Old Hardware Catalogues

Poole Waite & Co Ltd. has a number of old hardware catalogues and journals for sale on their web site. The majority of the catalogues appear to be for furniture brasses etc.

These late catalogues can make handy reference material for furniture restorers and makers.

Jack Plane

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The Rake’s Progress

The country round here is now officially in drought: It’s been the driest April on record and we’ve had only a third of the average rainfall so far this year. There’s been no grass of any worth in the paddocks for many months, so I’ve been hard-feeding the horses and putting out hay for them too.

Hay can get messy once out of the roll or bale and constantly requires tidying up. Nobody (on this continent, at least) appears to sell a quality hay rake. The most common offerings I’ve come across are plastic-headed things with aluminium stails and any I’ve seen in use around the place are missing a few tines.

Back home in Ireland (and England, where I also lived for a while), every farm and smallholding possessed at least one traditional handmade wooden hay rake (figure 1).

Fig. 1. Old wooden hay rake. (Wikipedia)

Rake-making was (and still is) a cottage industry, usually based in the locality of an ash coppice. Ash was used for every part of the rake and every part was ingeniously and expediently fashioned by hand.

The method of attaching and bracing the head to the stail varied from one region to another, but in most cases, the stail was wedged into the head, or more commonly, the head was nailed to the stail . The tines were simply a tight interference fit in the head so if one did break off, the stub could be drifted out and a replacement hammered in.

In the absence of anything of quality to purchase, I resorted to making a wooden hay rake. Having only my memory to go on (which has been going off for years now), I made the stail 1-1/4″ diameter. In retrospect, 1-1/8″ would have been springier and thus better, but at least it shouldn’t break any time soon. The head is 28″ wide with sixteen tines (figures 2, 3 and 4).

Fig. 2. New ash hay rake.

Fig. 3. Rake head nailed to ash stail.

Fig. 4. Rear-leaning ash tines for optimal performance.

The new rake is lightweight, comfortable in the hand and performs (more or less) as anticipated – what else would one expect from a centuries-old design?

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXI

A dealer described this item of furniture as a “narrow Georgian mahogany and oak hanging corner cabinet.”

What say you sleuths?

Fig. 1. Timeless combination of mahogany and oak.

Fig. 2. No weight, could it be a reformed alcoholic’s drinks cabinet?

This shouldn’t test many of you; however I’ll withhold any direct hits until those behind the International Date Line catch up.

Jack Plane

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The Campaign Trail I

My good friend, Simon Clarke, of Christopher Clarke Antiques, emailed me over the weekend with details of an interesting campaign table he has at the moment (figure 1).

Fig. 1. Mahogany and inlaid campaign table, circa 1790. (Christopher Clarke Antiques)

The table breaks down, utilising (bespoke?) iron hardware (figure 2).

Fig. 2. Unusual demounting hardware. (Christopher Clarke Antiques)

Jack Plane

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The Butler did it.

Wood has been used since time immemorial for making such things as rudimentary sticks for whacking animate and inanimate things with, to shelters and furniture etc. But wood really came into its own in the mid-nineteenth-century for creating the most unimaginable of things.

Mosquito bombers, built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited as late as 1950 (many are still flying) were constructed from ash, balsa, birch, spruce and walnut.

Fig. 1. de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito.

In 1947 the entire fuselage and wings of the Hughes Aircraft Company’s Hercules flying boat was built from birch (and still boasts the widest wingspan of any aircraft ever flown).

Fig. 2. Hughes’ H-4 Hercules.

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, made the first successful flight on the 17th of December, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in a wood-and-wire, propeller-driven, self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft.

Clement Ader, a Frenchman and no doubt, a maître d’art, constructed his bat-like, steam-powered flying machine, the Éole in 1886, which realised an uncontrolled bounce of 160 feet at the dizzying height of about eight inches above the ground.

However, these aeronautical pioneers are comprehensively eclipsed by the achievements of one man, Godwin Swifte, an Irishman of immense stature in the world of powered flight, and without whose invention, none of their contraptions would ever have taken off.

Godwin Meade Pratt Swifte (also styled Viscount Carlingford) inhabited Swifts Heath in County Kilkenny (infamous also for its indoor toilet – the oldest in Ireland).

Fig. 3. Swifts Heath, County Kilkenny, built circa 1750, home of Godwin Swifte.

In 1854, Godwin Swifte patented what he called “an aerial screw” which, according to a local newspaper, ‘was the complete solution to the problem of aerial navigation, but such was the apathy or suspicious disposition of scientific folk that none seemed to appreciate the grandeur of the idea and the ingenuity of the mechanism.’ [1]

Swifte (a would-be engineer and mechanic of no practical experience whatsoever), ignored suggestions and scathing opinions of several respected carpenters and celebrated cabinetmakers, to construct the fuselage of his new flying machine from slender laths of flexible, lightweight larch (figure 4).

Fig. 4.  The patent sketch for Swifte’s flying machine.

Undeterred, Swifte designed and built his contraption described as “an aerial chariot (figure 5) or apparatus for navigating the airs”[2] from heavy spars of abundant local oak “for ultimate strength”, later naming the machine ‘Oakenswift’.

Fig. 5. Swifte’s patent.

Swifte built the craft in the dining room of Swiftes Heath, but when complete, found it wouldn’t fit through the terrace doors so he had the doors knocked out and when this didn’t realise the desired result, he also had part of the wall demolished through which to extract it.[3]

It had a boat-shaped carriage with one wheel in front and two behind; the silk-covered wings were “a network of lengthened square shapes”, which the inventor claimed would replicate the aerodynamic properties of birds’ feathers and enable the chariot to float on the air for several miles, “perhaps 50 or 60”, he added optimistically. The altitude could be altered by raising and lowering the tail by means of a cord. The chariot was to be drawn forward by the aerial screw twisting through the air at 45°, similar to that of a bird’s wing. The screw was turned by a winch acting on three multiplying wheels.

He suggested that, as he had proved by experiment that an aerial screw of only five inches long can pull a 10-pound weight or more suspended on a cord and drawn through a pulley, it would only take a small force to maintain the flight. “What we look upon as fabulous may hereafter come to pass and that, like the chariot of Jupiter, we may yet behold two eagles trained to draw the aerial chariot.”[4]

Natheless, being the ‘belt-and-braces’ sort, Swifte settled on a team of three horses “arranged in arrowhead formation, to neatly comply with the shape of the hull” to provide the motive force. To convert the horses’ action to rotational effort, a canvas conveyor belt and rollers were commandeered from a reaping machine and connected via a leather belt to the multiplying wheels in the contraption.

Three Irish Draught horses were relieved of their farm duties for the occasion and towed the aerial chariot to nearby Jenkinstown whereupon they and Oakenswift were hoisted up onto the battlements of Foulksrath Castle, which, conveniently, Swifte also owned (figure 6).

Fig. 6. Foulksrath Castle, Jenkinstown, County Kilkenny.

On the day of the flight, Godwin’s brother, John, had organised a garden party in Rathfarnham, to the south of Dublin, where the highlight was to be the unprecedented entrance of Godwin, making a controlled and graceful descent from the heavens in his three-horsepower aerial chariot.

Come the moment however, Swifte glanced down at the ground and, smitten by acrophobia, directed his butler to take the controls of Oakenswift. As the apprehensive manservant was hastily ushered into the pilot’s seat, he was heard to utter, “Ours not to question why…”[5]

Oakenswift was then unceremoniously shoved [catapulted, according to documents kept by the late Major Briggs Swifte[6]] off the fortifications.[7]

Not surprisingly, Oakenswift plummeted straight to earth (aided, unquestionably, by her excessive construction… and all those aboard her) and the long-suffering butler, finding himself situate between terra firma and several tons of descending horses, suffered numerous broken bones. According to an article in the Old Kilkenny Review by Swifte’s descendant, Geoffrey Marescaux, the unhappy individual received Danville House[8] and a lifetime gratuity[9] by way of compensation.

The ribs and frames of Oakenswift’s fuselage and wings may have been constructed of oak, but Godwin Swifte was not a man completely devoid of taste and style and so, had the prominent screw “carved from mahogany and polished to perfection”. All that survives that ill-fated day is one of the craft’s wheels and Swifte’s lavish twin-blade screw which, according to Marescaux, tore itself free of the craft when the horses were ‘gunned’ and proceeded to slash a path through manicured beds of daffodils, narrowly missing several women and children who had gathered in the castle grounds to witness the spectacle. The propeller was later recovered from a large buddleia by the butler’s wife and currently resides in the museum at Rothe House, Parliament Street, Kilkenny (figure 7).

Fig. 7. Swifte’s mahogany screw.

Occasionally still referred to, by flyers of vintage aircraft, as a Swifte screw, the identifiable shape and laminated construction of Swifte’s wooden propeller has remained largely unaltered to this day.

Jack Plane

[1] Melosina Lenox-Conyngham, The Irish Times, September 20, 2008.

[2] Swift’s Heath, Kilkenny People, June 20, 2012.

[3] ibid.

[4] Melosina Lenox-Conyngham, The Irish Times, September 20, 2008.

[5] Misquote of Tennyson’s lines “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die” from The Charge of the Light Brigade.

[6] Melosina Lenox-Conyngham, The Irish Times, September 20, 2008.

[7] Swift’s Heath, Kilkenny People, June 20, 2012.

[8] ibid.

[9] Melosina Lenox-Conyngham, The Irish Times, September 20, 2008.

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Quote of the Week

[…] Thomas Chippendale. His designs reached both sides of the Atlantic […][1]

Jack Plane

[1] Nichols House Museum, Boston.

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Chippendale: The Man and the Myth

Whilst the Chippendale 300 exhibition is still current at Leeds City Museum, Thomas Chippendale is also being celebrated across the Atlantic this month.

A lecture, Chippendale: The Man and the Myth will be hosted by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston on the 29th of March 2018. The speaker will be Brock Jobe, Winterthur’s Professor Emeritus of American Decorative Arts.

Jack Plane

Posted in Exhibitions | Tagged | 1 Comment

Chatsworth Restored

Chatsworth officially reopens today, the 24th of March, 2018 after a decade-long restoration and conservation program amounting to almost £33m.

The Chatsworth Renewed exhibition, running between March and October, highlights the work of those involved in the restoration process. From rebuilding the Belvedere turrets to replacing vast tracts of lead on the roof; carving the tiniest details in stone using dentistry tools to replacing huge blocks in the walls; careful restoration of priceless artworks to the renovation of famous water features in the garden; over the last decade Chatsworth has been fully restored and made ready for the next century.

The Duke of Devonshire: “The level of forensic research, expertise and craftsmanship applied by so many people has been absolutely inspiring. It has always been a thrilling moment to see the house come into view as you drive across the park and now that view has been made even more magical. With the years of blackened grime now removed from the stone, it looks truly magnificent.”

In 1981, the charitable Chatsworth House Trust was set up by the 11th Duke to ensure the long-term survival of the house and collection. Since 1949 the entrance money paid by more than 25 million visitors has made a vital contribution to the maintenance of the house and garden and it is this income, rather than any public funding, that has enabled the current restoration works to be completed.
Via artdaily.org

Chatsworth has featured in a range of films and TV programmes including The Wolfman, Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess and Death Comes to Pemberley.

If you are unable to visit Chatsworth, you can view the series of videos, Treasures from Chatsworth, produced by Sotheby’s.

Jack Plane

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Carving Tools

You rarely hear me banging on about tools, but Christopher Storb posted this excellent article about some London carving tools and their history on his blog yesterday.

Jack Plane

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The Sydney Fair 2018 – Free Tickets!

If you think The Sydney Fair is only for lovers of 18th Century Antiques, think again, over 60 Australian and International best 20thCentury, Art Deco, Vintage and Antique dealers will be at the Royal Hall of Industry Moore Park with thousands of pieces 17th to 20th May 2018.  Each piece is individually selected by an exhibitor with so many items absolutely unique.  Buy an engagement ring, a dining suite, a fabulous necklace from a Hollywood Costume designer, a poster or print, everything from Furniture, Art, Lighting, Bronzes, Porcelain and glass.  There is something here for everyone in every price range.

And for Fashionistas,  from the 1920s to Designer today, Vintage Fashion and Designer pieces from names like Dior, Chanel, – fashion, bags, jewellery. On Saturday and Sunday we have great events, Catwalk parades and a Couture Exhibition.  Events will be listed on the website.

Tickets for The Sydney Fair are now on sale, starting from $10 for concession, $15 general day admission to $30 for the opening night.

Tickets can be booked at http://www.thesydneyfair.com.au/ and you can keep up to date with all the latest news about The Sydney Fair at https://www.facebook.com/TheSydneyFair/

Sydney Fair 2018 Giveaway!

Courtesy of the good people at The Sydney Fair, I have two tickets for entry to the opening night of The Sydney Fair 2018 and two tickets for general day admission to The Sydney Fair 2018.

The first person to comment “Me please!” will receive the two tickets to the opening night of The Sydney Fair 2018.

The second person to comment “Me please!” will receive the two tickets for general day admission to The Sydney Fair 2018.

Jack Plane


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