What Nomenclature is this!

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?

Jack Plane


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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8 Responses to What Nomenclature is this!

  1. David says:

    More interesting would be the fact that, if it were indeed a Chippendale chair, it would be silly to identify it as a Chippendale pedestal. If you were sitting in the Chippendale workshop, wouldn’t they all be from Chippendale?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Precisely! Although the chairs are of a very high quality, they’re clearly not by Chippendale’s own hand. As mentioned in the video, the designs from Chippendale’s Director were widely employed and the inscription on the shoe obviously refers to chairs with Chippendale style backs.



  2. confur says:

    Words X 3 !
    Stumbled across, years ago, the term “upstand”, refering to the full, continuous, back leg. Topped off with the “Crest” rail and the “Kidney” rail tucked across above the rear seat rail..
    Sometimes the “shoe” was a “saddle”, always loose/applied and a “foot” if part of the rear seat rail.
    S’pose you’ve seen this :
    Nother interresting topic is how one describes “sides” of an object.
    Some institutional pedants insist that the object has its own left and right opposite to that of the viewer. Tried that for a while, but it only resulted in extra words and some confusion. I.e. Left (proper) assuming the object has a “face” side and its own back, left and right sides.
    Whats your ha’pennys worth?


    • Jack Plane says:

      I haven’t encountered ‘upstand’ to describe a stile, but I can see the obvious similarity with ‘upright’. I am familiar with ‘crest rail’ and ‘kidney rail’. I have also heard the fixed version of the shoe called a ‘saddle rail’, but ‘foot’ is new to me.

      I followed your link and I would accede to the majority of what I read, however, the chair back they label as a “ribbon-back” is in fact a ladder back. Ribbon backs are the ornately carved ribbon-like chairs Chippendale illustrates in the Director.

      Vehicles possess their own left and right sides simply because one sits in them and it would be otherwise impossibly complicated if a discussion developed along the lines of placing a control on the right side of the car within easy reach of the driver’s right hand! I’m aware of the pedantic regimen you mention, but I believe most sane people would agree furniture is handed as the viewer sees it from the front. The exception might be a large wardrobe, into which one could feasibly climb.



  3. rfrancis says:

    But they are not ‘furniture experts’ but rather museum ‘educators’ whose mission is to dumb down and make the audience feel good. Not confined to the V&A, although the subject lends itself to such inanity – it is material culture after all. Education, my arse.
    One comment – I would prefer to use incident on the first occasion in your sentence above and incidence on the second occasion. Save the ugly incidences and is less ameican dumb.


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