Several readers have, at various times, enquired why some eighteenth-century drawers have escutcheons – and indeed, keyholes – when no locks are (or ever were) present.
Locks were expensive items and not all drawer contents necessitate such elaborate protection. In a time when the majority of furniture was commissioned, a full complement of locks (with their drill pins peering out of the escutcheons) would have been quite the status symbol; however, for the budget-conscious, keyholes and escutcheons alone would have at least, alluded to the same opulence.
The long drawers of chests and bureaux etc. were commonly fitted with locks whilst the short drawers often went without, however there was a simple option for a reasonable level of security without the expense of fitting locks to all drawers.
The central drawer of the low dresser in figure 1 bears a brass backplate-cum-escutcheon and there isn’t a keyhole in the drawer front, yet the drawer is lockable.
By unlocking the door, a wooden spring catch on the underside of the drawer can be depressed, allowing the drawer to be withdrawn (fig. 2).
The wooden catch is nailed into a sloping mortise in the underside of the drawer bottom (fig. 3).
When the drawer is fully inserted into the carcase, the front edge of the catch springs down through an opening in the subjacent dustboard (where fitted) and engages the rear of the drawer divider (fig. 4).
I employed a similar catch to secure the tabernacle in an ash bureau (fig. 5).