I spotted this chest of drawers for sale which was described thusly:
[…] chest of drawers, circa 1720. […] later inlaid with same period inlay which has been let in to create this stunning piece.
Fig. 1. Decorated oak chest of drawers. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 2. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 3. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 4. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 5. (Debenham Antiques)
Thoughts? Click the images for larger views.
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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fig1… the veneer fronts of drawer “2” seem to be part of the veneer panel of the lowest, drawer “4”.
The edge, or cross banding on the drawers , going in different directions. Top 3 drawers left to right, bottom 2 drawers vertical. Top two drawers the veneer patterns are cut off to fit drawer size.
Front feet appear to be mitered together,
fig 2.. shows no lower stile for the fame in panel construction. round headed nails used to attach the lower panels. The drawer bottom in top drawer pieced together and in opposite direction than the others. Tenon through the front foot?
fig 3…The top of the case is of several boards nailed on with round headed nails?
fig 1,4,5 shows obvious replaced brasses
angle and size of the dovetails seem to differ from drawer to drawer.
You’re on fire today Joe!
So what’s your conclusion?
Okay here goes:
Applied moldings around the drawers look like William and Mary from late 1600’s
Base looks much later somewhere around George II
Frame and panel oak construct reminds me of Charles II
Miss matched boards on top imply it was originally painted or veneered
Brasses look like 1720ish though
I don’t have a problem with the top the way it is. Otherwise excellent sleuthing!
What’s your take on the drawer fronts; do you concur with the vendor’s description?
No, I don’t think they are contemporaneous with the carcass.
Good! Between the vendor’s description and Fig. 2., there are two blaring clues. Can you identify them?
The front edge of the drawer sides show some newer finish and the veneer looks like it was put on top of filler.
Granted I have not done any marquetry but I don’t understand how you could “let in” inlay into an existing veneer layer without destroying it.
While searching for examples of English oak veneer I happened upon the listing and the back clearly shows some major “restoration” work was done in a fairly modern era.
Veneer! Existing veneer? You’re nearly there. Read the second sentence of the vendor’s description again.
The back is not attractive, but its condition has little bearing on the current direction of this discussion, so we can ignore it.
I think that’s my point. Since the drawers are through dovetails the drawers would have had a face applied or moulding (a lot of Charles II chests seem to have moldings on the drawers ). The current drawer fronts are thin which would match up with veneer used in later periods.
Was this a late Charles II the second high boy or dresser on stand that was converted in a George I /William and Mary dresser?
As the chest is intrinsically ‘oak’ – and of joined construction, it’s unlikely the drawer fronts were originally veneered. Applied geometric mouldings would be more in keeping.
That’s what a figured which I guess means it’s a Charles II piece.
If the drawer bottoms (with their runners) haven’t been altered (other than the obvious top drawer ‘restoration’) – more on that later – then the chest can’t be earlier than 1695.
Is that because they are not side hung?
Specifically, it’s the visible arrangement of front-to-back drawer bottom boards and drawer runners that bracket the timeline.
I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that thick bottom boards (alone) have been replaced with the thin (or chamfered, original thick) boards and runners that we see now – there has been a fair amount of work done on this chest since its initial construction.
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You can say that again.
That would also help to explain why the stiles on the sides are different widths. The front originally had the thick geometric moldings that were common for Charles II so the front stile was made narrower to accommodate. What I don’t understand is why the bottom rail is missing
The bottom side rails are now virtually hidden by the later base moulding and brackets.
Ah, the nails threw me off.
Top drawers not from the 1720s. Looks cobbled together from whatever was at hand,
who knows when.
Granted, the top drawer visible in Fig. 2. is a restoration faux pas, but overall, from a constructional point of view, the drawers could be as late as 1730 – or as early as 1695.
Would the through dovetails not be telegraphing through the veneer if it was ‘period inlay’?
Possibly. The thing is, inlay had been out of fashion for quite a considerable period by the time this chest was built.
Inlay is the practice of letting pieces into a solid ground. Marquetry is the practice of coincidentally sawing a design from two or more stacked veneers and then juxtaposing them before laying them on a ground.
Hold tight… I think an incoming comment might be on the money…
‘Inlaid’ is surely into solid material whereas this is marquetry overlaid onto a base.
The bottom drawer being too small for the carcass space and infilled below, yet being the brother of at least one other drawer above, suggests that the carcass and drawers come from different sources. The marquetry panels have been cut down from larger pieces – top left has two middles of flowers and two bottoms; top right has four tops; bottom and third drawer up have shared out the bottoms and tops of four flowers; but he ran out of marquetry flowers for the second drawer up which has only three with extra infil veneer.
The bottom right panel in fig.2 has a repair at the bottom which might relate to the space below the misfit drawer – perhaps once a secret access?
It isn’t inlaid and the inlaying isn’t later – it came first – and overall, its a marriage of parts.
I’d be happy to live with it.
They’re not marquetry panels, but began life as panels of inlaid work (probably from more than one sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century bed or cupboard) which were sawn into veneers, re-dimensioned and applied to the drawer fronts.
Early seventeenth-century panels.
Inlaid court cupboard, circa 1650.
Inlaid court cupboard dated 1596.
Well that explains why I couldn’t find any similar examples of dressers [chests, JP] with marquetry or inlay.
So…What has been discussed so far…
Early 17th century panels cut to thick veneer thickness and applied to drawer fronts
Top Drawer is poor period construction, possibly from pieces. Lower 3 Drawers construction aprox. 1695-1730.
L+R Side panels are joined oak and extend below base molding, nails show the attachment of the
drawer runner inside.
The top boards.. not have been showing? (painted or veneered)…either originally above eye level, between an upper and lower case or added later..using later round nails.
The front feet show no bangs or dents on the sharp edges….minimum wear…the drawer divider moldings also do not show much wear or abuse….as compared to the top molding and the side moldings and panel. Wear/damage at some of the “V” joints in the moldings on the case side but not matching wear on the drawer divider moldings.
So…..Could this piece have been made from early 18th century oak wainscot panels?, Or an existing oak upper chest with added parts? Some early oak drawers “veneered” with early inlaid panels then added to case (lower drawer opening made smaller with a wide lower rail and drawer runners attached to case sides). Feet and base molding applied to finish it off. (You can see some front to back bracing poking out below the base molding in figure 1.)
I see it as a late seventeenth-century joined chest that had a tough life and which was updated circa 1750 with the base moulding and brackets. Reclaimed inlay panels were also stuck onto the drawer fronts in place of the dated geometric moulding. Bail handles (as determined by the visible pommel scars) were also likely added at that stage, in keeping with current fashions.
The top drawers appear to have been re-bottomed relatively recently and the drop handles and escutcheons were likely added recently too. I say relatively recently as the handles’ shadows have been painted on (fig. 4)!
A year later the chest is still for sale on ebay, gradually coming down in price by about £1,000:-
Clearly the seller doesn’t follow your blog, Jack!