Spices have been traded from the Orient, the Moluccas and West Africa across Europe for thousands of years. Important for making-palatable less-than-fresh meat, preserving and flavouring, vast fortunes have been spent controlling and dominating the spice trade. Some countries’ economies have – even to this day – depended on spices and with the discovery of the New World in the late fifteenth-century, came new spices and the most prized of all, chocolate.
In pre-history, valuable spices were stored in sealed jars or wrapped in parchment packets. From the seventeenth-century, basics like salt and pepper were kept under lock and key in small boxes and in wealthier households, their assortments of spices were hoarded in dedicated spice cupboards.
As with many types of diminutive furniture, spice cupboards were often highly ornate to further reflect their owners’ wealth and status. The oak example in figures 1 and 2 harks from the early eighteenth-century and was intended to be stood upon a table in a prominent position.
Both exterior and interior faces of the door are decorated with parquetry, though the interior’s drawer fronts have, surprisingly, not been veneered (fig. 2). One usually sees the opposite: The exteriors of many spice cupboards are relatively plain – or perhaps have a fielded door – but the interiors often feature numerous specimen veneers or profuse inlay.
The drawers’ construction suggests the original intent may have been to veneer their fronts.