I was watching a video, produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the subject of a Chippendale period chair, when I suddenly found myself hurling verbal abuse at the monitor and slapping my hand on the desk – have I told anyone how ecstatic I am with my new desk?
The cause of this uncontrollable outburst was some rather dodgy nomenclature: Two wholly deplorable incidences (from people who, being furniture experts, should really have known better) and one incidence of a word I hadn’t previously heard in the context used in the video.
The silent, subtitled video runs for just over two and a half minutes…
“Upright”! Who, barring all novices, calls the stile of a side/dining chair an upright! Stile is the universally accepted terminology, though ‘back leg’ would have been infinitely more palatable than “upright”.
As for “grooves”! “GROOVES”! For goodness’ sake V & A people, it’s called ‘moulding’! Moulded stiles were common to the vast majority of side/dining chairs throughout the eighteenth-century!
I can let those two faux pas slide. Honestly, I can. The terminology that really caused the quizzical raising of an eyebrow though was the use of ‘pedestal’ in relation to the component that locates the base of the splat on the rear seat rail. As with ‘stile’ – and without exception – everyone I’ve encountered in the trade and everything I’ve read on the subject of chairs refers to this part by one name alone; ‘shoe’.
Did “6 pedestals for Chipendels Backs” actually mean ‘these are the six pedestals for the chairs with the Chippendale backs’, in which case, why has the word ‘pedestal’ not survived as a name for this component?
It’s well known that Chippendale and others made elaborate frames on which chairs were supported (and then inserted into oiled-leather-covered pine packing cases) for protection while being transported on open carts en route to customers. Two screws attached the chairs to the frames (the large screw holes in the undersides of front and back seat rails are quite common on chairs from some of the better furniture-makers of the eighteenth-century whose clientele were scattered far and wide) which lifted the chair legs clear of the ground to protect them. Could these frames have been called pedestals? Could the inscription have been a hastily written memo to remind the maker to also provide six ‘pedestal’ frames for the delivery of the chairs with the Chippendale backs?