Chest Invection

Some furniture historians and collectors are of the opinion that genuine late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century floor-standing chests of drawers were only made with ovolo top mouldings (fig. 1) while chests with cyma and cyma recta (reverse ogee) top mouldings began life upon stands (fig. 2).


Fig. 1. Walnut chest with ovolo top moulding, circa 1700. (Richard Gardiner)


Fig. 2. Walnut chest-on-stand with cyma top moulding, circa 1690.

Elevated chests are unarguably better served by the more architecturally cornice-like cyma top moulding, but it was in no way exclusive to chests-on-stands.

Chest stands tend to be somewhat fragile and, whether through insect attack, decay or negligence, some were seriously damaged – often irreparably. The cost of repair (and fluid fashions) often resulted in raised chests adopting a lower stance upon new bun- or bracket feet (figs. 3 & 4).


Fig. 3. Early eighteenth-century fruitwood chest with later, crudely drawn walnut brackets. (Michael Pashby)

Nothing incites the “all-cyma-chests-had-stands” brigade like cyma-moulded chests with replaced feet (figs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9).


Fig. 4. Late seventeenth-century chest with circa 1770 brackets and handles. (Tarquin Bilgen)


Fig. 5. Late seventeenth-century ash and yew chest with queer bulbous feet. (Christie’s)


Fig. 6. Late seventeenth-century walnut chest on later, vapid brackets. (Bonham’s)


Fig. 7. Early eighteenth-century walnut chest with insipid mid-Georgian style brackets. (Bonham’s)


Fig. 8. Early eighteenth-century walnut chest with later brackets. (Bonham’s)

Occasionally one sees formerly elevated chests still displaying their erstwhile un-veneered carcase tops (figs. 9 & 10).


Fig. 9. A formerly raised walnut-veneered chest with cyma top moulding and…


Fig. 10. … bare (though now polished) pine carcase top, circa 1690.

However, human nature being what it is, the undecorated tops of such remodelled chests were invariably sympathetically veneered. In most instances though, the detection of later-veneering is not difficult and has lent support to the argument for all cyma moulded chests originating atop stands.

Not all stand-mounted chests were nude on top; many were of low stature (frequently well below five feet tall), with easily visible, and thus veneered tops (fig. 11).


Fig. 11. Chest-on-stand with contemporary marquetry and line-inlaid top. (Bonham’s)

A few originally-floor-standing chests conversely found their way up onto later stands as nineteenth- and twentieth-century dealers struggled to source sufficient original (or affordable) chests-on-stands to meet revolving fashions.

What many furniture historians, academics and authors lack is a craftsman’s grounding in cabinetmaking or furniture restoration and thus the ability to recognise differences between original, modified and restored work.  In fact, there are abundant cyma-moulded chests with indisputably contemporaneously veneered tops (often encompassing irrefutable banding and geometric line inlay) and with contemporary bun feet (figs. 12 & 13).


Fig. 12. Oyster-veneered chest with cyma moulding, original bun feet, line inlay and…


Fig. 13. … commensurate top decoration, circa 1690. (Jayne Thompson)

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Antiques and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Chest Invection

  1. Joe says:

    Another lesson from the Jack Plane School of Furniture Appreciation. Thank You
    Jack, Is this a prelude to the next project? Is a William and Mary chest-on-stand the next item to be completed from the “Proposed Furniture Program”? Possibly one of “low stature” as to provide a canvas for decoration?


    • Jack Plane says:

      No, I’m not as subtle as you give me credit for. A COS is on the horizon; however, I am still to locate suitable timber for making the stand’s legs.

      I fancy making another case piece now, but am undecided as to which one.



  2. Burbidge says:

    That’s a great train of photographs – there’s really not enough W&M stuff about!

    COC, COS, or even a nice lowboy? Are you taking suggestions from your readers?


  3. Joe says:

    I’ll fire the first shot…. After looking at the “Proposed Furniture Program” I came up with two suggestions.
    A bombe commode on cabiole legs, in elm or walnut burl (would maple burl be a choice?)
    and/or a W&M chest on stand with an “oyster” veneer. (that would combine two projects).
    But of course any choice must be run past Virginia, who, although tolerates your “behavior and has the patience of a saint” would be charged with the daily upkeep of these pieces.


    • Jack Plane says:

      The bombé commode is unique and will therefore be made in burr elm like the original (I only substitute wood species if there are quantitative extant examples in other woods – as I did with the elm corner cupboard). The problem with this piece is that I don’t currently have any burr elm.

      Any COS wouldn’t be possible at present either as I don’t have suitably thick stock with which to make the legs.

      I would like to make another case piece next though. I will be visiting my local timber yard in a couple of weeks and will wait until I inspect their stock before deciding on what’s next.

      Virginia has the last word on which pieces of furniture I make, however, her involvement doesn’t extend to their upkeep. I am responsible for the maintenance of any furniture I make and I wouldn’t have it any other way.



  4. Joe says:

    well that nixes those suggestions…. although a chest that is veneered in an oyster pattern would be from the “program”, You cite a W&M chest with olive oysters, are there examples in walnut? or other woods? Are the bun feet one piece? Could/would they have been made from multiple pieces glued up?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Yes, the majority of oyster-veneered chests were done in walnut. Laburnum and drupaceous fruitwood were also used to make oysters. However, I really like that olive oyster chest and when I get my hands on sufficient olive, that chest will rise to the top of the list.

      Bun feet were turned from single chunks of wood, though sometimes the spigots were glued in separately. The legs for stands are composites (the ‘bun feet’ below the stretcher and the main legs are separate turnings), though they are usually turned from solid timber. Glued-up stock was occasionally used, and is common in fakes and reproductions. I would sooner not make the piece than glue up the leg blanks.



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  9. Layne says:

    Hi Jack

    Thank you for your extremely well explained articles.
    Really so helpful in the detective work of assessing and ageing early furniture.

    Layne Johnston
    History Revealed
    Sydney, Australia

    Liked by 1 person

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