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Antique Terminology...


Acanthus

A term used to describe a decorative feature frequently carved on furniture and representing the leaf of the Acanthus spinosus, a motif which was used as far back as Greek and Roman times

Adam Style
Robert Adam was the second son of William Adam, the foremost Scottish architect of his time, who worked from Edinburgh in the Palladian style, and after his father's death he was taken into partnership by his elder brother John. In 1754 he left for a tour of Europe with a young nobleman, returning in 1758 to London with his head full of details of Roman antiquities. His younger brother James joined him during 1763, and together they developed the 'Adam Style' marked by a new lightness and freedom in the use of the classical elements of architecture. "Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires" was published 1773.

Regarding furniture the Adam brothers played a leading role, as in an Adam interior everything was to be part of the unified scheme. The style is typified by an elegance and sense of proportion; extensive use is made of paterae, anthemion, delicate flutings, and wreaths of flowers festooned between rams' head.

By the late 18th C. however Robert Adam's popularity was beginning to decline, and Horace Walpole, after visiting the new Carlton House, wrote, "How sick one shall be, after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam's gingerbread and sippets of embroidery."

Amboyna
A rare wood of a mellow golden brown colour with intricate bird's eye figuring, used for veneering. Originally a native tree of the West Indies

Anthemion
Classical ornamentation based on the blossom of the honeysuckle .

Astragal
A small moulding; now normally a term used when describing the division between panes in a glazed cabinet. From the Greek word for moulding - astragalus.

Biedermeir
Roughly it translates from the German as Honest John - a solid dependable style for the citizenry. The style was first in vogue during the early part of the 19th C., contemporary with our Regency period.

Boulle(Sometimes seen spelt Buhl)
Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732) was a famous French cabinet maker who perfected a marquetry of tortoiseshell and brass as a veneer for furniture; the design is of scroll, flower and arabesque motifs often inlaid into ebony. Little Boulle furniture was made in England in this early period, though it enjoyed a revival of popularity in the 19th Century.

Boxwood
From the Box tree, Buxus sempervirens, a pale yellowish-white wood, very hard and smooth and much used for banding and inlay. It is cut across the grain and sometimes stained green.

Bracket Foot
A foot extending each way from the corner of the base of a piece of furniture. A bracket foot can be of fairly simple construction, or may be splayed outwards at the toes, or of ogee construction (see below)

Brushing Slide
A pull out slide at a convenient height on a chest of drawers, or similar piece which forms a temporary work surface on which to brush clothes. (Remember roads were muddy, most people travelled by foot or on horseback, and outer clothing was often of woollen fabric and not easily washable).

Bun Foot
A foot somewhat in the shape of a bun, most often used on chests of drawers and bureaux etc. Popular in the 17th and early 18th C.

Bureau (the plural being Bureaux though often spelt Bureaus nowadays)
These evolved from portable writing boxes with sloping lids, which were later fitted with stands. By the late 17th C. they began to have further drawers fitted beneath. The term is now normally applied to a writing desk with an angled fall to the front concealing drawers and/or pigeon holes, and fitted with further drawers below the angled fall.

Burr
A veneer cut from transverse slices of the knarled roots or branch junctions of trees, notably the walnut, oak, elm, and thuja.

Cabriole Leg
This type of leg first became popular in England and France in the late 17th C., although it was known in the ancient world. Based on the legs of four footed animals, and often with realistic modelling of the hoof and sometimes hair of the creature, the simplified later form is of two elongated curves - the upper one convex, the lower one concave, forming a long slow ‘S’ sometimes joined by stretchers. The knees often have carved decoration, and the legs may terminate in a scroll, slipper, pad, hoof, or claw-and-ball foot.

Canterbury
A term now applied to a stand with divisions for holding sheet music (though more often used for magazines) it was originally said to have been a type of dumb waiter invented by an Archbishop of Canterbury - Sheraton describes it as ‘made to stand by a table at supper, with a circular end, and three partitions crosswise to hold knives, forks and plates at that end which is made circular on purpose’.

Carlton Desk or Carlton Table
A writing table on legs with a raised back and sides fitted with pigeonholes and small drawers etc. Apparently named in compliment to the then Prince of Wales, (afterwards George IV) who lived at Carlton House.

Caryatides
Columns or pilasters with the top half in the form of woman. Those featuring the male form are normally called Atlantes.


A type of low chair or couch with only one end and sometimes a partial back and a seat long enough to support the legs usually made for a lady to recline on. From the French for long chair.

Chasing
Ornamentation of metal by means of a hard metal burin, used to form raised and indented sections and lines

Chiffonnier
Sometimes mis-spelt as Cheffonier, it is normally a small sideboard with one or two shelves at the back and two doors enclosing shelving to the base, and often fitted with a concealed drawer above the cupboards. The word literally means a gatherer up of small articles (in France a chiffonnier was a rag-and-bone man! - Not that we have these in France or England these days!)

Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale, was christened in 1718 at Otley, Yorkshire. His early life is sketchy but it is thought he moved to Worcester with his father who worked there as a cabinet-maker, and that they later moved to London. By 1753 he moved to 60 St. Martin's Lane where he had a showroom and workshop employing some twenty workmen, and this remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1754 he published his celebrated book ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director’ this work was one of the most important collection of furniture designs published in England, illustrating almost every type of mid-18th C. domestic furniture, and containing 160 plates. In 1755 he published a second edition, and the third edition containing 200 plates was published in weekly parts from 1759-62. The designs were largely Chippendale's improvements on the fashionable furniture styles of the time.

Rococo, Chinese and Gothic influences show strongly in Chippendale's designs, particularly in chair backs, and case-furniture. From the 1760s onward, he was influenced by the great English architect Robert Adam, and adopted the new Neo-classical style. This final phase is notable for mahogany and marquetried satinwood furniture. The superb satinwood and inlaid commodes (possibly designed by his son - also called Thomas Chippendale) and other furniture at Harewood House are masterpieces of the cabinetmaker's craft.

Claw and Ball Foot
Beloved of Chippendale, it is probably of Chinese origin and believed to represent the three clawed foot of the dragon (in mythology a very lucky beast) clutching the sacred pearl, and was introduced by the Dutch late in the 17th C.

Cock-Beading
A small rounded projecting moulding used around the edges of drawers. Probably used in the sense of something which is raised or standing proud. i.e.. hay cock.

Console Table
A console is a bracket often in the form of an S-Scroll or curve. A console table is a side table normally fixed to the wall, sometimes with receding legs, giving a bracket like effect. Introduced from France in 18th C. they are also known as pier tables, as they were often sited on the pier wall between tall windows.

Court Cupboard
A cupboard with a smaller cupboard over it, often richly carved, and used by the family for wine etc, as distinguished from a livery cupboard which would have been used by retainers for more mundane fare.

Cross Banding
Short sections of veneer laid at right angles to the longest grain of the main surface, originally used as a protective edging, it rapidly gained favour for its decorative qualities, and can often form part of a decorative inlaid banding.

Cupboard
This word refers back to the original design, which was a board, or table, on which cups, drinking vessels and other necessaries for meals were placed. There were several shelves- the number of which bore relation to the rank of the owner - surmounted by a canopy; eventually doors were added, and it became a Court Cupboard (see above) gradually metamorphosising into the cupboard as we know it today.


Davenport
A small writing desk with a lift up writing slope, and a range of drawers at the side. Popular in the 19th C., it was named after a Captain Davenport, who apparently commissioned one to take with him on campaign.

Dresser
A side table of the farmhouse type, used for dressing food before serving, and with drawers to the front and either cupboards beneath, or a pot-board shelf. There may be a narrow range of shelves, sometimes added at a later date, on which plates etc. were displayed. It seems to have become a recognized piece of furniture from the 17th C. onwards: often called a Welsh Dresser there is no necessary geographical connection with Wales, although many do come from this area of the country.

Feather Banding
An inlaid edging or banding named because of the similarity of its pattern to the flight veins of a feather. It was introduced during the latter part of the 17th C. and is most often seen on the walnut case furniture of this period.

Fielded Panel
In heraldic language ‘field’ means the general surface of a shield. In furniture the word is used in a similar sense to describe a panel, the surface of which is on the same plane as the surrounding woodwork, but which is defined by a sunken section often with mouldings.

Fluted
Flutings are vertical channels or grooves separated by a sharp edge or arris. When the mouldings are convex rather than concave they are called reedings.

Gadroon (From the French godron - a plait or ruffle.)
Gadrooning is used as an embellishment to the edges of items. In wooden items it is normally carved, though in metalwork it would be cast.

Gate Leg
A type of table with drop leaves, normally oval in shape, which are supported on hingedlegs resembling a gate in construction.

Girandole
Originally a branched candlestick or chandelier for use on the table, or fixed as a bracket to a wall frequently with a mirror attached, it is a term now normally applied only to the latter .

Harewood
A green grey coloured veneer usually of stained sycamore, and most often used as a contrasting inlay.

Hepplewhite
George Hepplewhite (sometimes wrongly spelt Heppelwhite - occasionally even by himself!) was probably apprenticed to the well-known cabinet maker Gillow of Lancaster. He went into business on his own account, and by the time of his death in 1786 was the proprietor of a considerable business in Cripplegate. His widow, Alice, continued the business under the name of A. Hepplewhite & Co, and in 1788 it was she who published the influential "The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterers' Guide", with further editions in 1789 and 1794. Hepplewhite style is characterized by the perfection of workmanship, lightness of construction, and elegance of form. These characteristics are particularly noticeable in his chair designs with shield and heart-shaped backs, often carved with wheat-ears, honeysuckle (anthemion), swags of drapery, and Prince of Wales Feathers

Herring Bone Inlay
An inlaid banding named because of the similarity of its pattern to that of the main bones in a herring. It was introduced during the latter part of the 17th C. and is most often seen on the walnut case furniture of this period.

Hock Leg
A cabriole leg with a broken curve to the inside of the knee, echoing the shape of a quadruped’s hock.

Hoof Foot
Foot of a piece of furniture which is carved to resemble that of a quadruped, either solid or cloven. Known in the ancient world in was introduced to England from France in the 17th C.

Husk Ornamentation
Often used as a carved motif it represents the stylized form of the Garrya eliptica.

Incised Decoration
Thin decorative lines worked so as to be below the general surrounding plane of the main surface.

Inlay
Decoration to a surface formed by the removal some of the surface, which is then replaced with a contrasting material.

Loo Table
A table designed for the game of Loo, a six-handed card game popular in the 19th C. Usually having an oval or round top, and with a hinged and snap mechanism fitted to a pedestal base, so that the table could be stored when not in use. For rules of the game of Loo follow this link.

Low Boy
A small table fitted with drawers, first made in the early 17th C. and used as a writing or dressing table. When there are further drawers above it is termed a High-Boy, though this seems to be a mainly American terminology, and in England such a piece would be called a chest on stand.

Lustre
Prismatic cut glass pendants, largely used in candelabra and chandeliers, or items designed to reflect light; also used to describe those light reflecting metallic glazes made from platinum, silver or copper etc., which are used in the decoration of pottery and china.

Marquetry
Elaborate veneered or inlaid designs in various coloured woods, sometimes including ivory, or metals such as silver; usually floral or natural in design; as opposed to parquetry which is based on geometric shapes.

Ogee
A design where one part is concave and the other is convex, giving an s-shape outline, normally used to describe the mouldings or the feet of pieces.

Ormolu
A type of brass composed of around 75 parts of copper to 25 zinc, resulting in a colour more similar to gold than that of ordinary brass. Normally ornately cast and chased, it was usually then mercury gilded to prevent tarnishing.

Oviform
Shaped like an egg.

Oyster Veneer
Where decorative pieces of wood have been cut transversely from smaller branches or saplings, the resulting ring-like grain of the wood being reminiscent of the markings on an oyster shell.

Parquetry
A decorative pattern formed from different types of wood but applied in a geometric design as compared to marquetry.

Parcel Gilding
Only selected portions of the surface are gilded - normally the areas with carved detail - the remainder of the surface being polished. This was a style popular around the late 17th to early 18th century, though there was a resurgence in the Regency period.

Patera
Originally a shallow dish or saucer of foliate design used for drinking purposes by the Romans. The name was also applied to architectural ornaments of similar form during the classical period. Now used for round or oval shapes applied to furniture either to cover holes or joints, or simply as a decorative motif, sometimes they are carved with a rose motif and are then termed rosettes.

Pembroke Table
A table with two hinged flaps on the longest sides, supported by folding brackets; mostly fitted with a drawer at one end of the shorter side, and often with a matching dummy drawer at the opposing end, though sometimes with a drawer at each end. Said to have been named after the Countess of Pembroke.

Pie Crust Edge
An edge moulding of C-scrolls and S-scrolls and ogees which somewhat resembles the edge of a pastry pie-crust.

Pigeon Holes
Small compartments in a bureau or secretaire reminiscent of the entrances to a dove-cot .

Pilaster
A flat column or pier, with a base and capital, and very slightly proud of the surface.

Pole Screen
A small, often shaped, screen supported on a tall slender pole normally with a tripod base, and adjustable so that a lady's complexion might be protected from the heat of a strong fire.

Quartetto Tables
A set of four tables of light construction and small size, but normal table height, being of diminishing size and designed to nest one within another. Sheraton is thought to have been the first to devise them, and they are usually in this style.

Ribbon-Back
Where the central splat of a chair is carved to represent puckered ribbons tied in bows. The style was introduced from France in the mid-18th Century and was much favoured by Chippendale, who refers to it in his Director (q.v.) as a "Ribband-Back Chair".

Sofa Table
Traditionally a table of long oblong form, with a drop leaf on each of the shorter sides supported by brackets, and normally with two drawers and two dummy drawers along the long sides. Now often used to refer to any long table which will stand behind a sofa and take a lamp.
Thomas Sheraton, who seems to have invented the form, describes it thus in his Cabinet Dictionary (London, 1803) pages 305-306, as "…used before a sofa, and are generally made between 5 and 6 feet long; ...the frame is divided into two drawers…The ladies chiefly occupy them to draw, write or read upon."

Spindle (From the Latin spina, a thorn, indicating anything slender)
A slender turned rod used in furniture construction from the earliest times, and still in use today. Seen particularly in chairs, but also in screens, and in openings of early cupboards. Spindle is also used to denote the small bar, shaped at both ends and used for hand spinning before the invention of the spinning wheel in Brunswick in 1530.

Splat
The central upright portion of a chair back contained within the side uprights, the top rail and the seat.

Spoon Back
The shaping of a high back chair to fit the shape of the spine, also sometimes known as spooning.

Stringing
A term for the thin, fine lines of contrasting wood inlay used as decoration.

Sutherland Table
A table where the two drop leaves reach nearly to the floor, but the central section is very narrow, so when it is folded down it occupies little space, but gives a large usable surface when open. First recorded around 1850, they are said to be named for Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who was a favourite lady in waiting of Queen Victoria


Tunbridge Ware
Decorative veneer work, originally made at Tunbridge Wells, where small rods of wood of different colours are glued together in bundles and then cut across the grain, so that the ends form a pattern which gives the appearance of minute mosaic work.


 


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