What a year! Cheers to everyone who took the time to read my posts over the past year, and a special thank you to those who commented on them.
Wishing everyone happiness and prosperity in 2021.
What a year! Cheers to everyone who took the time to read my posts over the past year, and a special thank you to those who commented on them.
Wishing everyone happiness and prosperity in 2021.
Whatever your persuasion and situation, I wish you all well during the festive season.
Francis Wheatley, The Mistletoe Bough, circa 1790.
The only use for the timber of the swizzle tree (Quararibea turbinata) that I can find is for making goad sticks (figure 1).
However, ‘swizzles’ are concoctions that originated on the island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth-century. Swizzles can be rum-based libations or roborant drinks, the common component being an aromatic twig of the swizzle tree (figures 1 & 2).
The drinks are stirred with a ‘swizzle stick’ (twig) by vigorously rolling it between the palms of the hands which action imparts its unique flavour and fragrance to the drink.
Below is a recipe for a restorative swizzle, of which I have been taking a daily draft for many years. Sadly, I do not have a swizzle tree in the garden from which to break off a stirring twig. Natheless, the elixir is sapid, refreshing and particularly good for one’s health.
In a 700ml (1-1/2 pint) jar, add:
1 tablespoon of raw honey (preferably active manuka honey, if available).
2 tablespoons of unfiltered cider vinegar (with The Mother).
2 slices of raw ginger (or squeeze out two inches of ‘toothpaste’ minced ginger).
Top up with cold water, stir and refrigerate.
Shake or stir before drinking.
Laburnum is a genus of two species of small deciduous trees viz. common laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides) and alpine laburnum (Laburnum alpinum). Laburnums are native to southern Europe but are omnipresent throughout the British Isles.
Fig. 1. A laburnum at Barrington Court near Ilminster in Somerset. (Pam at Twoshoes3)
The entire tree is poisonous and can cause convulsions and violent diarrhoea. Natheless, laburnum wood is one of the great unsung riches of antique furniture. It has been justly revered and normally reserved for the finest chests and chairs in much the same manner yew was employed for making Gothic Windsor chairs.
Laburnum’s heartwood is of a khaki-brown colour (figure 2), bordered by cream-coloured sapwood (figures 3 & 4). Though the wood is lustrous with an inherently waxy feel, I have occasionally seen laburnum chairs wrongly ascribed as being of wych elm.
Fig. 2. Laburnum anagyroides (The Wood Database)
Fig. 3. Typical narrow laburnum board showing marked difference between sapwood and heartwood. (Hobbit House Inc.)
Fig. 4. Freshly crosscut laburnum. (Wikipedia)
The alpine laburnum is a slightly larger tree than its common cousin and grows extensively in the northern reaches of the Isles. Though both species produce adequate solid timber for chairs, table frames, and oyster veneers for tabletops and chests etc., furniture made from laburnum seems to have been more abundantly produced in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I have recently been reminiscing with Sebastian Pryke, proprietor of At the Sign of the Pelican, about the laburnum trees, laburnum walk, laburnum cockpen chairs and other laburnum furniture back at home in Northern Ireland. There, furniture made of laburnum was talked about with the same or greater reverence as any made of mahogany. Sebastian whose holy grail is laburnum cockpen chairs, holds a splendid selection of mainly Scottish furniture, much of it laburnum (figures 5, 6 & 7).
Fig. 5. Three from a set of five Scottish George III laburnum ladderback chairs, probably by William Hamilton, circa 1770. (At the Sign of the Pelican)
Fig. 6. A pair of Scottish George III laburnum ladderback armchairs, late eighteenth-century. (At the Sign of the Pelican)
Fig. 7. One of a pair of Scottish Georgian laburnum brander-back chairs, circa 1800. (At the Sign of the Pelican)
Fig. 8. Laburnum child’s chair. (At the Sign of the Pelican)
Laburnum became a catchword during the seventies and early eighties with practically any unusually dark furniture made from ash, elm, chestnut, drupaceous fruitwood, cocus, olive, rowan and walnut etc. being labelled ‘laburnum’. There is a card table in the Victoria and Albert Museum (number W.64-1962) that looks remarkably similar to the laburnum table in figure 11, which they describe as “cocus (or possibly plum)”. One West End dealer I visited in the early eighties had about six ‘laburnum’ oyster chests of drawers on his showroom floor (some were dark-hearted walnut, some just plain ordinary walnut and a couple were olive). Then in the mid-eighties, laburnum was widely disparaged virtually to the point of fiction.
Thanks to research by Sebastian Pryke and others, laburnum is now much better understood and appreciated again.
Fig. 9. William and Mary walnut and laburnum oyster chest-on-stand, circa 1690. (Lyon & Turnbull)
Fig. 10. William and Mary walnut and laburnum oyster chest, circa 1690. (Sotheby’s)
Fig. 11. George I laburnum card table, circa 1725. (Bonhams)
Fig. 12. George II laburnum armchair, circa 1735. (Christie’s)
Fig. 13. George II marble-topped laburnum side table, circa 1740. (Christie’s)
Fig. 14. George II solid laburnum drop-leaf table (with exceptionally wide one-piece leaves), circa 1740. (Christie’s)
Fig. 15. George III laburnum and mahogany secretaire cabinet, circa 1765. (Christie’s)
Fig. 16. Set of George III brander-back laburnum chairs, circa 1800.
Fig. 17. Close-up of brander-back laburnum chair.
There has been some revived interest in Gothic Windsor chairs in these parts lately. I had an enquiry from a reader about the possibility of my making a Gothic Windsor for him. That’s on-going.
I have also received mail from another reader, Peter Flynn, who, for almost thirty years, has taken a keen interest in Gothic Windsor chairs from an historical perspective. Our dialogue has focused on the central joint atop the back of the typical pointed-arch back Gothic Windsor armchair (figure 1) which was previously discussed in the comments of Picture This LXII.
Fig. 1. Yew Gothic Windsor elbow chair, circa 1765.
Peter’s findings are analogous to my own viz. the predominant method of joining the back at the point of the arch is a ‘leg-and-a-half’, lapped and mitred bridle joint, unique, I believe, to these Gothic Windsor chairs (figures 2, 3 and 4) – some barn builder will likely correct me.
Peter has come across left and right-hand variants of the same joint.
Some of these bridle joints are augmented with double-pegs (figure 1) and others with a single peg (figures 2, 3 and 4).
Fig. 2. Single-pegged, mitred face of a Gothic chair back. (Peter Flynn)
Fig. 3. Top view of a ‘leg-and-a-half’ bridle joint. (Peter Flynn)
Fig. 4. Reverse showing the simple lapped elements of the bridle joint. (Peter Flynn)
Another method of joining the two halves of these Gothic chair backs is by use of a separate spline. Dr. Cotton says – as I quoted in Picture This LXII – the “complex interlocking joint” (bridle joint?) is uncommon in these chairs, and describes the use of a “narrow fillet” (spline?) as the norm. That statement is contrary to my, Peter Flynn’s and any dealer’s or furniture restorer’s opinion whom I have conversed with on the matter. I have seen several original butt-mitred joints with loose splines and double pegs; however, a good number of the splines I have encountered were implemented whilst effecting repairs.
There is an arch-back Gothic chair in the Victoria and Albert Museum which Peter has briefly inspected that has a splined back joint. He intends to make a second appointment to examine the chair more comprehensively. I am sure Peter will share his findings with us.
Extensive waxing (whilst remaining customarily hirsute) gives me great pleasure for a couple of reasons viz. it means the furniture acquires a glorious glow and the weather must at last be cool. We have indeed had several recent frosty starts betimes which always prompts me to grab some sort of wax and a few cloths and go in search of something to buff.
Following my earlier post about waxing, I recommended a number of Fiddes’ wax polishes to a friend to try, as he lives quite close to the Australian importer of Fiddes’ products. He procured a small tin of their Mellow Wax.
I know Fiddes very well as, during the six years I lived in England, their delivery van was a weekly visitor to my workshop. The producers of wax polishes are many, but as I sit here typing this, I can honestly say, as a furniture restorer or reproduction furniture maker with a love of the British Glow, the only tins of (proprietary) wax polish you will likely ever require are a tin of Fiddes’ English Oak Mellow Wax and a tin of their Georgian Mahogany Mellow Wax.
If you are feeling flush, you might add a tin of their Clear Wax to your order too. I still have a little 16 oz. tin of Clear Wax that I brought out to Australia with me from England. It’s still half full and now quite stiff.
Do not be swayed one way or another by the names of the colours; think of one wax as cool and the other as warm, and they can be applied to all manner of furniture as appropriate.
Fiddes’ Supreme Wax range comes in a broader range of colours, however, for my purposes, it never rated as highly as the Mellow Wax range.
I believe Fiddes’ products are available worldwide. I have no affiliation with Fiddes – though I am running a little low on both flavours. I jest. I make my own.
All right sleuths; let’s be having your opinions please.
As per usual, I may withhold some comments for a short period.
Further to my instruction in L for Leather on the preparation of flour paste for laying leather and baize etc., I was recently looking for something unrelated in The Carriage Trimmers’ Manual (published in 1881) and came across a couple of snippets on the same topic.
WHEAT AND RYE FLOUR PASTES – HOW TO COOK – PREPARED PASTE FOR SUMMER USE
Trimmers’ paste requires to be smooth, elastic, free from moisture as possible, and possessed of great adhesive qualities. The materials used are wheat and rye flour. The paste of commerce is made of a very low grade of wheat flour, cooked by steam ; it is not a good article for trimmers, as it contains too much surplus moisture.
To make wheat paste select a low grade, but sweet wheat flour, and stir it into cold water until thoroughly dissolved ; then place the kettle [pail] over a quick fire and stir until it boils ; it should be allowed to cook five or six minutes after it is brought to a boil, and be well stirred while boiling and until it is cool ; if made in this way it will contain no surplus water and will be smooth and free from lumps.
For rye paste select good fine rye flour, place the necessary amount of water into a kettle over a quick fire, and when the water boils pour in the flour slowly, stirring it thoroughly ; continue to add flour until the desired thickness is obtained ; then allow it to boil about five minutes, after which remove it from the fire and continue to stir until boiling ceases, then cover and allow it to stand until it is cold. Rye flour paste made in this way is the smoothest, most adhesive and elastic paste in use. It is particularly valuable for pasting cloth on wood or leather.
The dry paste that gathers on the kettle should not be thrown away ; if it is soaked in cold water until it becomes soft, and again heated up to boiling heat, it is stronger and more elastic than when first made. Wheat or rye paste can be preserved from mold, etc., by adding a little carbolic acid or essential oil. The addition of a little dissolved gum Arabic adds materially to the adhesive qualities of flour paste.
To Make Paste.
To make the every-day paste for the trimming shop, where one or two trimmers are employed, have an iron pot, with a convenient handle, holding from two to three quarts ; put in nearly a quart of flour to make a pot full, stir enough water in to form a stiff dough, and with a paddle stir and beat until all the lumps have disappeared ; then stir in water gradually until it is reduced to the consistency of cream ; cook over a slow fire and stir continually, to prevent it sticking to the bottom ; do not remove it from the fire until all is well done. If these instructions are fully carried out the paste will be smooth and stiff ; be careful in mixing, for if once too thin the flour cannot be freed from lumps. Heavy paste is needed for leather and rough linings, where buckram is much used, while on some other places thinner paste will work ; heavy paste will not spread evenly on cloth, or on the muslin buggy tops, owing to the soft foundation.
Seasons have a great effect on paste ; in winter it may be made thin on account of its keeping sweet, while in summer it sours and becomes thin, and often worthless ; alum is a very good thing to put in paste in summer, and rosin is good the year round. The best flour does not make the best paste ; where flour is bolted fine the glutinous substance is nearly all abstracted, which destroys the adhesiveness of the paste ; coarser flour is the best.
The class of work requiring the best paste known to the craft, is glass frames and hammer cloths, which are exposed to the weather. To make a paste of that quality take rye flour, and to every quart of flour add a heaping tablespoonful of powdered rosin ; mix well together, then add water to make a stiff dough ; then thin to the consistency of very thick cream ; cook until well done over a slow fire ; stir all the time. Rye flour requires more cooking than wheat. A paste made this way has powers of resisting dampness that is not possessed by glue, and is very elastic ; it is the best paste known.
Reader, Laurin Davis, kindly directed me to an English Pembroke table, currently displayed in an on-line Antiques Dealers’ Association of America ‘show‘ (I believe it is to be auctioned) which closes at 10:00pm EST, April 27, 2020.
The table, attributed to the late eighteenth century English partnership of William Ince and John Mayhew, is indeed a fine-looking table with typical marquetry decoration in line with other works of theirs. (figures 1, 2 & 3).
Fig. 1. Marquetry Pembroke table, circa 1775. (Clive Devenish Antiques)
Fig. 2. (Clive Devenish Antiques)
Fig. 3. (Clive Devenish Antiques)
If indeed the table is by Ince and Mayhew, then I would have expected a much richer and elaborate provenance than simply “Devenish and Company”!
I did wonder if the table was not a good late Victorian or Edwardian copy, however, the underside does look right (figure 4).
Fig. 4. (Clive Devenish Antiques)
My favourite bit of the whole table? The overshot saw cuts on the dovetailed cross bearer.
Early bun-footed floor-standing chests of drawers and the upper chests of chests-on-chests and chests-on-stands that have subsequently migrated onto bracket feet have been the topic of many a post on this blog. Some of them evolved as their fragile feet or stands decayed and others made the transition to keep abreast of prevailing trends, while yet more are the fraudulent work of some greedy antiques dealers.
Many early transmutations look comfortable in, what are now, their old worn slippers and both dealers and private buyers are often fooled into thinking the bracket feet are original.
Such appears to be the case with the author, E.J. Warne, whose 1923 publication, Furniture Mouldings, Full Size Sections of Moulded Details on English Furniture from 1574 to 1820, illustrates a few, of what we now understand to be, inaccuracies.
Take, for example, Plate 70 (figure 1) which shows a late seventeenth century geometric chest which would normally stand on extensions of its own stiles (figure 2), but appears, in Warne’s illustration to be standing on George II bracket feet.
Fig. 1. E.J. Warne’s Carolean chest.
Fig. 2. Typical oak geometric chest of around 1680. (Windsor House Antiques)
Further, Plate 75 (figure 3) clearly shows a late seventeenth century or early eighteenth century chest (determinable by its very thick-sides) with two short upper drawers, standing on mid-to-late eighteenth century bracket feet.
Fig. 3. E.J. Warne’s William and Mary chest.
Fig. 4. William and Mary or Queen Anne thick-sided and bun-footed walnut chest (with replacement circa 1710 brasses), circa 1695-1710.
There are problems with a few other of Warne’s illustrations, though undoubtedly innocent.
In early 2017, I wrote about veneered work being patched at the time of manufacture. Whilst searching my archives this morning for unrelated matter, I came across these images of a lovely walnut chest-on-chest.
Fig. 1. Magnificent walnut chest, circa 1750.
As far as I can make out, virtually every drawer front displays multiple contemporary patches (figure 2).
Fig. 2. The patches do nothing to distract from the overall beauty of the walnut veneer.
I won’t dwell on the current COVID-19 pandemic – this is not the platform – but while reading some of the daily updates on-line, an aspect of a much earlier pandemic piqued my interest.
Typhus, yellow fever and cholera epidemics have been sweeping the world since the nineteenth-century. During the ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ cholera pandemics (1846 – 1895), Irish famine survivors along with other English and European emigrants introduced cholera to North America. Thousands died in New York alone, due in part to ignorance of how the disease was spread and contracted. It’s estimated over 50,000 Americans died as a result of the outbreaks. Quack cures and remedies abounded (figures 1 & 2).
Fig. 1. Unhelpful advice.
Fig. 2. Laughable remedies. (New York Times)
Droves of people fled disease hotspots to socially distance themselves in remote areas in hopes of avoiding the grips of the epidemics. I myself have been practising physical distancing for decades, though I live in comfortable surroundings with full amenities – unlike many of the wretched nineteenth-century evacuees.
The vast forests of North America and Canada were favourite destinations for thousands of families and individuals seeking seclusion. Many began their isolation beneath canvas until more permanent accommodation could be constructed. The problem with living in the wilderness for most of the evacuees was they had few tools and lacked the skills to use them. Natheless, with their enterprising frontier spirit, they soon began hewing homes out of the most abundant commodity – trees.
The old growth trees were enormous with girths so large, they could – when hollowed out – accommodate a sizeable family. The greatest drawback was, of course, how to erect a roof hundreds of feet above the forest floor.
The solution was simple: Cut off the unwanted part of the tree (figures 3 & 4).
Fig. 3. Three brothers beginning the removal of the top of their new home.
Fig. 4. A team of ‘stump men’ after the successful ‘topping’ of a large tree.
Once reduced in height, the stump could be hollowed out and a shingle roof constructed over the top (figures 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10).
Fig. 5. A group of men fitting out the interior of a stump.
Fig. 6. ‘Home sweet home’.
Fig. 7. A stump house with an extension.
Fig. 8. Still a bit of work to do in the garden.
Fig. 9. This stump house has a stove inside…
Fig. 10. … and this one has a stable at the rear.
It soon became apparent to this new breed of stump-dwellers that their endeavours produced an awful lot of waste which littered their immediate environment. Much of the waste was quite sizeable too and required significant horsepower to remove (figures 11, 12, 13 & 14).
Fig. 11. It must have been for a very large family.
Fig. 12. The waste from stump houses built on hillsides could be rolled away…
Fig. 13. … others had to haul their waste away.
Fig. 14. Another load of waste being disposed of.
Much of the smaller waste was piled in heaps and burned. (figure 15).
Fig. 15. Building a big bonfire.
Those in close proximity to rivers simply dumped their waste in the watercourse only to cause impossible headaches for those downstream (figure 16).
Fig. 16. Fishermen with their poles looking for gaps to drop their hooks in.
When navigating the great rivers became hampered, dumping tree waste was made illegal, though enforcement was virtually impossible. Once the virulence of the epidemics had subsided, teams of ‘lumberjacks’ (figure 17) were established to move in and clear away obstructions.
Fig. 17. The first team of lumberjacks to be implemented in British Columbia.
Though they’ve largely lost their way, the tradition of lumberjacks is still celebrated to this day (figure 18).
Fig. 18. A troupe of lumberjacks.