Marriages

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, my wife is a regular reader of my weekly missive and I have to say, an all too regular critic. As this weeks subject is marriage I feel it is therefore important to get a few things into the open in the first paragraph. I am a faithful and loving husband. Admittedly I don’t cook anything, but I have other more important attributes. There, that seems to cover things nicely.

The reason I mention this is obviously to say how wonderful married life is, but also to say some pieces of furniture are also married and it is something to watch out for. A “marriage” is the term used to describe furniture that has been “made up” from different pieces, often of a similar date.

Most frequently seen on bureau cabinets and bureau bookcases, but also on larger bookcases, marriages are usually betrayed by differences in colour, grain and quality of the timber, particularly on the sides. As a rule the backboards on genuine pieces should closely resemble one another, both in timber used and in construction techniques.

Married pieces are often out of proportion, showing a visual imbalance between joined parts. In addition, they can often be identified by an examination of the junction of the top and base sections, which may not fit tightly.

On veneered furniture, a marriage may be apparent when the top section is removed. The veneer should not extend far beyond the point where the base meets the top. Finally, a genuine piece will display a stylistic union and decorative embellishments should be identical in both design and execution.

In this instance furniture mirrors life and there are good and bad marriages. A good marriage doesn’t shout at you though it just is a good marriage.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Secretaires

When our habits change the furniture and furnishings we surround ourselves with also change. A sad truth of modern life is that many eat their meals in the comfort of an arm chair beside the television and so demand for the dining table diminishes. A similar fate effects the secretaire and the bureau. In the age of emails and the internet few need the writing surface or book storage they provide any more.

I fully appreciate that in the modern home a large piece of ‘brown’ furniture that serves no useful purpose will not be on many lists of intended purchases, but it just seems such a shame for the poor old secretaire. What a wonderful piece of furniture it is.

During the 18th century the most fashionable item of writing furniture was the bureau, but the chest with a straight fronted writing drawer continued to be an alternative. Two buttons at each side of the drawer dropped the front to reveal a writing interior every bit as exciting as that of the bureau. The secretaire drawer gradually increased in depth and the chest was often surmounted by a bookcase.

The usefulness of the secretaire bookcase or secretaire cabinet ensured that it continued to be made throughout the 19th century, with infinite variations of detail in the style of pediments, glazing patterns and surface decoration.

The French developed the secretaire à battant in the late 18th century and it is generally considered more sophisticated than the British version. It was a full, flat, fall front cabinet, resting on a chest of drawers or cupboard, often constructed as one piece rather than two separate. As with everything though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Pembroke Tables

The Dowse Chest. This is a chest of drawers named after a twentieth century auctioneer from Sheffield who commissioned a chest of drawers with special handles and a new design of drawer closing. Through the following centuries the chest was always referred to as the Dowse Chest, with auction house catalogues using its proper name. I wonder just how special that would be. My grandfather has a street named after him, but this would be a piece of furniture.

All fantasy (except Dowse Avenue) but it makes you wonder how excited Lady Pembroke must have been, or perhaps she took it all in her stride. The history books never tell us that do they.

The use of a proper name in the description of a piece of furniture usually derives from an original commission and in this case the Countess of Pembroke required a “type of breakfast table with small drop leaves” and that is what she ordered. Eating breakfast from her table must have done her a power of good, because born in 1737, she continued to eat breakfast until her death, in her nineties, in 1831.

The Pembroke table is exactly as the Countess described. The drop leaves are usually about half the size of the top and four legs support the top, which usually boasts a drawer and a dummy drawer. Later, in George III reign, some Pembroke tables had a centre pedestal instead of four legs.

The Pembroke table is a very useful and an often underrated item. It can be used as a decorative side table, displaying ornaments and photographs, or as a small dining table seating four in comfort. This table was made from the mid 18th century and continued through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Royal Dux

My wife loves elephants. I have nothing against the elephant and as our home is covered with them, I have little choice. I have to admit that some of the models are really quite lovely, especially those from Duchov.

In 1853 in the town of Duchov a factory was founded and the story of Royal Dux began. After several years of producing utility ceramics the factory was bought by Eduard Eichler and became E Eichler Thonwaren Fabrik. Success followed with the production of terracotta, faience and majolica items, winning a Silver award at the 1878 Paris Exhibition.

A pink triangle became the trademark in 1900.The raised triangle has an acorn in the centre with the inscription ‘Royal Dux Bohemia’, which is still used today.

The Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession were probably the most successful periods for Royal Dux production. The company won awards in Exhibitions in Milan, Liberec and St. Louis, having representatives and showrooms all over Europe.

The Art Nouveau production is the most collected period. Pieces from this period are very recognisable with their fleshy colourings and attention to facial detail. Classically modelled maidens abound, along with shell shaped vases and bowls, elephants, dogs and Arab figures on camels and horses.

The World Wars affected production, output ceased in the first war and in the second, the German government took over. After the war it was taken over by the new communist government of Czechoslovakia, but today it is privately owned.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Vacuum Cleaners

During our lockdown experience the Dowse house has seen a redistribution of household chores, with my chore folio increasing to unprecedented levels. I can now manufacture an edible apple crumble and make custard from scratch. In actual fact I could produce a whole meal now, provided scrambled eggs was an acceptable first course. I have also increased my vacuuming portfolio and the carpets have never looked so good.

If we had lived in Victorian or Edwardian England vacuuming would never have been an issue because the Vacuum Cleaner wasn’t invented until 1899 and as with all new inventions it was huge. Early models could easily be mistaken for fire engines.

Having your house vacuumed meant ordering the vacuum cleaner, which was pulled by horses and stopped outside your door. The nozzled hoses were then passed through the windows and the process could begin. This was such a novelty that people would ask there friends around to tea and everyone would sit and watch the amazing cleaner at work.

It was not long though before the Edwardians managed to significantly reduce the size of the cleaner and by the end of the First World War they were much more portable and much more common.

In the saleroom vacuum cleaners from the Edwardian early portable period are highly prized and can realise many hundreds of pounds. Examples from later in the century, however, are less desirable although the present fascination with all things retro has certainly encouraged this market. Examples from the 1950’s and 1960’s which were once destroyed are now increasingly popular. Perhaps now is the time to invest.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

The Canterbury

The Canterbury is a very useful piece of furniture and examples from the 18th and 19th centuries should find their way into more modern homes. What exactly is a Canterbury?

In the most basic terms, the Canterbury is a low, opened top piece of furniture with partitions or slats for storing sheet music, often made with additional storage in the bottom in the form of a drawer; in modern terms, a magazine rack. The Canterbury was made with short legs that stood on castors, making it easy to move around.

It is largely acknowledged that the name originated from the Archbishop of Canterbury who first commissioned one in the 1780s. The Archbishop in question, Frederick Cornwallis serving from 1768 to 1783, had aristocratic associations and thus likely connections with prominent cabinet-makers of the time before his appointment to Archbishop adding weight to the theory that the name came from him.

Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), an English cabinet-maker who is credited as having a significant influence over furniture design of the late 18th century, appears to be the first to use the name Canterbury in his 1803 book ‘The Cabinet Dictionary’. Other key examples of Canterbury designs are included in George Smith’s ‘A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration’ from 1808 and John Claudius Loudon’s ‘The Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, Villa Architecture’ in 1834. The Canterbury began life as a simple, functional piece of furniture but grew more elaborate with time and remained popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

It is also important to note that during this period, sheet music was made more widely available due to the new printing processes making it more affordable and so the design of such a piece of furniture seems inevitable, to sit by the piano.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Table Lamps

The spot lights in our bathroom have been failing at an alarming rate lately and this has resulted in a visit to a well know DIY store. After being assured by an assistant that the new bulb I chose would ‘probably’ fit (a stance confirmed by his superior), I hurried home with enough bulbs to bring light into our darkness.

I replaced the missing bulb, which fitted, but emitted a curious yellow glow in contrast to the three working white bulbs. Undeterred by this setback I battled on. The next failed bulb proved more difficult to extract and I broke the fitting, which now hangs in darkness some inches from the ceiling. I also broke the third fitting, but managed to change the bulb, so that hangs fully lit roughly the same distance from the ceiling. Unfortunately I was not allowed to continue.

This whole sorry tale reinforces the beauty of the table lamp and the uncomplicated ease with which a bulb can be replaced. In the late 1870s Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan both produced their own versions of the light bulb and by the turn of the century the electric table lamp was an item.

The beauty of the table lamp is in the shade and classic designers like Tiffany, Lalique and Gallé all produced some wonderful Art Nouveau and Art Deco lamp shades. A table lamp can transform the ambience of a room and a shade from these and other talented designers styled with overlay or leaded glass or incorporating differing reflective techniques can transform it even more.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Thomas Sheraton

My wife and I have just had new windows fitted. That is windows to the property in which we live, rather than new lenses to our spectacles. Now, we love our new windows and we marvel at the speed and efficiency with which they were fitted, but sadly it has caused my wife to suffer a relapse in a condition I have been managing to keep under control, with careful nurturing, for many months. Namely her “let’s change the room round” affliction.

As with most wives, once her bonnet has entertained a bee there is little anyone can do. However I have to say that on this occasion the moving of an Edwardian inlaid mahogany display cabinet to another location in the room has caused me to fall in love with the piece all over again.

The Edwardian period was the host to many different styles, including the wonderful Arts and Crafts and the inspirational Art Nouveau, but our lately unloved display cabinet is an often forgotten gem from Edward VII’s time in office, namely Revival Sheraton.

Thomas Sheraton was a very gifted designer, born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1751, who designed some wonderful neoclassical style furniture between the 1780s and 1820s. Also during that time he published two ground breaking books, “The Cabinet Dictionary” and “Cabinet Makers and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book”, illustrating his designs.

Our display cabinet typifies the Sheraton style, with delicate neoclassical lines, contrasting wood inlays and a beauty, which thank goodness, we love again. If only everyone else could see the joy of Sheraton what a revival the furniture market would experience.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Heubach Bisque Dolls

This year on Christmas morning thousands and thousands of children will wake to the joy of a baby doll, brought down the chimney or through the door with a special key, by an over worked and underpaid Santa Claus. For generations parents have loved buying these wonderful creations and for generations Santa has worked his magic.

The Edwardian Christmas would see many of these dolls being manufactured by the Heubach factory which was established in Lichte, Germany in 1843, after brothers Georg Christoph and Phillipp Jakob,bought an existing porcelain business. They initially made porcelain dolls’ heads and other figurines, but later as the fashion for using bisque spread to Germany from France where they had been experimenting with it from the late 1860s, Heubach began to use bisque as their main material from about 1910.

While the porcelain dolls were glazed and therefore shiny, the bisque allowed for a much more realistic skin tone as they remained unglazed; initially fired and then re-fired after layers of decoration had been applied. It was very uncommon to find a doll made completely of bisque as it was so delicate and breakable, most dolls had bodies made of cloth or leather and later composition, a substance made by mixing glue with sawdust or wood pulp.

As with all bisque dolls of the period, some had closed mouths and fixed eyes and some more expensive models had sleeping eyes and open mouths with teeth. Oddly, a doll found now with broken teeth is often not a sign of neglect, but a sign of care, as the loving ‘child parent’ has tried desperately to feed their infant.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Brown Furniture

For years, in fact since it dropped so disastrously and disappointingly out of fashion, I have been championing the case for poor old brown furniture. During my daily round of valuations I can often be heard sympathising with owners over the slump in brown furniture values, but can always, always be heard saying, “give it time and the values will rally”.

Well, it is now official, brown furniture is on its way back into the hearts and minds of the young and upwardly mobile designers and what is more, the glossy magazines have the story. Last weekend a national newspaper, whose political persuasions I will not mention, ran an informative article on the “beauty of buying brown” and it’s reviving popularity.

The quality of workmanship, the beauty of shape and form and the colour of the wonderfully matured and polished woods of the antique has never been in doubt. It’s just not been in fashion for the last ten or twenty years.

On a personal level, it could be said that any revival in the fortunes of antique furniture is irrelevant because, since I was a schoolboy in my father’s saleroom I have loved brown furniture and whatever it is worth I always will. For investors, salerooms, antique dealers and present owners however, this can only be excellent news.

I finish on a cautionary note. Because glossy magazines and upwardly mobile designers advocate the revival, doesn’t mean it will happen overnight. It does mean, though, that it will happen, so watch this space.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website