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Victorian Furniture

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE home connoisseur is influenced by curios of Victorian furniture and house furnishings by other motives than those which actuated him in buying ancient oak and the beautiful furniture of Chippendale and Hepplewhite. The furniture made during the reigns of the Georges rarely inspires sentiment, although it may create feelings of patriotic delight when the connoisseur recollects that it was made by wood-workers in times when English craftsmen were learning to understand the achievements of Italian artists, and to practise the arts which Flemish weavers and Huguenot refugees had brought over with them, and which they were teaching to those who would learn how to practice them. Antique furniture is valued on account of its workmanship, or the materials of which it is composed. There is no sentiment in regard to its manufacture, and little in its possession, although it may have been handed on from generation to generation, for those for whom it was made have been forgotten. They have no personal touch with present-day owners.


A very different feeling is experienced when the home curios of the Victorian Age are admired. The furniture itself is mostly plain and indefinite in design—that is to say, the style is often conglomerate, and one that can never command admiration, but it is homelike. Therein it appeals to the home connoisseur, who recognises the familiar form of the furniture of his youth, and when examining early Victorian furniture sees much in it to remind him of relatives and friends he once knew and loved, but who have gone where the furniture they used so long is no longer needed.

There is undoubtedly a sentiment which cannot be expressed adequately, yet it governs those who retain old Victorian furniture. At the time when the young Queen came to the throne there had been a stagnation in progressive cabinet-making for many years past. The middle - class homes of English people presented a very mixed appearance. They contained many pieces of eighteenth century furniture which had been passed on as family possessions—not heirlooms. They were merely chairs and tables and bedroom furniture, consisting of useful pieces which had served one, two, or more generations, and if they received the same careful treatment it was assumed that they would last for many years to come. In an early Victorian home might have been seen Georgian chests, possibly a tall-boy, very likely a Queen Anne table, and almost with certainty a bureau, the shell or other typical inlay upon the fall-front marking it at once as Sheraton. Genuine Chippendale was never common, but furniture made upon Chippendale and Hepplewhite models was not infrequently in everyday use in early Victorian days. The old grandfather clock most assuredly ticked loudly in the entrance hall, house-place, or living room ; and in the parlour there were stools and screens upholstered in old needlework, probably in eighteenth century frames, the screens having beautifully carved tripod legs.

The early days of Queen Victoria were rich in antiques, then only in the making. The Georgian furniture had as then little or no antiquarian value. Such furniture was among the common things of everyday life.


The young ladies of the Victorian days continued to ply the needle for decorative work, as their mothers and grandmothers had done when George III. was King. They no longer worked petit point needlework, newer and even more effective stitches were being taught in the schools, and they still used their wooden needlework frames, but worked in them more pleasing pictures than the older samplers and the still more remote tapestries and needlework, some of which were of doubtful taste in colour and design. Such needlework as the ladies of the first half of the nineteenth century produced was destined to fill screens with frames of carved mahogany. The needles were plied for the upholstery of rug-work chairs ; many small chairs were at that time made of somewhat nondescript styles embellished with carving wrought by an untrained hand compared with that of Thomas Chippendale or his followers ; indeed, few of the Victorian chairs can claim to rank with art wood-work, and they have no claim to retention in the home of the twentieth-century owner, other than that of sentiment.

The sofa of Victorian days was an abomination, and the easy chairs were not always easy. Those were the days when horse-hair was used, and that sombre upholstery was in no way relieved by the inartistic frames of solid mahogany. The cabinets or whatnots then made have mostly been condemned to destruction, or are still perpetuating a period when true art was not, in the cottage home of some one far removed in social status from the original owner. It is in the smaller house furnishings and among the sundries that collectors find more to interest.

There were few traces of art in the drawing - rooms of that day, but the leather-work bracket, wax flowers arranged in a Parian marble vase, framed baskets of seaweed, and little porcelain figures added something to the inartistic colouring of the reddish magohany, crude in form and finish.


The Great Exhibition of 1851 gave some impetus to the revival of art, desired by those who were then awakening to the need of change in English homes. It was long, however, before it bore fruit, although sculpture and painting and music were among the arts revived. The wood-worker moved on slowly until in course of time there was a revival of old styles, an era of reproduction, and the day of the new art dawned.

The furniture of modern days does not come under the notice of the collector of antiques, although the home connoisseur rejoices in the possibility of possessing a better furnished house ; one in which form and colour do not clash ; one in which replicas of older styles are good substitutes for antiques of every chosen period or style—furniture, too, which can be exchanged for genuine antiques when occasion permits.

The new art which has been in vogue some years may in time to come become a style on which collectors of the future will specialise. At present it is difficult to imagine an appreciation in the commercial value of such goods made by machinery and repeated ad lib. Hand work may be at a discount in years to come, but collectors still find their desire satisfied when they add to their galleries antiques from periods earlier than even the days of Queen Victoria, the memory of whose long and glorious reign will never fade from the recollections of the present generation.

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