Picture This CIV

A simple, stylish eighteenth-century comb-back Windsor chair comprising a D-shaped seat, one-piece bent arm, blade arm posts, plain crest rail and Goldsmith-esque legs with H-pattern stretchers. The seat, arm and crest rail appear to be sycamore and the remainder is ash (fig. 1).

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_03bFig. 1. An elegantly proportioned rustic Windsor chair. (Yew Tree House)

Though now of a lovely melichrous colour, this forest chair still bears traces of its original cool green paint (fig. 2).

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_03hFig. 2. Remnants of green paint. (Yew Tree House)

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Four

I don’t have any images of the rear of the original walnut chest; however, roughly thirty years ago I restored a mid-eighteenth-century chest of remarkably similar quality and construction (though of mahogany) which had an oddly asymmetrical three-panel pine back. I prepared the frame stuff and plainly fielded panels (fig. 1) and assembled the back.

giiwsc_24a_Fig. 1. Pine framework and fielded backboards.

I sawed a walnut flitch into 3/32″ thick veneer whereupon each leaf revealed a recurring dead knot which hadn’t previously been apparent. Not to worry, the veneer was, on the whole, fine for the job.

The carcase sides were toothed and the veneer was sized prior to laying it down (fig. 2).

giiwsc_25a_Fig. 2. Ready for laying the veneer.

The main veneers were trimmed and then the crossbanding was rubbed in place (fig. 3).

giiwsc_27_Fig. 3. Crossbanding awaiting trimming.

Prior to the Victorians and their cumulus-shaped veneer punches, patches in veneer were more often than not quadrilateral with little concern given to blending them into the surrounding figure or grain. I cut four small lozenges from scrap veneer and patched the dead knots (fig. 4).

giiwsc_28a_Fig. 4. Tactfully censored hole.

With the sides veneered and banded, I attached the side base mouldings (fig. 5).

giiwsc_29a_Fig. 5. Base moulding glued and nailed in place (carcase upside down).

For the ogee feet, blocks of walnut were glued (cross-grained) onto a pine board which were then planed and scraped to shape (fig. 6).

giiwsc_30a_Fig. 6. Shaping the stock for the ogee feet.

I took my cue for the rear brackets from the same mahogany chest that the backboards were copied from and sawed them out of pine. The individual laminated walnut brackets were sawn to shape and rubbed onto the base of the carcase (fig. 7). Split corner blocks and glue blocks were added for support.

giiwsc_31a_Fig. 7. Pine and walnut/pine rear foot.

With the chest shod, I righted it and began veneering the top. As per the carcase sides, the quartered main veneers were trimmed and then bounded by narrow featherbanding and broad crossbanding (fig. 8).

giiwsc_32a_Fig. 8. Rubbing the banding in place.

When dry, all edges were trimmed (figs. 9 & 10) and the whole given a quick wipe down with hot water.

giiwsc_33a_Fig. 9. The major carcase veneering complete.

giiwsc_35a_Fig. 10. Veneered and banded top.

giiwsc_36a_Fig. 11. Front bracket feet.

The hours involved in the work in this post come to 61.
The total hours involved to-date come to 144-1/4.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CIII

Like the George III mahogany serpentine chest of drawers in Cross-Grained Mouldings, this unusual little mahogany chest-on-chest from the third quarter of the eighteenth-century displays an out-of-period cross-grained moulding (figs. 1 & 2) – one of the latest examples of cross-grained moulding I have encountered.

geo_iii_mahogany_coc_c1760_05aFig. 1. Standing, with its cross-grained cornice, a mere 4′ 2″ tall. (Windsor House Antiques)

The separation and base mouldings are of long-grain construction.

geo_iii_mahogany_coc_c1760_05bFig. 2. Mixed mouldings. (Windsor House Antiques)

I am intrigued by what its original feet – or base – might have looked like.

Jack Plane

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Seventeenth-century Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog landed on the west coast of Australia on the 25th of October 1616 (only the second European to do so).

Having tarried merely three days on the continent, he set sail again, writing in his ship’s log, “This land is curſed, the animals hop not run the birds run not fly and the ſwans are black not white. This land is curſed and I’ll have naught more to do with it.”

Had he remained for three months, Hartog would, no doubt, have also made mention of Australia’s insufferable heat.

Jack Plane

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No, not the Fentanyl patches that some of us stick on our upper arms… nor even those patches applied to furniture by restorers to effect repairs; I am talking about the patches that were let into veneered (and on occasion, solid) furniture at the time of production to supplant dead knots, voids, bark inclusions or other blemishes.

To today’s burgeoning anal-retentive society, knotholes in the dining table are simply unacceptable! As a result, mills and factories discard thousands of feet of beautiful timber and veneer in an effort to compete with the plastic laminates that supposedly emulate real wood.

In the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, veneer was hard won and occasionally, upon opening up a log, a defect or two might have been discovered amongst some otherwise attractively figured leaves of veneer… so what? They’d lay the veneer as per normal, insert patches in place of the defects and get on with it.

“Ha! Jack has cut some veneer that has holes in it and he’s trying to justify patching it so he doesn’t have to saw some more!”

Well, yes. But I also have the evidence to support my assertion:

william__mary_walnut_escritoire_c1690_02a1Fig. 1. Walnut escritoire fall with patch to left side of cartouche, circa 1690.

william__mary_walnut_escritoire_c1690_02a2Fig. 2. Walnut escritoire with patch to centre of first long drawer, circa 1690.

queen_anne_walnut_cod_c1705_05fFig. 3. Walnut chest with patch to second drawer, circa 1705. (W J Gravener)

qa_walnut_cabinet_on_chest_c1710_01dFig. 4. Walnut chest with several angular patches to drawer, circa 1710.

A rather nice ash-veneered chest, sporting many circular, oval and rectangular patches (figs. 5, 6 & 7).

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01bFig. 5. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01cFig. 6. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01dFig. 7. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_burr_walnut_bureau_c1710_01a1Fig. 8. Walnut bureau with patch to bottom centre of the fall, circa 1710. (Mallett)

geo_i_elm__walnut_cod_c1720_01cFig. 9. Walnut chest with central patches to top, circa 1720-25. (M Ford-Creech)

queen_anne_walnut_coc_c1705_02d2Fig. 10. Walnut chest-on-chest with patch to lower drawer, circa 1725. (Royal Antiques)

By comparison, the chest-on-chest in figure 11 has been patched in a couple of places by a restorer at some point… well at least he did use elm.

geo_ii_burr_elm_coc_c1735_01bFig. 11. Bur elm chest-on-chest, circa 1735. (Dreweatts)

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Three

The walnut cross-grain moulding was formed along the serpentine front edge of the carcase’s baseboard prior to assembling the carcase (fig. 1).

giiwsc_12a_Fig. 1. The cross-grain moulding already opening up in the 41° (106°F) heat.

I cut the one-sided dovetail housings in the false carcase sides to receive the drawer dividers and then while assembling the carcase, the false carcase sides and packers were also glued in place (fig. 2).

giiwsc_13a_Fig. 2. Drawer divider housings in false carcase side.

The front corners of the base and top boards were cut off at 45° and the bottom moulding was mitred at 22.5°. Pine blocks were temporarily nailed onto the baseboard’s corners to protect the moulding’s crisp mitres (fig. 3).

giiwsc_14a_Fig. 3. Pine block protecting mitred base moulding.

I prepared the pine for the drawer dividers, cut out their serpentine front edges and veneered them with walnut (fig. 4).

giiwsc_15a_Fig. 4. Veneered drawer dividers.

Rebates were planed in the top rear edges of the dividers (into which the dustboards will be glued – fig. 5) and I then sawed and planed the one-sided dovetails in the ends of the dividers.

giiwsc_16a_Fig. 5. Drawer dividers awaiting attachment to dustboards.

The dustboard supports-cum-drawer guides were made up and a 5/16″ housing ploughed in each to receive the dustboards (fig. 6).

giiwsc_17a_Fig. 6. Dustboard supports make up the difference between the false carcase sides and the actual carcase.

The dustboard supports were then rubbed into the carcase interior.

The two-board dustboards were rubbed together and when dry, were planed down to 5/16″ thick (fig. 7).

giiwsc_18a_Fig. 7. Thin pine dustboards.

The dustboards were rubbed into the rebates in the drawer dividers and when dry, the assemblies were inserted into the carcase. The drawer kickers are simply pine scraps rubbed onto the undersides of the dustboards and planed flush (fig. 9).

giiwsc_19a_Fig. 8. Dustboards and scrap wood kickers (carcase upside-down).

The remaining chamfers were planed around the top edge of the carcase (fig. 10) and cross-grained blocks of walnut were glued in place (fig. 11).

giiwsc_20a_Fig. 10. Planed side chamfer.

giiwsc_21a_Fig. 11. Side moulding blocks.

giiwsc_22a_Fig. 12. The carcase ready for toothing and veneering.

The hours involved in the work in this post come to 45-1/2.
The total hours involved to-date come to 83-1/4.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CII

This ash comb-back Windsor chair (fig. 1) is unusual in several respects, not least of which is the circular seat (fig. 2) which is of ash rather than the more traditional elm. Also, the bent arm is exceptionally broad.

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_02bFig. 1. Ash comb-back Windsor, circa 1760. (Obsolete)

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_02eFig. 2. Unusually broad sweeping arm and circular seat of solid ash. (Obsolete)

The crest rail, with its shaped lower edge is, in my experience, unique at this date (figs. 1, 2 & 3).

The back is supported by bracing sticks (fig. 3) emanating from a bob-tail on the back of the seat, similar to those on the Claremont chairs I made four years ago.

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_02fFig. 3. Bob-tail and bracing sticks. (Obsolete)

The Goldsmith decoration on the front legs is common to many regional Windsors (fig. 4)

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_windsor_c1760_02kFig. 4. Goldsmith-esque front leg turnings. (Obsolete)

The chair was painted earlier in its life – if not from new – as can be witnessed by the woodworm tracks at the surface of the wood as they bored their way along beneath the paint searching for an exit through which to fly away as mature beetles.

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part Two

I don’t have historic patterns for this precise chest of drawers, so the first few hours of the job were absorbed in making patterns for the serpentine carcase and drawer fronts, cock-beading, serpentine base moulding and bracket feet.

The individual pine boards for the chest’s carcase were planed slightly oversize and then rubbed together with glue to form the four carcase panels (fig. 1).

giiwsc_01a_Fig. 1. Carcase panels drying.

When dry, the panels were planed to their final dimensions and the serpentine shape was cut into the front edges of the top and base (fig. 2).

giiwsc_02a_Fig. 2. Shaped serpentine panel.

The mortises for the false carcase sides and the carcase dovetails were laid out (figs. 2 & 3).

giiwsc_03a_Fig. 3. Dovetails laid out on the base board ends.

Chamfering the upper edge of the top panel to accept the thin cross-grain European walnut moulding blocks, which the top moulding is cut into, could be achieved with the carcase all glued together (as could the moulding itself). However, gluing moulding blocks onto the base panel and scraping the base moulding in its entirety with the carcase assembled would be impossible due to the impediment of the two carcase sides. At any rate, these panels are more easily worked in the vice, so there I chamfered the front edges of both the top and base boards and glued the cross-grain moulding blocks in place (figs. 4 & 5).

giiwsc_04a_Fig. 4. Chamfer shaved along panel front.

giiwsc_05a_Fig. 5. Cross-grain moulding blocks glued onto chamfered edge.

On straight runs of moulding these cross-grain moulding blocks are commonly 1-1/4″- 2″ wide however, the sinuous curves at the front of the carcase necessitate the front moulding blocks being somewhat narrower than the norm so they better conform to the vacillating concave and convex surfaces. To that end, the blocks must be shaped and laid as keystones (both upward and downward facing as the curves alternate). The sides of the blocks must also be bevelled (again, inwards and outwards) to ensure (at this stage, at least) a gapless result (fig. 6). As the finished chest dries out and settles, some minor gaps in the cross-grain mouldings are expected – and welcomed.

giiwsc_06a_Fig. 6. Moulding blocks cleaned up ready for scratching the moulding.

Once the carcase has been assembled and the moulding blocks have been glued to chamfers planed in the top side edges, the top moulding will be planed/scratched directly into the carcase, but for the reason mentioned earlier, the front base moulding will be completed at the bench. The side base mouldings are straight runs which are currently being formed on pine stock in the traditional manner (fig. 7), and will then be sawn off and glued to the bottom edges of the carcase sides.

giiwsc_07a_Fig. 7. Preparing straight run moulding stock.

Dovetails were cut in all four carcase panels and the top and base panels were mortised to receive the false carcase sides (fig. 8).

giiwsc_08a_Fig. 8. False carcase side and mating mortises.

Whilst waiting for various things to dry, I usually jump here and there within a job, and as the notion took me, I prepared some walnut and made the 1/8″ thick cock-beads for the serpentine drawers (fig. 9).

giiwsc_09a_Fig. 9. Partially finished cock-beads.

When eventually affixed, the cock-beads will protrude a little more than 1/16″ from the front faces of the finished drawers and their rear edges will be sawn a little oversize and then pared flush with the rear faces of the drawers.

I also prepared the walnut feather-banding stock (figs. 10 & 11).

giiwsc_10a_Fig. 10. Diagonal slices of walnut.

giiwsc_11a_Fig. 11. Glued feather stock ready for slicing into banding.

The hours involved so far come to 37-3/4.

Jack Plane

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A George II Walnut Serpentine Chest – Part One

Towards the close of the seventeenth-century, rather heavy, solid wainscot (oak) furniture gave way to refined European walnut chairs, tables, mirrors and walnut-veneered wainscot and deal (pine) casework etc. Joined oak furniture was attractive enough, but somewhat workman-like and couldn’t begin to compare in beauty with walnut’s figure and multifarious colours.

By the middle of the eighteenth-century, European walnut’s virtually sole dominance waned as mahogany furniture became the height of fashion. Records show that imports of mahogany from Central America rose exponentially while imports of the formerly highly prized European walnut essentially ceased.

geo_ii_mahogany_commode_c1755_01b_james_graham-stewartFig. 1. Circa 1755 fashionable serpentine chest of drawers, typically made of mahogany. (James Graham-Stewart)

Why then – if all this preamble is to be believed – would an obviously immensely skilled and otherwise contemporary mid-century cabinetmaker create a high status chest of drawers in the very latest taste incorporating a caddy-top, serpentine front, dressing slide, canted and blind-fretted corners and ogee bracket feet – but veneered in the old fashion; all feather- and cross-banded in European walnut? (fig. 2)

geo_ii_walnut_serpentine_cod_c1750-60_01aFig. 2. Quite exceptional (unrestored) George II European walnut serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1750-60. (Christie’s)

Who knows. But it really is an absolute belter!

The chest sold at Christie’s, London in May 2016 for £62,500 (AU$126,644, US$91,125) against a pre-auction estimate of £30,000-£50,000 and for very good reason – its provenance (adapted here, from Christie’s catalogue entry).

Percival D. Griffiths, Esq. F.S.A. (d.1939),
Geoffrey Blackwell, Esq., OBE (d.1943) and thence by descent in the Blackwell family.
Property from the collection of Geoffrey Blackwell O.B.E. (1884-1943) formed under the guidance of R.W. Symonds.

Among collectors of English furniture in the first half of the 20th century the name of Geoffrey Blackwell O.B.E. (1884-1943) must rank alongside those of Percival Griffiths, Claude Rotch and James Thursby-Pelham. At a time when, despite economic depression and the shadow of war, there was a strong market for English furniture and an apparently limitless supply of top quality pieces aligned with renewed scholarship, Blackwell assembled a distinguished collection that has proved a magnet to like-minded collectors ever since.

Blackwell was interested in art from an early age. He joined the family-firm of Crosse & Blackwell, becoming chairman before the Second World War. He gathered a notable collection of impressionist landscapes, commissioned portraits of himself and his family, and became an active member of the National Art Collections Fund. He was unusual among his peers in being on friendly terms with living artists and in mixing modern pictures with Georgian furniture.

His interest in furniture was probably sparked in the 1920s when Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards’ seminal Dictionary of English Furniture was first published, 1924-27, and crucially he was a friend of the writer and critic R.W. Symonds (1889 – 1958), whose research promoted the more refined decorative arts of the 18th century, now considered the ‘Golden Age’ of collecting. Symonds actively advised collectors and played a major role in the formation of almost all the great 20th century collections of furniture and clocks, including those of Percival Griffiths, Eric and Ralph Moller, J.S. Sykes and Samuel Messer. His influence persists through the five major books and countless articles that he wrote, often illustrating them with items from those collections, his primary aesthetic consideration always being well-balanced design, high quality carving and timber, and original patination, rather than provenance. Blackwell too benefitted from Symonds’ advice and by 1936 his collection was of such calibre that Symonds wrote a two-part article published in Apollo, illustrating it with pieces from the collection.

Given the quality of the pieces that Symonds sourced, certain items have been bought and sold between collectors, and there was keen rivalry to own the best pieces.

Over the years since Blackwell’s death successive generations of collectors have similarly sought out and competed for pieces that were once part of this and other Symonds collections. The Blackwell provenance is now regarded as a signifier of quality.

This walnut chest, formerly in Percival Griffiths’ collection, is perhaps one of the most outstanding, yet idiosyncratic chests, representing the late use of this veneer on a piece that is stylistically more typical of the age of mahogany.

W. Symonds, English Furniture from Charles II to George II, London, 1929, p. 131, fig. 81.
R. W. Symonds, ‘Furniture in the collection of Mr. Geoffrey Blackwell’, Apollo, April 1936, p. 198, fig. X.

The chest’s drawers and dressing slide retain their original brasses, which quite unexpectedly posed a bit of a problem. However, in the past few days, events have lead to a solution to the dilemma (more on that later) and have prompted this, the first post in a series in which I will attempt to recreate this magnificent walnut chest of drawers.

Jack Plane

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Happy New Year

Happiness, health and prosperity to all in 2017.

Jack Plane

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