When I came across this mahogany chest of drawers, one of the first things I noticed was the feet (fig. 1) – if you click on the image and enlarge it, you can see the bracket feet have been re-tipped. This is another example of a chest with fallacious horizontally stacked corner blocks, intended to support the bracket feet. See here for my last blog on the matter.
Fig. 1. George III mahogany serpentine chest, circa 1765. (Michael Pashby)
With the chest on its back, the re-tipping and re-blocking are quite apparent (figs. 2 & 3).
Fig. 2. Quite substantial yet obviously frangible blocking. (Michael Pashby)
Fig. 3. Poor restoration does not enhance the chest. (Michael Pashby)
Any indication of when the new blocks were added?
Would it have been retipped as a repair or to raise the height?
The repairs appear to have been effected relatively recently.
Proportionately, the current height of the feet is about right, so I therefore must assume the additions were done to repair wear/damage and not to raise the chest.
In England and Australia in the ’70s and ’80s there were a lot of dealers altering turned leg chests and putting bracket feet on them . It was considered to be making them more ‘saleable’ .This chest isn’t one of those but it must be very difficult to find an early chest now that is original. I bought one in about 1980 in Winchester , in Jewry St , so you might guess the very well-known dealer . A fabulous mahogany chest that originally had turned legs but the dealer altered it to bracket feet . Bone escutcheons, beautiful ebony knobs , all oak lined, about 1825-30 . My 88 yo dad still has it and uses it daily. It was £60 . An original Georgian chest was then about £150-200 trade .That particular dealer specialised in making pieces more ‘saleable ‘ , especially painted satinwood furniture , and converting Victorian wardrobes into breakfront bookcases . I saw the workshop and watched the alterations . Since I found your blog I’m enjoying it immensely .
You state that the restoration is poor. Can you detail by comparison what would constitute an excellent restoration in this case.
In a word, ‘invisible’. Good restoration should be indiscernible.
So I take it that you don’t personally subscribe to the school of thought (frequently proposed by conservators) that repairs should be ‘honest’, and not disguised as original components? Obviously not implying that repairs should be done poorly or unsympathetically.
I can’t say I like the idea should it be applied to cosmetic components, but why should we disguise unseen structural repairs?
Conservation and restoration are totally alien practices with different priorities and outcomes: Conservation is usually the preference of collectors and institutions where the article must be preserved in its true state, though with the minimal amount of transparent (and usually reversible) intervention permitted if stabilisation is deemed necessary.
Restoration is what dealers and the general public request. Damage/missing elements are restored to the point the article would have appeared had the damage not occurred or the elements gone missing.
The person who replaced the corner blocks and re-tipped the feet of this chest was a restorer – as evidenced by the (rather pathetic) introduction of colour in an attempt to blend the new blocks with the surrounding old wash. Strangely though, no attempt was made to blend in the new bracket tips.
Quietly blowing my own trumpet, I refer to myself as a restorer, as good restorers (of which I consider myself, one) are infinitely more skilled. In truth though, I have carried out as much conservation for individuals and organisations as I have restored for the trade.
At the end of the day, money talks and the lines (as dictated by the client) can become very blurred on occasions.
The lines are always blurry as in any discipline. It seems to me that despite the obvious differences in the disciplines they both share the central tennet of aiming to minimise or reverse the deterioration of furniture. They both also share the same often conflicting goals; such as retaining as much original material as possible, versus strengthening with new material (or addressing degraded finishes) to prevent future deterioration.
This is surely where the skills and knowledge of experienced restorers and conservators, such as yourself, come to the fore. Thanks for sharing yours.
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