Picture This LIVIII

Dear Mr. Coulter,
I am today sending down a high cheſt which is altogether too large for my preſent needs. I would you remove the cheſt from the handſome legs and work a new top in Walnutree with a nice edge onto the legs that it can be uſed as a dreſsing table.
The cheſt is to be put to good uſe with pretty brakt feet, of like wood, in the style of the Mohoganie cheſt newly arrived from London. Will to work the feet nicely with a proper mould and seamleſs corners in the ſame faſhion and Poliſh it all well.

Thomas Coulter had been the estate’s head carpenter for twenty two years, but sadly, was a less accomplished reader.

QA_chest_feet_c1710_01aCirca 1710 walnut chest with later elm bracket feet.

Jack Plane

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My apologies to anyone opening this post expecting to read about a stunning antique or news of my latest furniture-making exploits. No, this post is about a persistent technical topic that came to a head this morning with the arrival, in my in-box, of eight similarly headed emails.

There seems to be a conundrum that perplexes a great many woodworkers, who, while in the planning or building stages of a new workbench, cannot determine what thickness of bench top to opt for, or if they have settled on a thickness, cannot determine whether their holdfasts will grip in it satisfactorily.

For the popular Gramercy holdfasts (of which I have a couple), those offered by North American blacksmith, Peter Ross – and possibly others, the optimal hole diameter for 3″ – 4″ thick bench tops is 3/4″.


In 3/4″ diameter holes, the holdfasts won’t grip reliably in timber less than 1-1/2″ thick (my softwood bench’s aprons are 1-1/2″ thick and the holdfasts work admirably) and they tend to bounce out of timber much thicker than 4″.

If your bench is one of those increasingly popular mass-of-railway-sleepers-on-legs creations, then it’s simply a case of boring slightly larger diameter holes in the top to get the holdfasts to grip. Dismally, I’ve heard of people retrospectively counterboring the undersides of 5″ – 6″ thick tops, a couple of inches deep, in order for the holdfasts to gain traction!

With such extreme bench tops I would suggest trying a holdfast in a 13/16″ diameter hole in a bench top off-cut before attacking the bench proper with the Jennings.

Jack Plane

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Huguenot Influence at Boughton House

I have written before about the impact Huguenot refugees had on English furniture and other arts from the end of the seventeenth-century. Bendor Grosvenor posted an interesting piece about Boughton House on his blog yesterday, The Huguenots at ‘Britain’s Versailles’.

Jack Plane

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Crapping and Roses

Crapping and Rose’s timber yard was one of the many dotted along the South Bank of the River Thames in late eighteenth-century London. Horwood’s Plan of the cities of London and Westminster shows the yards stretched from Westminster Bridge eastwards beyond Black Friar’s Bridge.

It is interesting to note Neck & Company’s timber yard was situated on Honduras Wharf which would suggest they perhaps dealt in mahogany and cedar. Bazing’s yard, and that of Chamberlain & Barnard, are labelled ‘English timber yards’ and so, presumably specialised in domestic varieties of timber.

The South Bank timber merchants:

Chamberlain & Barnard
Crapping & Rose
Lett & Company
Neck & Company

A few names appear more than once which may indicate some timber merchants owned more than one yard.

Jack Plane

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Picture This LIVII

I have mentioned ‘forest chairs’ (green-painted Windsor chairs) in previous posts here, here, here and here.

The Windsor pictured below is a fine example of a late eighteenth-century forest chair.

Geo_III_painted_ash_&_elm_comb_back_Windsor_c1800_01aDark green forest chair, circa 1800. (James Graham-Stewart)

Jack Plane

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Picture This LIVI

In Chest Invection I described how elevated chests occasionally found their own feet, and then yesterday I came across this beautifully patinated English walnut chest of drawers (fig. 1), advertised by a North American dealer and described as “George I… circa 1780-1800” – oh Lordy.

walnut_chest_c1700_01aFig. 1. George I walnut chest, circa 1715-20. (Northgate Gallery)

Whilst anomalies have a habit of cropping up (and this chest may, in fact, be totally original), I was suspicious of it the moment I clapped eyes on it. The first pointer that shouts “top chest” is the arrangement of three top drawers which is typical of the upper chests of a great many chest-on-chests (figs. 2, 3, 4, 5 & 7).

Geo_I_walnut_COC_c1720_02a_ChristiesFig. 2. George I walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1720. (Christies)

Geo_I_walnut_COC_c1720_03a_ReindeerFig. 3. George I walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1720. (Reindeer Antiques)

Geo_II_mahogany_COC_c1750_04a_ChristiesFig. 4. George II mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1750. (Christies)

Geo_III_elm_COC_c1760_01a_BonhamsFig. 5. George III elm chest-on-chest, circa 1760. (Bonhams)

I have another concern: The chest’s atypical base moulding (fig. 6) is more consistent (at this date) with the waist moulding of a chest-on-chest (figs. 3, 5, 7 & 8).

walnut_chest_c1700_01bFig. 6. Base moulding and bracket feet. (Northgate Gallery)

Geo_II_walnut_COC_c1735_01a_BonhamsFig. 7. George II walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1735. (Bonhams)

Geo_II_walnut_COC_c1740_01a_BonhamsFig. 8. George II walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1740. (Bonhams)

As evidenced by the wear to the base moulding (caused by the drawer runner), the conversion (if that indeed, is what it is) appears to have been carried out some time ago – one would like to believe it was to increase the chests’ utility rather than for commercial gain.

Jack Plane

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The 4th of July

On the 4th of July, 1827, slavery was finally abolished in the North American state of New York.

‘Whipped Peter’.

Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

Jack Plane

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Banging Tunes

Whilst working on the book today (and you thought I’ve just been wasting time training horses and spraying weeds), I have been listening to Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic (2CELLOS).

A little levity to start the weekend…

… and one for Sunday night – Benedictus…

Jack Plane

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Indian Varnish

In the seventeenth-century, highly fashionable imported goods from the East (such as printed fabrics and lacquered furniture) were often collectively referred to as ‘Indian’, no matter whether they originated in China, India, Japan, Korea etc. ‘Indian’ or ‘India’ varnish is what we now know as shellac.

In 1661, the diarist, Samuel Pepys wrote;

Then he [the Duke of York] sent us to his closett, where we saw among other things two very fine chests, covered with gold and Indian varnish, given him by the East Indy Company of Holland.[i]

Eight years later, Pepys sent his coach to the coachmaker to have it silver-leafed and varnished (in imitation of gold) in time for the popular May Day celebrations in Hyde Park.

Coming home this night I did call at the coachmaker’s, and do resolve upon having the standards of my coach gilt with this new sort of varnish, which will come but to 40s.; and, contrary to my expectation, the doing of the biggest coach all over comes not to above 6l., which is [not] very much.[ii]

Up, and by coach to the coachmaker’s […] I to my coach, which is silvered over, but no varnish yet laid on, so I put it in a way of doing; and myself about other business […]

This done, I to my coachmaker’s, and there vexed to see nothing yet done to my coach, at three in the afternoon; but I set it in doing, and stood by it till eight at night, and saw the painter varnish which is pretty to see how every doing it over do make it more and more yellow; and it dries as fast in the sun as it can be laid on almost; and most coaches are, now-a-days done so, and it is very pretty when laid on well, and not pale, as some are, even to shew the silver. Here I did make the workmen drink […][iii]

Jack Plane

[i] Samuel Pepys’ diary, Friday the 20th of April, 1661.

[ii] ibid, Monday the 26th of April, 1669.

[iii] ibid, Friday the 30th of April, 1669.

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Maintaining the Mahogany

Where footmen are kept, the charge of rubbing mahogany furniture devolves on them, otherwise it becomes the care of the housemaid. The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day; and on the mahogany tables a little cold drawn linseed oil should be rubbed in once or twice a week, which will, in time, give them a durable varnish, such as will prevent their being spotted or injured by being accidentally wetted. The Italians, after thus saturating the surface with oil, apply a solution of gum arabic in boiling spirit of wine. Bees-wax should not be used, as it gives a disagreeable stickiness to every thing, and ultimately becomes opaque. When there are any spots or stains upon a table, they must be washed off with warm water before the oil is put on.[i]

Jack Plane

[i] Mrs. William Parkes, Domestic Duties; Or, Instructions to Young Married Ladies, on the Management of Their Households, and Regulation of Their Conduct in the Various Relations and Duties of Married Life, J. & J. Harper, New York, 1829, pp. 135-136.

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