household goods were accumulated by a slower process than that which appertains at the present time—but by degrees completeness was approached.
The collector of furniture delights in these smaller accessories, which he gathers together partly on account of their beauty, rarity, or unique characteristics, and partly because they are so near akin to the furniture upon which he specialises. To the home connoisseur such objects have an especial interest, in that they give a real purpose to the furniture he possesses, and help to throw many a sidelight upon the somewhat obscured developments which took place at certain periods. A few of these will serve to illustrate the point. The advent of the knife-box, with its sloping lid, which for convenience and ornament was placed upon the side-table or sideboard, suggested the addition of a rail which prevented the Iid of the knife-box from opening back against the wall or injuring the paper or other wall-covering. The use of coffee urns necessitated a portable table or stand ; hence the beautiful little tripod tables which collectors search for. The general acceptance of tea as a beverage brought in its train the charming tea caddies and tea trays. It also gave another use for the table, and caused many changes in the appointment and furniture of the drawing-room or parlour where tea was served. The popularity of a game brought about the need for card-tables—old packs of cards are curios of another type, but although they gave rise to an important series of tables they are not included even in the miscellanea of antique furniture.
The domestic bellows was an object upon which much skill in carving was expended, in the days when the bellows were hung by the fireside and served a double purpose—that of use and ornament. The earlier bellows, some of which were of unusual size, came from Holland, where Dutch wood-carvers cut deeply and effectively. Some came from Germany, where the bellows appears to have been specially seized upon as a domestic object suitable for decorative effective carving. In this country, too, the wood framework of the bellows was frequently carved in low relief, much of the ornament being imparted by the brass nailing of the leather work ; brass nails, too, were employed for ornamental decoration on the wooden sides. The pair of bellows illustrated in Fig. 113 is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is also a case filled with bellows, some of German origin, others Italian. Many sorts of ornament have been used by the carver, masks of various kinds being much favoured ; the one illustrated, which is cut in walnut, shows a remarkably effective mask in the circular design.
CARVED PICTURE FRAMES.
The painting of pictures upon wooden panels was followed by pictures on wood, separately framed. The old portraits, painted by the Dutch masters, were in quaint black frames, far from beautiful. But when ornamental carving surrounded doors and pier-glasses, carved picture frames came into vogue, and it was soon realised that they helped to frame or set off the pictures they enclosed to advantage.
There were many early framers of pictures, the most noted decorative works being those of the Florentine framers, who excelled in carved wood. There were many who devoted their time to such work in this country, and in the early days of the eighteenth century the father of the great Thomas Chippendale had gained fame as a carver and picture framer, and it was at his bench that his son learned his trade. In course of time other materials than wood were used, and newer and more effective processes of decoration were practised. The wooden frames gave place to less expensive methods adopted by the moulders of plaster, and special preparations by which wood-carving could be cleverly imitated. These were gilded, rich effects of the golden frames being recognised by artists, who found in them appropriate settings for pictures—frames in accord with the frames of pier-glasses and the gorgeous furniture of the French Empire periods. Picture framing is quite a distinct art from that of the furniture maker, but in the furnishing of the home they are very closely associated, and connoisseurs are wise in hanging appropriate pictures on their walls, and in obtaining, as far as possible, frames in accord with the furniture they collect. There is a fashion in picture-frames as in furniture.
There are many interesting old cradles to be met with in the attics of some old houses. The earlier examples had open tops, and were simply boxes slung from end posts, so that they could be " rocked " ; later came the rocker cradle. Both types are met with half-covered, with a hood at the head end. The oldest cradle of royal fame is that of Henry V., now in the London Museum at Stafford House. In it was rocked the infant prince, who was born in 1888 at Courtfield, near Monmouth, where the child was in charge of Lady Montacute, a grand-daughter of Edward I. The cradle of James I., which was on rockers and slung from rocking posts, is also extant. Hinged lids were added to cradles in the seventeenth century. Many of these old relics are inscribed with initials and dates, probably indicating the date of the birth of the eldest child. Such cradles were used by successive members of the family, and were handed on to succeeding generations, for the comparatively limited number of cradles of antique type point to these family heritages.
The fire-screen usually occupies a peculiar place in art, in that it is claimed as belonging to the carver, the painter, the needleworker, and the enameller, as a piece of household furniture to which each can lay special proprietorship.
The Chinese screen is seen at its best in lacquers, although many admire greatly the marvellous carving of picture screens, cut and chiselled in relief, and afterwards coloured in that peculiar way which cannot be copied by craftsmen of Western nations. The idea of an oriental screen, which is uppermost in the minds of many, is that of an immense six- or even twelve-fold screen covered over with richly-coloured pictures, illustrative of Chinese or Japanese history ; of their fables and beliefs, or of their family deeds or prowess achieved in the past. There is, however, a smaller class of screens commonly designated fire-screens, which are equally as beautiful, and often represent far more delicacy of ornament and carving. Many of these smaller screens are remarkable for their wonderful frames of teek-wood and ebony, sometimes inlaid with mother - of - pearl and jade. The screen itself, carved, lacquered, or of embroidered silks, is often commemorative of some great event in the family ; such screens are deemed appropriate gifts to newly-married couples.
The greater interest to collectors of old English furniture lies in the screens made in this country, the needle-work with which they are covered being in accordance with the textile art of the period when they were made. The earlier ones are of walnut, and have turned frames and stands, the upper portion of the framework often being enriched with carving, such as the fine screen illustrated in Fig. 114.
The Georgian screens sometimes took the form of that illustrated in Fig. 115, which is of mahogany, and shows Chippendale influence. Many collectors specialise on the pole-screens with tripod feet. These are specially interesting, in that they are so readily adjustable, and keep off the glare of the fire, which in the days when the screens were made were often much larger than we are accustomed to nowadays, for logs of timber were not infrequently burned on the open hearth, although the dog-grate had gone out of fashion. A very beautiful little pole-screen is illustrated in Fig. 116 ; the needlework, it will be noticed, is in a very narrow frame, but the beautiful tripod stand, with Chippendale carving and gracefully formed feet, is much in evidence. Fig. 117 is a somewhat larger oblong screen with stouter tripods, the chief beauty of which lies in the carving on the top of the leg and in the claw-and-ball feet. Such screens were almost invariably of needlework, the earlier ones being of petit point, the later ones of needlework of other stitches, floral sprays being favoured. There is a much lighter type of screen, and apparently less serviceable, for the shield or little oval filled with some delightful piece of embroidered silk is small in size. Some of the screens of Adam decoration are of painted wood, the back being of pleated coloured silks.
French influence is seen in some of the screens, many of which were made in France during the Louis XIV. period, when petit point figures were worked on a coarser background, and in later days during the Louis XV. and XVI. periods, when Boucher subjects and charming little Watteau scenes were painted and embroidered, the frames being gilded in accordance with the furniture of the period.
KNIFE-BOXES AND URNS
Knife-boxes and urns, or more correctly speaking, urn-shaped knife-boxes, were usually made in pairs, and stood on sideboards, side-tables, or on specially designed pedestals. The custom of providing such receptacles for table cutlery, and the consequent making of pedestals on which they could stand, had much to do with the development of the sideboard, and in course of time urn-like vases were sold in conjunction with complete sideboards in which the pedestal and the table were conjoined. Independent knife-boxes and urns were usually made in pairs ; but the knife-boxes are occasionally met with in sets of three, the centre box being smaller than the pair. The decoration of the exterior of both urns and sloping-topped boxes followed the manner of the veneer inlay and marqueterie ornament of the times, most of them being made during the days when Sheraton influence was so strong, although variously interpreted by local cabinet-makers. Such urns and boxes were fitting companions to the tea caddies and the bottle cabinets, which were similarly constructed wooden cases for the rare cut-glass spirit bottles then so frequently in use.
The interior fittings of the knife-boxes varied ; some contained spaces for a dozen knives and forks and a pair of carvers. Others had larger capacities, and held more of the small knives, and sometimes a greater number of larger knives or carvers. Others again were spoon-boxes, and held the table plate. It is beyond the scope of this work to describe in detail the knives, so many of which have been worn out or lost ; unfortunately there are very few complete sets in existence now. When the furniture collector, however, is able to secure a set of knives for his case, or perchance has been lucky enough to meet with a few examples left in the original case, he will realise how beautifully quaint the table upon which such cutlery was displayed must have looked. The blades of the knives were thin, narrow, and pointed ; the forks were usually two-pronged, and the handles were mostly round or oval. The handles alone are treasures not to be despised. Some were of ivory, occasionally stained green ; many were of porcelain, beautifully painted with those delicate floral sprays and other emblems by which the collector of ceramics at once recognises the products of Chelsea or Bow. Some were of Worcester china ; others blue and white. Those of Wedgwood cameo decoration were delicately chiselled, the medallions after the style of Flaxman's modelling being perfect gems. There is an exceptionally fine display of old table cutlery in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where a large gallery has recently been devoted to such things. There, mounted on velvet, kept from careless handling, in glass cases, are many valuable examples of Sheffield and London cutlers' crafts ; incidentally, it may be remarked that the home connoisseur ought to be well acquainted with knives and forks, silver plate, and the priceless porcelain which was once in common use on the dining-table, and displayed on the sideboard of a householder of a century or more ago
Some attention has been given to collecting miniature furniture, which is so suitable for display on cabinets, and in some instances may be arranged on modern over-doors. Years ago there was a great demand for miniature furniture, strong and serviceable, for the children's nursery. The playthings of the girls of those days were replicas of chests of drawers and other articles, beautifully made, strong and solid. They were educational in their way in that they taught of the household duties and perhaps cares to which the children in after life would be subjected. There were " grandfather " chairs with round spindle backs and tiny rocking - chairs, replicas of those which were used by the great-grandmothers of the present race, also dolls' chairs and dolls' wardrobes and chests of drawers ; such articles, after having afforded many an hour's amusement, were carefully preserved, and have often been handed on as heirlooms, some resting in museums, testifying to the solidity of the furniture of a few generations past.
There is another view of miniature furniture, in that it is said that such pieces were originally 'prentice models, made during the days when apprentices were being taught the art of cabinet-making. Such models may also have been made by skilled workmen, for others to duplicate on a larger scale. In some instances these miniature pieces of furniture were experimental goods, from which measurements could be taken and larger pieces fashioned. They were good substitutes in the days when draughtsmanship was seldom practised in the furniture trade, and when men preferred to work from actual models or to copy some piece of furniture which had been made at an earlier period, rather than to work from scale drawings.
It is probable that some of the pieces of miniature furniture now to be seen in curio shops were the work of amateurs, who amused themselves in days gone by just as amateur wood-carvers, fret-workers, and wood-workers do to-day. There is great credit due to the makers of genuinely old miniatures, in that most of the pieces were made with care and faithfully represented—often in every detail ; the larger pieces would serve as models to the amateur, just as it is assumed the workshop models in miniature served the professional workers as patterns for the larger furniture, and possibly enabled the dealer to take orders in advance.
Spinning wheels may be said to date from the fifteenth century in their more modern forms. Such wheels are of two kinds—those worked by hand, and the spinning-wheels operated by the foot by a pedal attachment. Both kinds are to be seen in furniture museums and in many private collections. The spinning-wheel is doubly prized by the home connoisseur, for it has been in the family from the time when it was in daily use. These relics of the days when home-made yarns were spun are very different in make and finish, although in all of them the same principle seems to have been adopted by their makers. They followed the hand distaff and spindle, and were the first forms of mechanical spinning which were in after years to transfer spinning from the cottage to the factory. Some of the spinning-wheels were made of turned spindles, and from the remarkable ingenuity shown in their fashioning, and the obvious patience and time expended in their decoration, they must have been labours of love, certainly not mere commercial undertakings. The romance of the spinning-wheel is very real, as is indicated by the wealth of the wood-turnery, and in some cases of inlays and marqueterie, making the simple spinning-wheel even more ornamental than utilitarian.
The cult of the tea caddy has been a favourite theme with some writers, who have expatiated at great lengths upon the mysteries of tea-making, and pointed out how the caddy was kept under lock and key. The only means of access was in the hands of the house-wife, who at tea-time blended the leaves of China and Ceylon teas, perhaps using a little of the so-called green, and with the silver spoon, an accompaniment of the caddy, carefully measured out the portion of costly leaves for the daily tea-drinking. The name of the caddy is, of course, derived from the Chinese word kati, which was the small box or chest holding about 11 lb. of tea, in which the then rare and fragrant leaves were sent from China to this country. The high price of tea, frequently a guinea a pound, had much to do with the fashioning of the handsome caddy which stood upon the sideboard in most houses during the later years of the eighteenth century, and well beyond the middle of the nineteenth century. The caddy is a box or chest in which are usually two beautifully-made hinged boxes, fitting perfectly into spaces or divisions made for them, the boxes being lined with tinfoil, and the lids fitted with specially-made long brass hinges. In the centre of a caddy there is usually a space filled with a glass sugar basin, and on the lid of the box, or in some convenient place, provision for the quaint little silver spoon in which the tea was apportioned. The date of the caddy can often be approximately fixed by the hall-mark of the silver spoon.
It was formerly customary to buy both black and green teas ; and although the latter was used in smaller quantities the boxes or compartments in which the leaves were kept were almost invariably identical in size. The form and ornament of the caddy followed the style of the period, beginning with the days of Chippendale design, but the greater number of caddies show Sheraton influence in style and ornament. The box was usually of mahogany, and the ornament was in light or coloured woods, shell designs being favourite decorations. The escutcheon, ring, or lion's head handles, and ball feet were of brass. The adjustment of the hinges to the lids of the caddies was so good that when closed the case was almost, if not quite, air-tight. Such caddies were fitting ornaments on Sheraton sideboards, and were used in conjunction with knife urns or boxes. A little later, in Victorian days, rosewood caddies, inlaid with ivory, and others made of mother - of - pearl, were fashionable. Again there were some of metal, ornamented with Chinese characters, some being of tin, many japanned at Pontypool, and later such caddies were the work of Birmingham artists.
There are many small objects of household use, made at different periods, which were the work of the wood turner. Before lathes were known—or at any rate, before they were generally possessed—some fine spiral work was laboriously cut by hand ; but when it was found that a simple lathe enabled the workman to cut wood spirally, and in other forms by holding a chisel or other tool against the wood, this method of ornamenting furniture was very readily adopted. Among other household goods some beautifully turned candlesticks—some of them floor candlesticks—have come down to us from Jacobean days (they have been much copied recently, and both the larger floor candlesticks and the smaller table candlesticks have been imitated).
There are some beautiful stands for urns and bowls, and many quaint little stools and sundry furniture like linen presses, of exceptional interest, the chief decoration, indeed the whole of the framework, consisting almost entirely of turned work. Even table appointments were often made of wood when oak was plentiful in Old England. The wood-turner was an important individual when platters and trenchers, and wood cups and bowls, were in daily use. For the kitchen also he made wood coffee-crushers and pestles, and assisted by the carver produced wood nut-crackers and many of the choice little domestic objects. The wood-turner was requisitioned in the making of bowls and the numerous vessels required in the dairy and by the agriculturist, and in conjunction with the cooper almost furnished the house with wood-work.
There is an especial charm about old work-boxes which are to be met with in various stages of decay, and mostly with their once beautiful ivory or mother-of-pearl fittings injured or lost. The earliest boxes are doubtless made of stout oak, and possibly carved. As there is abundant testimony that women 'broidered and stitched at very early times, there is very little doubt that their sewing materials, and their embroidery silks and golden threads were kept in some fitting receptacle—a veritable work-box. Many very beautiful work-boxes were covered with embroidery in Stuart days. Some of these have been pre-served. A very fine example of a Charles I. box, covered with the peculiar scenic needlework of that period, is illustrated in Fig. 118. Some curious devices both in needlework and painting were used for decorating such objects. There is one in the Victoria and Albert Museum embroidered in colours, depicting the story of David and Bathsheba ; there are others covered with scenes, which were intended to illustrate events in English history.
The work-boxes in gilt and gesso, the work of Italian artists during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, were especially grand. The fittings of many old work-boxes were distinctly useful, and are now charming souvenirs of the clever wood-worker's craft, like lace bobbins and other sundries are of needlecraft.
THE VALUE OF OLD FURNITURE
Those who possess a few pieces of old furniture are often anxious to ascertain their market values. Nothing is more deceptive than a schedule of prices which have been realised for certain pieces, which in a catalogue or schedule are described as " a Jacobean court cupboard," " a carved buffet," or some other simple definition. There are so many attendant circumstances, and such a diversity of quality and historical surroundings, that the price realised for one piece is but little guide to the market value of another piece having similar characteristics. Dealers assess the value of antique furniture from different standpoints ; indeed, much depends upon the demand at the time, and especially upon what commissions dealers hold for such pieces.
In some excellent books on furniture authors have given long lists of so-called guides to values, but such lists have been very misleading, for they usually indicate the prices realised for special pieces, sold at different auction rooms and under vastly different circumstances—local and otherwise. At such sales, held in different towns, noted dealers and collectors may have been present in force, or, on the other hand, there may have been a marked absence of both classes of purchasers.
Without wishing to give any such misleading values, it is recognised that it may be helpful to quote a few prices in order to indicate an approximate scale of relative values of antique furniture of some one or more well-known periods. For this purpose, in order that the conditions and the attendance of buyers should be identical, the following auction prices have been taken from one sale report—a sale of antique furniture, the contents of an old manor house where the furniture had been gathered by different owners in succession throughout the periods represented. The sale was in the country, and it was attended by dealers from many towns and by a few well-known collectors.
Close investigation of present day market prices points conclusively to the steady increase in the value of genuine antiques in almost every branch of art. There is an accruing value which makes it worth while to accumulate antiques with the sole object of selling them again at a later date. Art in furniture, as it is exemplified in absolutely perfect specimens, in which the purity of some given style is exhibited, is appreciated to a high degree by connoisseurs, and those who attend auction sales often marvel at the prices paid by collectors. Quite recently at a London auction room four Chippendale chairs, exquisite in the completeness of their design and lovely in their condition, realised £525, and a suite of Chippendale chairs, somewhat faulty, fetched £255. But these prices are small compared to those which exceptionally fine sets command. It is no uncommon thing for as much as 2,000 guineas to be asked for a complete set of two armchairs and twelve single chairs of the finest period of Thomas Chippendale's work. Finally, it may be mentioned that a remarkable set of five Hepplewhite mahogany chairs realised £78 under the hammer quite recently. It would be interesting to know what a full set of similar designs would have realised.
The restoration of old furniture sometimes destroys, at others enhances, its selling value. Stories are told at times of sadly neglected old furniture perishing from want of attention, which when restored carefully, and by an acknowledged expert, becomes beautiful and priceless. A recent instance of long neglect has been made public in the old furniture discovered by a recent Lady Mayoress of London, who found quantities of eighteenth-century furniture stowed away in attics and in use in the servants' bedrooms—apparently none of her predecessors took any interest in the antiques of the Mansion House !
The result of the discovery was that the furniture, after having been " done up," was for a time on view at the Mansion House. Among other gems displayed were two chests of drawers, two dressing glasses, and a cheval glass in satin-wood and tulip-wood of the period 1780 ; a bedroom suite in satin-wood in late Sheraton style ; no less than six chests of drawers of mahogany (1760-1780), ascribed to Chippendale ; and several arm-chairs of Sheraton design—all said to be priceless, and yet a short time ago so utterly neglected.
THE ROMANCE OF COLLECTING
The concluding paragraphs in this work may fitly have reference to the romance of collecting, more especially so as " Antique Furniture " is the first volume in a series of books treating upon the collection of various curios in which the home connoisseur is interested. There is a romance of intense delight in accumulating household curios of every kind. The romantic collector tries hard to acquire a knowledge of personal reminiscences about the varied objects he secures, the historian looks for confirmation of history and folklore in the tangible furnishings of the home he is enabled to gather together, and the man of business, always keenly alive to a bargain, finds additional interest and pleasure in the accruing value of those antiques he obtains when prices were low, or before the real worth of his treasures had become known.
There are many instances on record of the rapid increase in the market values of antiques ; there are also records of the amazing neglect and want of appreciation of old things. Fortunately for the preservation of such treasures, there have ever been men who were keen hunters, and did not lose an opportunity of rescuing genuine antiques, and carefully putting them in order, in many instances to their own and their families' future benefit.
Many side glimpses into the romance of collecting were afforded at the sale of the antiques gathered together by the late Rev. Reginald Gatty, recently dispersed. One day the reverend gentleman discovered a fifteenth-century livery cupboard in use in a farmyard as a hen-roost. He secured it for a £5 note. At the sale of his effects it was bought by a noble earl for 75 guineas. The same noble-man bought a Jacobean refectory table, which Mr Gatty had found in a barn, paying for it in open competition 270 guineas.
Such incidents are by no means exceptional ; indeed every enthusiastic collector can point to some bargain he has secured by his close observation and as the result of his carefully retained store of information. " Know-ledge is power," and it is a power indeed to the collector of antiques.