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)