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

Coffers and Chests

Recently we stayed overnight in a small hotel in a very small bedroom. After our stay we were pestered by management for a review. This is something we never do, but to stop being badgered we decided to report on the room for them. The hotel was dog friendly, but we don’t have a dog, however in the review I mentioned that if we had owned a cat we wouldn’t have been able to swing it in the room. What I think upset us the most was that after pestering us no one responded to our reply.

The medieval bedroom was a very different room to the modern 21st century hotel bedroom. There were no beds with slide out drawers and there were no fitted wardrobes. Where did medieval woman store all her medieval possessions?

The earliest form of moveable storage furniture was the hollowed out log and these primitive beginnings are still evoked by the name “trunk” for a travelling container. During the medieval period simple chests and coffers were used as containers for a wide variety of objects and items. However these chests were not exactly convenient forms of storage and during the 17th century more sophisticated methods of storage designed for storing specific items such as books, clothing and linen were developed.

The medieval period though saw the chest as the main storage method and it was made in huge numbers. Generally they were containers with flat, hinged lids usually with feet to keep the carcass away from the damp floor and usually with handles. Coffers were travelling trunks without feet but with handles. Chests were made by joiners and coffers were made by cofferers.

A simple chest consisted of six planks nailed or dovetailed together, with the vertical slab ends shaped at the bottom to form feet. Later, in the 15th century, the chest developed a framed and panelled construction and this style was immediately more popular with the everyday chest buyer.

The chest in a similar form has remained popular right up to the present day and throughout the centuries the framed and panelled construction developed in the 15th century has essentially stayed the same.

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

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

Persian Rugs

Oriental rug is a term that could be used to describe any rug of Eastern origin, but generally refers to hand made rugs from the rug making countries of Persia (now Iran), Anatolia (now Turkey), Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Baluchistan, Turkestan, Pakistan,China, the Balkans, parts of India, and part of North Africa. For many people though, it is Persian that they think of first, as a great many very fine examples have been produced there.

Impressive old Persian carpets can be found in museums, palaces and stately homes all over the western world, but these are only part of the Persian rug making tradition. Persian rugs were made in workshops but also by many nomadic people.

Homes in Iran are commonly found with rugs covering the floors, but they are not limited to the rich, poorer quality rugs were made in abundance and readily available for the poorer homes as well.

Materials used are wool, cotton and silk. Patterns commonly used come from nature, such as flowers, trees, birds and animals. Designs are sometimes adapted from other sources, usually Chinese and Arabic images. There is something of a debate about the symbolism in the patterns, with some claiming the art loving Iranian people appreciate the pattern just for its artistic worth while others claim the strong use of symbolism.

An example of symbolism is the Chrysanthemum flower, which means happiness and fertility. Another example is the Weeping Willow, which symbolises death and sorrow.

Persian rugs have always sold well in the saleroom, but as with everything in life, the better the quality the higher the price.

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

Davenports

An entry made in the 1790s in the records of the cabinetmakers Gillow of Lancaster stated ‘Captain Davenport, a desk’. This is thought to be the first recorded example of the small writing cabinets now known by the Captain’s name.

The basic form of a Davenport consisted of a small chest of drawers with a small desk compartment on top. This form changed very little throughout the 19th century when most of the examples we see today were made.

Most Davenports have four drawers opening to the side, with simulated drawer fronts on the opposite side. Some examples do differ slightly with cupboards concealing the drawers and these were also symmetrical with opposing dummy cupboards. Most Davenports were fitted with castors for easier mobility and because of the stand alone quality of them all four sides were equally well veneered and finished.

The top section generally comprises of a sloping lid, inset with a tooled leather writing surface. The first Davenports had a top section that would slide forward to accommodate the writer’s legs, but by the mid 19th century they were beginning to be built with the desk section fixed in the writing position, often supported by elaborately scrolled and turned brackets.

The popularity of the Davenport lasted right up until the end of the 19th century, but they became very over ornamented and of clumsy proportions and it is generally accepted that these later styles did not match either the quality or the craftsmanship of those made in the 1860s.

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

Christmas is over, a joyous one for all I hope and now a new year beckons. As many ask themselves what does the future hold for Brexit, English cricket and diesel motor cars, I myself focus on the secretaire and wonder if it will ever reach those dizzy heights of popularity it once attained.

Everyone knows and loves the bureau and the essential difference between it and the secretaire is that the bureau has a sloping or curved lid to it’s writing section, whereas the secretaire is usually flat fronted and vertical.

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, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website