Picture This XXXII

“Yes…I’ll have a pound of glue please, and one of your finest four-foot long, 3-1/2″ wide London-pattern in-cannel gouges.”


Lot 166 in Christie’s Out of The Ordinary Sale (South Kensington, London, on the 3rd of September, 2014) is this rather large trade display model of a gouge.

Jack Plane

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Picture This XXXI

This chest is another example of the anomalous furniture that I talked about in In Which My Trousers Catch Alight. Lot 764 in Day 2 of Dreweatts’ The Summer Sale at the end of this month is ostensibly a fairly typical early eighteenth-century walnut-veneered chest of drawers.

Normally the entire chest would be walnut veneered on pine, but Dreweatts state the carcase ends are solid elm (though the drawers, at least, are constructed of pine).

Geo_II_elm_&_walnut_chest_c1735_01aGeorge II elm and walnut chest of drawers, circa 1735. (Dreweatts)

Chests with inconsistent timbers turn up periodically: ‘Walnut’ and ‘mahogany’ chests with visible pine and/or oak carcase ends are not unheard of. Figure 28 in In Which My Trousers Catch Alight is an example of an ‘oak’ chest with pine carcase ends painted to simulate the burr oak drawer fronts.

I may include something along these lines in the book.

Jack Plane

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Book News

I have several partially written books both in my head and on paper/hard drive. One of the reasons I have held back on furniture titles was the lack of a suitable space in which to photograph the various stages of furniture reproduction: The Lemon Studio, whilst wonderfully atmospheric to work in (weather permitting), was not a consistent or reliable theatre for shooting presentable photographs.

I now have a workshop with a roof and an area set aside within for photography, so all I need do now is garner the requisite camera skills and I’m in business!

I initially considered writing a series of books along the lines of this blog viz. detailing the history and construction of various items of furniture divided into the Age of Oak, the Age of Walnut and the Age of Mahogany (roughly 1660 to 1790).

A problem with that approach would be the inevitably lengthy preambles to build a sense of the social history behind the examples, and the technicalities involved in each piece (not that that would necessarily be a bad thing), but it might make for heavy reading for those cutting their teeth on furniture reproduction.

Chests of drawers are open books, which, through their dovetailed- and mortice and tenon construction, veneered surfaces, mouldings and turnings, can teach one the majority of  cabinetmaking skills required to produce not only case pieces, but tables and chairs too. What’s more, the timelines of construction methods, materials and brasses are more easily read in chests than any other furniture genre.

Therefore, I now believe a monograph on late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century chests of drawers would be a better introduction to those interested in making case pieces and all manner of furniture from this period.

The book’s contents may vary as I work my way through it, but the projected chapters are as follows:

  • The Development of the Chest of Drawers.
  • A William and Mary Walnut Veneered Chest, circa 1695.
  • A Queen Anne Walnut Veneered Chest, circa 1705.
  • A George I Virginia Walnut Chest, circa 1720.
  • A George II Mahogany Chest, circa 1740.
  • A George III Mahogany Chest, circa 1765.
  • Reproduction finishing.

I have carefully selected the dates of the chests to encompass as many different and historically appropriate construction methods as possible. Some of the areas and techniques covered in the book will include:

  • Through and lapped dovetails.
  • Through and lapped dustboards.
  • Feather- and cross-banding
  • Straight- and crossgrain mouldings.
  • Bun feet.
  • Plain and ogee bracket feet.
  • Dressing slides.
  • Plain, lapped and frame and panel backboards.
  • Hardware.

The chapter on finishing will provide the means to create a convincing antique finish, but a separate, comprehensive book on finishing and faking is in the offing.

I hope to get underway with the first chest shortly and will preview it here on the blog.


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Resembling Something like Normality

A very nice technician from the National Broadband Network turned up earlier this week and installed a new fixed wireless broadband dish and box of electrickery, so I now have an (albeit temporary) internet connection in the new workshop while I do battle with the insurers over the remains of our house.

The workshop was damaged in the storm too, but is, at least, useable and repairable.

Many thanks for the well wishes here and in the many emails I received. A big thank you also to the most excellent chap who suggested setting up a “Get Jack’s Arse back to Work” relief fund via PayPal donations – very thoughtful, but quite unnecessary.


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The North Wind doth Blow…

… And We shall have Snow (according to the sixteenth-century rhyme).

In our case, however, it means our house blows away. We’ve had horrendous weather this week with record temperatures and howling winds.

Luckily I was out when the roof flew seventy-five metres up the yard (landing on the new workshop, damaging one corner of it and punching a gaping hole in the roof too) otherwise I may have been cleft in twain.

The house is in very poor shape and will most likely have to be demolished.

So, for the second time in ten months I will be without internet connectivity (I’m typing this on a thing called an ‘eye phone’), though this time I know not when I shall return to regular posting.



Jack Plane

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Chair-Back Settees

A popular form of mid- to late eighteenth-century seating was the chair-back settee, in double-, triple-, and quadruple-back formats.

O'Sullivan Antiques IncFig. 1. George II Irish mahogany double chair-back settee, circa 1740. (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Chair-back settees are constructed in much the same vein as their single side chair counterparts: The main differences being the long, continuous front and rear seat rails, to which the legs are morticed, bridled or half-lapped. It’s also not uncommon for there to be fewer rear legs than front legs and rear legs/stiles are often separate (fig. 2).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01c1Fig. 2. Rear legs and stiles separately joined to rear seat rail.

Whilst not the strongest configuration, early chair-back settees – modelled after fashionable chairs with outward spreading stiles – often employ paired stiles to connect the individual backs (fig. 3).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1750_01aFig. 3. George II Irish mahogany double chair-back settee with paired central stile, circa 1750. (Moxhams)

A somewhat awkward remedy to counter the potential weakness of a paired-stile back (or other form where the crest rails wouldn’t naturally connect) is occasionally seen in the form of a continuous crest rail incorporating a carved motif or family crest (figs. 4 & 5).

Geo_II_Giles_Grendey_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1735_01aFig. 4. George II mahogany chair-back settee in the manner of Giles Grendey, circa 1735. (Millington Adams)

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_02bFig. 5. George II Irish mahogany chair-back settee, circa 1740. (Hyde Park Antiques)

The more prominent crest rails of side chairs with tapered backs permitted a much stronger arrangement to be routinely effected on commensurate chair-back settees by the use of a single continuous crest rail (figs. 1, 6 & 7).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01aFig. 6. George II Irish mahogany chair-back settee with continuous crest rail, circa 1740.

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01d1Fig. 7. Seamlessly flowing crest rail.

Chair-back settees remain popular, though their cost can be prohibitive for some. In the mid eighties, when I regularly did the auction rounds, a customer asked me to keep an eye out for a double chair-back settee for her. Given her budget, I didn’t fancy her chances, so I suggested an alternative: She had previously sent me a pair of rough Chippendale period mahogany side chairs to restore, which rather conveniently lent themselves to being converted into a settee. I grafted new wood onto the two crest rails and carved it in a way so as not to crowd the transition. I then made new front and rear seat rails and carried out the conversion in such a way that the whole appeared to be authentic.

I have since performed several settee conversions for customers and I have encountered several others’ less convincing attempts. For what ever reasons, others have simply joined the crest rails with no effort made to blend the transitions. On one conversion I was shown, the crest rails were simply connected with nails whose heads had been cut off and inserted into holes drilled into the interconnecting ends of the crest rails.

The settee in figures 8 and 9 has an unhappy back in which the heights of the unrealistically crammed crest rails don’t appear to correspond.

Geo_III_chair_back_setee_01a2Fig. 8. George III mahogany triple chair-back settee. (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Geo_III_chair_back_setee_01a1Fig. 9. Conjoined triplets? (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Jack Plane

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Robert Bakewell’s Chair

A somewhat uncommendable provincial chair in The Collection from The Royal Agricultural Society of England (fig. 1), auctioned by Dreweatts at Bloomsbury House, London on the 11th of July, sold for £9,000 ($16,370).

Robert_Bakewell_chair_c1750_01aFig. 1. Unusual country-made chair, circa 1750. (Dreweatts)

Lot 110 was a George II open armchair with an elm seat, oak armrest and – most rare in British furniture – a backrest made of willow.

The chair belonged to Robert Bakewell (1725-1795), an agriculturalist recognized as one of the most important figures in the British Agricultural Revolution. In addition to work in agronomy, Bakewell is particularly notable as the first to implement systematic selective breeding of livestock. His advancements not only led to specific improvements in sheep, cattle and horses, but contributed to the general knowledge of artificial selection.

On the back of Bakewell’s chair an inscription reads: ‘This chair was made under the direction of the Celebrated Robert Bakewell of Dishley out of a Willow Tree that grew on his Farm- It was his favourite seat and the Back which thus records his Memory, served as a Screen when seated by his Fireside, calculating on the Profits, or devising some Improvements on his Farm. – Thousands of Pounds have been known to exchange Hands in the same… Mr. Bakewell Died in 1795.’

Robert_Bakewell_chair_c1750_01bFig. 2. Willow back with dedication. (Dreweatts)

Jack Plane

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Hear! Hear!

Firing glasses (so called because of the musket-shot report the glasses produced when slammed on table tops in enthusiastic agreement with orators and speakers) first appeared in the late seventeenth-century. Firing glasses from this period are rare; the majority of surviving glasses are eighteenth-century (and shouldn’t be confused with nineteenth-century penny licks[1]).

Firing glasses were stoutly made – particularly the stem and foot – to withstand the maltreatment they received. The glasses are small; usually no more than 2-3/4″ to 3-1/8″ (7cm – 8cm) tall. The bowls’ meager capacity held just sufficient for the immediate toast – anymore and the contents would be sloshed around the room when the glasses were ‘fired’. Frequent topping-up was all part of the ceremony.

firing_glass_c1750_01cFig. 1. Circa 1750 firing glass engraved with motifs in support of the Jacobite movement.

The Masons were apparently a loquacious faction as firing glasses (as well as roemers and ceremonial goblets etc.) frequently turn up bearing Masonic arms or emblems.

firing_glass_Masonic_c1755_01eFig.2. Circa 1755 firing glass engraved with Masonic Square & Compass emblems.

firing_glass_c1765_02aFig. 3. Circa 1765 firing glass with ogee bowl, double series opaque twist and plain foot.

firing_glass_c1780_01aFig. 4. Circa 1780 firing glass with engraved, ovoid bowl, double series opaque twist and conical foot.

At informal gatherings, toasts were proposed by anyone with a point to voice and a speaker (usually a verbose and eloquent individual), maintained control of events at more formal assemblies.

Speakers were expected to enliven formal events with sobriety. To this end, a glass with the same outward appearance as a firing glass was produced, but with a deceptively small bowl (figs. 5 & 6). Further, the high quality of the lead glass reflected the contents of the bowl, giving the impression of it being as full as other revelers’ glasses.

Eighteenth-century ‘deception’ glasses followed the shape and proportions of commensurate firing glasses, however, as the prominence and status of the speaker increased, so did the shape and size of their glasses.

Aside from the reduced capacity of deception glasses, the feet were also thinner than those of firing glasses; more in keeping with other styles of drinking glasses. The stems were often knopped like wine glasses of the period and the overall height grew to around 3-1/2″ – 4″ (9cm – 10 cm).

deception_glass_c1720_01dFig. 5. Circa 1720 deception glass with funnel bowl, multiple knopped stem and stepped foot.

deception_glass_c1770_01Fig. 6. Circa 1770 deception glass with trumpet bowl, single ball knop and stepped foot.

Jack Plane

[1] Penny licks are small glasses with thick-bowls (to deceive customers), in which one pennyworth of ice cream was served by nineteenth-century street vendors.

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Two Joynt-Stools and a Miasma

Samuel Pepys’ woke on the 6th of July, 1661 to the news his uncle Robert had died at Brampton the previous night. Samuel rode to Brampton where, according to his diary entry…

“My uncle’s corps in a coffin standing upon joynt-stools in the chimney in the hall; but it begun to smell, and so I caused it to be set forth in the yard all night, and watched by two men.”

Chas_II_oak_joyned_stool_c1660_01aCharles II oak joyned stool, circa 1660.

Joyned stools have often – erroneously – been labelled ‘coffin stools’ (particularly those approaching, or exceeding 24″ in height). Although I have seen a not-overly-tall pair of joyned stools in a church for the convenience of supporting a coffin, the reality is; they were simple seats of the period.

 Jack Plane

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Samuel Buys a Chest of Drawers

Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for Monday the 1st of July, 1661:

“This morning I went up and down into the city, to buy several things, as I have lately done, for my house. Among other things, a fair chest of drawers for my own chamber, and an Indian gown for myself. The first cost me 33s., the other 34s.”

Jack Plane

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