Music Boxes

I love listening to music. Anything from opera to punk, I love almost all of it. With the exception of a small vinyl collection my wife has, all this music is on my mobile phone. I find that absolutely amazing and incredibly convenient. I wonder if 18th century man found the music box just as amazing.

Musical mechanisms were first fitted in Swiss clocks and automata in the 17th century. However, the musical box, which was either powered by clockwork or operated by a handle, came into being in its own right in the 18th century. It comprised of a rotating cylinder that produced sound when raised pins plucked a row of fine steel teeth on a comb-like metal plate.

By the 19th century the musical box was firmly established as an affordable form of entertainment and was produced in large numbers. As techniques improved, seven or eight tunes could be set on one cylinder. The cylinders were housed in wooden boxes, often with plain sides and decoratively inlaid tops. The better the box, usually the better the mechanism was with more special effects like butterfly bells, cymbals and drums. Specialist makers like Nicole Freres also add value to a musical box sold in today’s mechanical market place.

The problem with the music box was that the cylinder could only hold so many pins and thus the number and complexity of the tunes, or “airs”, was limited. A simple, often rather basic model
( like a car without satellite navigation) would have less pins in the cylinder and so play fewer and simpler tunes. These are today the lower value models which can be purchased for much less.

A more complicated model with many multiple pin tunes together with bells, drums and cymbals by a maker like Nicole Freres will be at the other end of the money scale.

As a final thought, if contemplating the purchase of one of these beautiful boxes, always view with your ears.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Cutlery

With the advent of the dishwasher the demand for electroplated cutlery has sadly declined. I feel that today’s diners are missing out on the unprecedented joy (perhaps a slight exaggeration) of owning and using such fabulous flatware. That fact aside, the history of cutlery up to the development of electroplate is actually an interesting one.

In medieval Europe most people had a wooden or pewter spoon at home and if visiting friends or relatives they took it with them. The wealthy tended to do the same, but theirs were silver. Later a knife was added, but spoons, especially silver ones, hammered from a single small ingot, have survived in much greater numbers.

With the exception of Apostle spoons, spoons were not made in sets until the end of the 17th century. Many were, however, given as presents on special occasions, which could account for why so many have survived today.

When Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660, he brought with him the idea of setting a table for eating. This was a wonderful idea which not only dispensed with the embarrassment of forgetting one’s spoon when visiting, but also made the whole dining experience much more enjoyable. As with all good ideas though it took many years to catch on and it is unusual to find complete sets of cutlery that date much before the late 18th century.

Individual designs all have their own names. In Britain, the Trefid pattern gave way to the Dog Nose pattern circa 1702. Throughout the 18th century the Hanoverian pattern was followed by the Old English and finally the Fiddle pattern. The 19th century started with the Kings pattern. These patterns and their variants are still produced today.

Collectors have great fun collecting full canteens by matching patterns and periods. What is even more fun is to collect one maker.

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

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

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

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