Picture This CXXXII

This chest-on-chest was made at a time when mahogany’s adoption was virtually universal and walnut’s quondam reign was all but over.

Fig. 1. George II walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1750.

The rather tardy use of walnut is not the only behindhand element of this chest-on-chest though.

Despite the practice of concealing drawer bottoms and runners within deeply rebated drawer sides (figure 2) occurring as early as 1720, the gluing of runners to the underside of raised, nailed-up bottom boards (both visible from the side) was common until 1730 and persisted in rare occasions (as in this case) as late as 1750 (figure 3).

Fig. 2. Drawer bottom and runner concealed within drawer side, circa 1730.

Fig. 3. Simple, early style drawer base construction.

Jack Plane

Posted in Antiques, Furniture Timbers | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Old Irish Tree List

In pre-Christian Irish society, Brehons, or judges, laid down the law. This early body of law is now recognised as probably the oldest known European example of a sophisticated legal system. The Brehon law survived relatively intact right through the Early Christian period and on to the arrival of the Normans. The waves of forced settlement that followed meant that this legal system’s days were numbered, although it did survive in part right up to the seventeenth- century.

The Brehon laws were originally composed in poetic verse and memorised by the Brehons. As time went by, these laws were written down by Christian scholars. Today, texts like the eighth-century Bretha Comaithchesa (or ‘Laws of the Neighbourhood’) prove just how advanced the Brehon legal system was for its time.

Brehon law was the law of a pastoral people, whose economics were based on a self-sufficient agricultural economy regulated by tribal and family relationships and where wealth was measured in terms of cattle ownership. There were no units of money and barter was the main form of exchange.

It should come as no surprise therefore that there were specific Brehon laws dealing with trees and other flora. Under these laws, certain trees and shrubs were protected because of their importance to the community. Penalties were imposed for any unlawful damage such as branch-cutting, barking or base-cutting.

There were four classes of tree, roughly mirroring classes in early Irish society. These were the airig fedo (‘nobles of the wood’), the aithig fedo (‘commoners of the wood’), the fodla fedo (‘lower divisions of the wood’) and the losa fedo (‘bushes of the wood’). Which group a tree belonged to depended on its economic importance, usually related to its fruit, timber or size when fully grown.

The díre or penalty for an offence was a fine in the form of livestock. The penalties were graded according to the class of tree harmed and the form of damage inflicted. The díre for felling one of the nobles of the wood was two and a half milk cows, while the penalty for cutting down one of the commoners of the wood was one milk cow, and so on.

Class A

The most valuable class of seven is described as the “lords of the wood” (airig fedo).

  1. Dair ‘oak’ (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea)
  2. Coil ‘hazel’ (Corylus avellana)
  3. Cuilenn ‘holly’ (Ilex aquifolium)
  4. Ibar ‘yew’ (Taxus baccata)
  5. Uinnius ‘ ash’ (Fraxinus excelsior)
  6. Ochtach ‘Scots pine’ (Pinus sylvestris)
  7. Aball ‘ wild apple-tree’ (Malus pumila)

For any offence against one of the lords of the wood, the culprit must pay a penalty-fine (díre) equivalent to two milch cows and a three-year-old heifer. In addition, if the injury he has inflicted is merely branch-cutting, he must pay compensation (aithgin) of a year-ling heifer; if it is fork-cutting, a two-year-old heifer is due, and if base-cutting, a milch cow.

Class B

The seven trees of lesser value which are distinguished in the text are the “commoners of the wood” (aithig jhedo). The penalty-fine for damage to any of these trees is a milch cow. In addition the culprit must pay compensation. There is some inconsistency in the different versions, but it seems likely that the original text required the payment of another milch cow as compensation for base-cutting, a yearling heifer for fork-cutting, and a sheep for branch-cutting. If the tree is completely extirpated (aurbe), a payment of two milch cows and a three-year-old heifer is due.

  1. Fern ‘alder’ (Alnus glutinosa)
  2. Sail ‘willow, sally’ (Salix caprea, Salix cinerea, etc.)
  3. Sce ‘whitethorn, hawthorn’ (Crataegus monogyna)
  4. Caerthann ‘rowan, mountain ash’ (Sorbus aucuparia)
  5. Beithe ‘birch’ (Betula pubescens, Betula pendula)
  6. Lem ‘ elm’ (Ulmus glabra)
  7. Idath ‘ wild cherry (?)’ (Prunus avium)

For the complete list of classes, trees and shrubs, see Trees in Early Ireland by Fergus Kelly, the Augustine Henry Memorial Lecture, 11th of March, 1999, Royal Dublin Society.

Jack Plane

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A Counterfeit Tortoise Shell Frame

Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for Wednesday 27 June 1666.

He (Lovett) did also carry me to a Knight’s chamber in Graye’s Inne, where there is a frame of his making, of counterfeite [sic] tortoise shell, which indeed is most excellently done.

Jack Plane

Posted in Distractions, Staining, colouring and polishing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Picture This CXXXI

Stand down sleuths; there is absolutely nothing wrong with the top of this William and Mary walnut chest-on-stand! I merely offer it as an untouched thing of beauty (click to enlarge).

Crossgrain-moulded, veneered and banded chest, circa 1695. (Mackinnon Fine Furniture)

The top is noteworthy however and I would welcome your observations.

Jack Plane

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What One Can and Cannot Do

You may read this as the forward to a book I have a mind to write.

When woodworking:

One can use kiln-dried timber for most purposes.
One can often employ machinery and power tools.
One can stick wood together with practically any glue or adhesive – brown or white.
One can easily lay any chosen type of laminate or veneer on a substrate.
One can colour almost any wood with ‘mahogany’ or ‘walnut’ etc. opaque stains.
One can achieve a glossy surface using water based varnishes and other low or VOC free finishes.

When creating virtually indiscernible period furniture copies:

One cannot ignore the importance of moisture in shaping solid and veneered work.
One cannot employ machinery or power tools within two processes of a finished surface.
One cannot make do without animal glue (the proper stuff, heated in a pot).
One cannot replicate the almost imperceptible fluctuations in the surfaces of two to three hundred-year-old veneered casework without the use of sawn veneer (think thin boards as opposed to ultra thin, machine-peeled sheets).
One cannot reproduce the subtle tints and shades of antique furniture without using translucent chemical, mineral and vegetable stains.
One cannot create convincing old patinated surfaces without spirit (alcohol) varnishes and mineral spirit/turpentine based oil varnishes and waxes.

… in my experience.


Jack Plane

Posted in Furniture Making, Materials, Staining, colouring and polishing, Techniques | 9 Comments

Tompion Miniature Table Clock Sold

Lot 103, a table clock, known as the ‘Q (queen) Clock’, made for Queen Mary II by English master clockmaker Thomas Tompion sold for £1,935,063 (AU$3,561,195.85/US$ 2,454,836.67) at Bonham’s The Clive Collection of Exceptional Clocks sale in London yesterday, Wednesday the 19th of June.

Silver-mounted, quarter-repeating miniature table clock by Thomas Tompion, circa 1693. (Bonham’s)

The diminutive ‘Q Clock’. (Bonham’s)

Regarded as the Father of English Clock Making, Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) created some of the finest clocks ever made. The silver-mounted, quarter-repeating miniature table ‘Q clock’ was made in 1693 along with a ‘K Clock’ Tompion made for Mary’s husband, King William III.

Jack Plane

Posted in Antiques, Auction Alerts | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Picture This CXXIX – Redux

Last night I watched the first episode of The Miniaturist, a television drama set in late seventeenth-century Amsterdam. The period-accurate attention to detail was astonishing.

At one point, the young Petronella approached and opened a coffre forte, virtually identical to those I have illustrated in this blog.

Excited as I was to see a coffre, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t screwed to the floor.

Jack Plane

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A Pair of George II Irish Walnut Side Chairs – Part Four

This morning, Wellard alerted me to the arrival of an intruder: I lifted my eyes from the bench and saw a van trundling up the drive towards the house. I dusted myself down and set off across the yard to intercept the vehicle. Daniel Maclaurin had kindly driven out to return the walnut side chairs that I last spoke of late last December.

Stuffover seats of this era were upholstered tightly and squarely viz. simple webbing, linen and kapok/horsehair stuffing, which were then covered with a decorative fabric (figures 1-3).

Fig. 1. Square-upholstered seat, circa 1750. (Mackinnon Fine Art)

Fig. 2. Square-upholstered seats, circa 1765. (Jeremy Ltd.)

Fig. 3. Square-upholstered seat, circa 1770. (Ronald Phillips)

Later seats were inclined to be more abundantly stuffed (figure 5).

Fig. 5. Regency chair with typically puffy seat, circa 1820. (Thakeham Furniture)

Later again, stuffover seats harboured internal coil springs which result in unattractive bloated upholstery that is no more comfortable than the square or puffy seats of earlier chairs.

Unfortunately this type of upholstery is what befalls many period chairs when reupholstered by some benighted dealers and upholsterers (figures 6 & 7).

Fig. 6. A circa 1730 chair with inappropriate, voluminous, internally-sprung seat.

Fig. 7. A circa 1765 chair with imprudent upholstery.

The seats of the new chairs, though seemingly austere, are in fact very comfortable and what’s more, encourage good posture (figures 8 & 9).

Fig. 8. Completed pair of Irish walnut chairs.

Fig. 9. Square-upholstered seat with linen cover.

Jack Plane

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Sawpit Perils

If you were a sawyer in the late eighteenth-century, you might not have begun your day’s work as early as other craftsmen and labourers, for the sawpit could, on occasion, be a hazardous place at the break of day.

Duellists, who customarily chose to square-up to one another at dawn, often did so within the confines of a sawpit. By the end of the eighteenth-century, dueling with swords had declined in favour of puff-bang pistols and the like: The walls of a sawpit would have arrested any stray lead, thus protecting on-lookers from potential injury. Plus, being an illegal activity, the pit would have gone some way to muffle the sounds of the shots.

Thomas Rowlandson, Slugs in a Saw-Pit, circa 1791.

William Heath, Slugs in a Saw-pit Hell to Pay, circa 1810. (Lewis Walpole Library)

The banner above the vacillating duellists in Heath’s print reads, ‘Did you mean to Offend me? indeed Sir not I. – indeed Sir I’m very glad on’t!!!

Jack Plane

Posted in 17th and 18th Century Culture | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Picture This CXXX

This walnut secretaire chest-on-chest caught my eye recently; described by its vendor as circa 1740 and with original brasses.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01aFig. 1. Mid eighteenth-century walnut secretaire chest-on-chest…

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01bFig. 2. … and with secretaire drawer open.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01cFig. 3. Interior of secretaire drawer.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01dFig. 4. Close-up of interior.

Geo_II_walnut_secretaire-chest_c1735_01eFig. 5. Close-up of interior drawers.

What say the sleuths?

Jack Plane

Posted in Antiques, Picture This | Tagged , | 24 Comments