Acanthus – A leaf design used to ornament furniture in carving. Although used earlier, it is most frequently found in mahogany furniture from 1730 and continued to be popular among Victorians. Example near bases
Amorini – Cupids or cherubs used in decoration. Popular in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century as well as in Adam designs.
Anthemion – Another decoration, this time like the flower of the honeysuckle. Again used in Adam designs and also during the Regency period.
Apron – ornamental rail below the seat-rail of chairs. In chests and cabinets along the bottom. On tables the piece directly under the top that connects the legs. Also called the skirt
Arabesque – Moorish ornamentation of interwoven floral and geometrical scrolls – “Arabian”
Arcading – arched decoration seen on chair backs and carved on panels
Art Nouveau – A style of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. Its heyday was from 1895 to 1905 approximately, although the influence went on much longer. Very strong in Europe (see Paris metro stations and the Hotel Ceramic in the Ave. Wagram) and fostered by Liberty’s in London. The inverted heart shape was much used in the furniture of this style and bronze beaten plaques were also popular as decoration.
Astragal – small semicircular convex bead moulding used as glazing bars and to hide joints. Often placed at the meeting of doors to keep out dust.
Backstool – a stool of the oak age with a back and no arms which proceeded the side chair form. Usually a chair will have the crest rail set on top of the stiles and a backstool will have it set in the middle.
Ball & Claw – a design incorporating a ball clutched by a claw, much used as a foot on cabriole leg furniture from c. 1710 and reproduced into the present day.
Ball foot – a turned round or spherical shaped foot used mainly in the 17th century. See bun foot
Baluster – turned vertical column straight, spiral, vase-shaped, etc. Seen in chair stretchers and/or backs and table legs. Also split in half and applied as decoration.
Bamboo – the bamboo form as a leg or otherwise was popular during the influence of Eastern designs in 1740-1760, and again at the turn of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century. It took the form of clustered columns in mahogany furniture, with small double collars turned to look like bamboo joints, or, later, single columns so turned. In the Regency period actual bamboo reproduction was made in other woods (or even iron, as the stair banister in the Brighton Pavilion). Bamboo furniture itself tends to be a Victorian manufacture, since much bamboo furniture was produced in the late nineteenth century perhaps as a feature of the heyday of Empire.
Banding – narrow decorative edging or border of veneer in contrasting color or grain from the main surface
Barley-sugar Twist – see Spiral Twist.
Baroque – a style of richly ornamented type with flowing curves and masks of various heads. Late seventeenth and early eighteenth century furniture of European Continental makers used this style and its influence spread to England.
Bead - small half-round molding carved to resemble a string of beads or pearls
Bentwood – wood softened by steam and shaped for chair parts
Bergére – an armchair, originally with upholstered sides, but now a term used to describe a chair with cane woven sides and back, usually post-1800 in date.
Birdcage Gallery – a construction used under the top of a tripod table to enable it to revolve as well as tip up. Formed by two squares of wood with four turned columns between, pivoting about the center column.
Blind Fret – fretwork glued or carved upon a solid surface. Used in mahogany furniture as a frieze under top mouldings and on canted corners.
Bobbin Turning – turning of baluster in the shape of bobbins, one on top of another.
Bolection moldings – ogee-shaped molding which are proud of the panel or wall they are applied
Bombé – French term for a swelling or bulging shape. Seen 18th century English commodes with French tastes.
Boulle – decorative inlay of brass into wood or tortoiseshell named after French cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle who perfected the process. Also spelled Buhl or Boull
Bow Front – the front of the piece follows the curve of a circle rather than a straight line.
Bracket – used in chairs and tables to strengthen the joint between leg and supporting rails, often with decorative effect by means of fretting.
Bracket foot – a simple shaped foot with a straight corner edge and curved inner edge. In English furniture the foot is usually longer than it is tall. Found on chests and case furniture.
Brass Inlay – brass inlay and stringing became popular in the late Georgian and Regency period 1800-1840. Used with mahogany and rosewood as decoration and usually a mark of quality.
Break-front – a term usually applied to bookcases and descriptive of a center section which protrudes out beyond the line of the sides.
Broken Pediment – a pediment above a piece of furniture which is usually classical in style with, of course, the center point missing, i.e. broken. Used particularly above bureau bookcases of the first half of the eighteenth century in both walnut and mahogany examples.
Bulbous – heavy / bulb looking turned wood supports and bases. A Dutch influence seen in Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture.
Buffet – a term loosely used to describe a piece of furniture of the sixteenth and seventeenth century used as a sideboard, with open shelves supported on bulbous turned members.
Bun foot – a flattened or squashed version of the ball foot popular in William and Mary case furniture
Cabochon – design motif found often on the knees of chairs of the early mahogany period – c.1740, consisting of a ball shape usually surrounded by leaf ornament.
Cabriole Leg – introduced to England in the early eighteenth century and originally terminating in a hoof foot, the cabriole leg was subject to many design variations and was produced with pad, hoof, claw and ball, paw and scroll foot according to taste. The design seems to have declined after 1750 until early Victorian times, when it was revived.
Caning – first used in chairs in the mid-seventeenth century, i.e. at the Restoration or Charles II period. Its use seems to have declined after the William and Mary period (1689-1702) and was revived again in the late eighteenth century. Hepplewhite and Sheraton both illustrated carved chairs in the 1790s and subsequently, through Regency and Victorian periods, it was used in dining chairs and others.
Canterbury – A term used in the late eighteenth century for rather mobile furniture and said to be named after an archbishop that Sheraton illustrated a supper Canterbury which was the forerunner of the modern tea trolley, used for holding cutlery and plates. Music Canterburys were produced from the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth in contemporary styles.
Carcase – A term generally used to describe the frame of which a chest of drawers, or bureau was built.
Cartouche – A decoration, usually in the form of a flat surface with shield or scroll shape on which an inscription or monogram can be placed.
Caryatid – A carved female figure used as decoration or support, i.e. a leg, on furniture of the early seventeenth century or again after 1800.
Castors – Early forms of castors were made – c. 1700 – of wood, both wheel and axle. In the mid-eighteenth century leather rollers appear to have come in use but in the last
quarter of the century brass castors with stylized motifs made their appearance.
Cavetto – A hollowed, concave moulding of quarter-circle section.
Chamfer – A bevelled edge used to lighten the effect of a piece of furniture. Used on the back edge of square Chippendale chairs.
Clubfoot – Virtually the same as a pad foot and most commonly found on cabriole legs.
Clustered Column – A design of medieval origin used in the mid-eighteenth century consisting of several pillars clustered together.
Cockbead – A small bead moulding used on the edges of drawer fronts from 1725 onwards.
Column Turning – Turning in the form of a column used from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.
Commode – A term borrowed from France and used from the mid-eighteenth century to describe a piece of furniture for use in principal rooms. Very fine examples in Adam or prevailing styles with rounded or serpentine shaped fronts, and original French pieces, resembling finely decorated chests of drawers, with or without doors; represent the height of collecting, in both taste and purse. A term which should not be used as a Victorian euphemism for a piece of furniture designed to
conceal a chamber-pot.
Console Table – A wall side table supported by brackets.
Cresting Rail – The top rail of a chair, joining the two back uprights at the top.
Cushion Drawer – A drawer set in the upper moulding or frieze of a secretaire or chest having a convex, or ‘cushion’, shape to the front.
Dentil Frieze – The part of a frieze moulding of dentillated or ‘square-toothed’ form. Made up of a series of small rectangular blocks.
Diaper – A decorative pattern of diamond-shaped lines with dots or forms inside. Used for border decoration.
Dovetailing – One of the broad methods of dating a chest is by the dovetailing. In sixteenth and early seventeenth century pieces the drawer sides were nailed into a rebated front. During the first half of the seventeenth century however, fairly crude dovetails were introduced. Note some drawers have side runners, i.e. a groove let into the thick side linings, made of oak, ants as a bearing for rectangular section bearers inside the carcase, on which the drawer runs and is supported.
During the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century the number of dovetails increased but they remained fairly crude and large. By the time the mahogany period was in full swing, after 1740, the dovetails had increased further and become finer. This form has continued up to modern times.
Dowel – A wooden peg used to fasten timber joints.
Drawers – A guide to dating furniture with drawers can be obtained from their construction. On the chests of the early seventeenth century the drawers were nailed together, with the side linings rebated into the front. The weight of the drawers was taken on side runners which fitted into grooves cut in the thick sides of the drawer. About the time of the transition to walnut, in 1680, the bottom runner appeared. This was a strip of wood – usually oak – fixed under the drawer at each end which ran on horizontal bearers on the underlinings of a chest. The drawer bottom, whether of pine or oak, ran from front to back as far as grain was concerned. Between the drawer fronts the carcase was flat. However, when the change to veneered walnut furniture took place, a variety of possibilities came about. Initially it is probable that a vertically veneered front with simple diagonal grain crossbanding – a sort of half herring-bone – was used. This was in use from c. 1680 to c. 1710. However, herring-bone crossbanding was used from c. 1690 to c. 1720 and probably was more common. A variation was the use of inlaid boxwoodand ebony stringing lines from c.1690 to c.1710. Between the drawers at this time the carcase fronts were covered by the half-round or D-moulding and the double half-round or double-D moulding, with the latter the rarer of the two. Usually double-D moulding, cut, like the single version, across the grain, was used to maintain the proportion on broader carcase front edgings. A country form of simple crossbanding to drawers was used, with the half herring-bone, well into the first half of the eighteenth century. About 1710 an alternative form appeared. This was the drawer edged by an ovolo lip moulding which hid the gap between the drawer and the carcase edge. The carcase front edging was, in this case, flat veneered, obviating the need for D- or double D-mouldings. A disadvantage was that unless the stop blocks at the back of the drawer remained fixed. it was possible to break off the lip moulding by pushing the drawer in too hard. Concurrent with the lip moulding the cockbead appeared. The cockbead solved the lip moulding breakage problem and was used on mahogany furniture from 1730 throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, although plain mahogany drawers without any beading were also common. The linings used continued to be oak or pine and in later furniture, from about 1770, the bottom was made with the grain running across instead of front to back. About 1790 some drawer bottoms had a central bearer introduced and were made in two halves running across again. This continued up to the present day.
Ebonised Wood – Wood which has been stained black to simulate ebony.
End Standards – The supporting ends of a table or stool.
Escritoire – A word borrowed from the French to denote a piece of furniture at which one can write. Sometimes found in early accounts in the form ‘scrutoire’. Synonym of secretaries
Escutcheon – A motif used as a center decoration.
Fielded Panel – A panel which has the edges bevelled or chamfered.
Finial – A turned knob used at the intersection of stretchers on tables, chairs and stools to complete a design effect. Also used on the hoods of longcase clocks.
Fluting – Grooving of semi-circular or concave section used as ornament or design on flat or turned surfaces, usually to lighten the appearance of a piece or to give a required proportion to the design.
Frets – Fretwork either applied or cut from solid and used as decoration. lf presented on a solid surface, known as a ‘blind’ fret. If left as open decoration, known as ‘open’ fret. Used particularly in mid- and later eighteenth century in Gothic or Chinese taste.
Frieze – The surface below a table top or the part of a cornice consisting of the flat surface beneath the top moulding.
Gadrooning – A carved edge of repetitive shapes usually convex curved form.
Gallery – A term used to describe an arcaded, pillared, or columned open sequence of decorative surrounding or cloistered motif, which can be in wood, brass or other
Gesso – A sort of plaster composition or gunge, used as a base for applying gilding and usually moulded in bas relief on mirror frames or furniture, rather as plaster was in the nineteenth century.
Gothic – A style which keeps reappearing but which is derived from Gothic architecture and was used on furniture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, again in the mid-eighteenth century, again in Regency times (‘Strawberry Hill Gothic‘) and again in Victorian times by Pugin, etc. Characterized by curved pointed arches.
Hairy Feet – Derogatory slang for fine carved paw feet, mainly after Hope and Smith, c.1820.
Herring-bone – An inlaid banding or border used in walnut veneered furniture for decorative effect. Also called ‘featherbanding’. Made by laying two strips of veneer at right angles to each other in ‘V’ form to give a feathered or herring-bone effect.
Hipping – A form of cabriole leg extension used on rather better quality pieces, in which the leg continues at the top to a level above the seat rail.
Hoof Foot – An animal form of foot used on early, perhaps original, cabriole legs. The French name was pied-de-biche.
Husk – A decoration used in Adam and Hepplewhite designs of bell-shaped form frequently shown in festoons.
Inlay – A decoration which has been let into the solid wood. Used from mid-sixteenth century onwards.
Japanning – Another term for lacquering.
Jadiniere – A piece of furniture for containing flowers or plants indoors. Usually lined with lead or zinc to enable watering to be done without rotting the wood.
Lacquer – Lacquer furniture was popular from an early date, being originally imported during the sixteenth century but becoming more popular during the seventeenth. By the late seventeenth century it was being produced in England, but the vogue seemed to die down to lesser proportions In the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless lacquering continued to be used as decoration into the nineteenth century.
Linenfold – A carved design used on panels of early sixteenth century date.
Linings – The interior parts of a drawer.
Lion Mask – A decoration of carved form popular in the early mahogany period, 1720-40, and again in the Regency period.
Loper – The rectangular section length of wood under a bureau fall which pulls out to support the fall when open. Many a fall has been smashed off its hinges by people forgetting to pull out the lopers before opening the fall.
Lowboy – A term, probably of American origin, now used to describe a dressing table or side table usually on cabriole legs.
Marquetry – Veneers of different woods cut into designs and fitted together to give a decorative effect. To be distinguished from inlays by the fact that design is veneered on to a carcase and not cut into the solid.
Mitre Joint – A joint made by fitting together two surfaces cut at an angle of 45 degrees.
Monopodium – A carved support with a lion-mask top. The foot is usually of claw form and this type of support is of Regency period.
Mouldings – In the last analysis, perhaps the most important features which date a piece of furniture are its mouldings. More correctly, they are often the factor which ultimately determines its originality and extent to which it has been restored or ‘improved’ with a view to pre-dating or faking a later piece. In the eighteenth century and before, the mouldings used were based on architectural designs and had a boldness of shape and execution which nineteenth century makers with machines to do the work failed to maintain. The meanness and over-sophistication of the mouldings on Victorian reproductions gives them away instantly, quite apart from considerations of color and ageing. Mouldings of the oak period were bold and generally cut along the grain. It was in the walnut period that the crossgrained mouldings in small pieces, which generally shrink slightly apart and yellow so beautifully with age, came into their own. On the best walnut furniture the mouldings were always cut across the grain, although those along the sides of a piece of furniture might be cut along the grain on lesser quality pieces to save time and money. In mahogany furniture the applied mouldings are nearly always cut along the grain. Integral mouldings, of course, cut across.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the mouldings became tighter and under the influence of Hepplewhite and Sheraton designs were curtailed or dispensed with altogether. Carcase edges were flat veneered, as were projecting edges.
Ogee – A double curve, convex at the top and turning to concave below.
Ormolu – A gilt composition metal used as a surface ornamentation on metal mounts, etc.
Ovolo – A moulding form of a convex quarter-circle section. Used around drawer edges to lip over carcase fronts in walnut and early mahogany furniture up to c.1745.
Oyster veneer – Oystershell veneering, or parquetry work, was produced by cutting the small branches of walnut, laburnum, olive and other woods across the branch to give a concentric ringed effect and laying these veneers in a decorative pattern. The form was introduced from Holland in the late seventeenth century.
Parquetry – A geometric pattern of veneers, often oysters, usually involving stringing and inlays. Contemporary with marquetry.
Patera – A round or oval decoration either applied, carved or painted on wood, used as an ornament.
Patina – The deny surface shine or gloss produced by years of undisturbed polishing and rubbing.
Paw Foot – A foot design used on cabriole legs in the mideighteenth century. Also see ‘Hairy Feet’.
Pediment – A moulding or shape above the cornice of bookcases and other furniture. See ‘Broken Pediment’.
Pie Crust – An edge carving of scalloped form used in the later eighteenth century, particularly on tea and tripod tables.
Plinth – The square base of a column; also used to describe the flat base support of a piece of furniture.
Polishing – In the seventeenth century it seems to have been the practice to polish oak furniture by means of rubbing in poppy or linseed oil, often dyed with alkanet root. Subsequently beeswax and turpentine polish was used to keep surfaces in good condition and to preserve the wood. Walnut furniture of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was initially brushed with oil varnish to provide a surface for polishing with wax. The retention of this oil varnish, which provides a magnificently mellowed surface after years of polishing, is an important factor in pagination. Mahogany furniture of the eighteenth century was treated according to its type. Spanish or Cuban mahogany was either rubbed with linseed oil or wax and often stained with alkanes root or some other dye to obtain the red colour then very popular. Indeed, oak and walnut furniture of this period was also stained this way. Honduras mahogany was either oil varnished or rubbed with linseed oil and brick dust to give a hard polish. Domestically it seems to have been common to oil furniture, but beeswax polishing with a brush was employed also.
About 1810 the process of French polishing began by using shellac dissolved in spirit. This helped to seal off the wood and provide a bright hard finish. French polishing has developed much since then and is now a much shorter process than the original method. Nearly all furniture was French polished during the nineteenth century and few pieces from the eighteenth century have survived in an unstripped repolished condition. Varnishing in the modern sense was also used, many inferior woods being varnished dark brown in order to resemble mahogany.
Quartering – A means of obtaining a formal pattern in wood figure by taking four consecutively cut pieces of veneer, which have identical figuring, and setting them in opposing senses to give a mirrored pattern effect. Used in the walnut period 1680-1730 for tops of tables, chests and door fronts.
Rails – The horizontal part of a joined frame of a panelled piece of furniture. Also: Top Rail or Cresting Rail – usedbto describe the top wooden member between the uprights of a chair back.
Ram’s Head – Decoration used by Adam in mask form.
Reeding – Convex raised beads on furniture: the opposite of fluting. Used on eighteenth century furniture and particularly later eighteenth and nineteenth century chair and table legs.
Rococo – An extravagant style, using much scroll work and of exuberant nature in its motifs, very predominant in the 1740-50 period and reappearing again in the 1840-50 Victorian era.
Runner – The strip of wood on which a drawer runs.
Rule Joint – An edge joint found on drop-flap tables from the seventeenth century, but pretty well superseding other plain joints in the eighteenth century. Used on gateleg and Pembroke tables.
Scagliola – A plaster and marble chip composition, made to imitate marble, used for table tops in the eighteenth century.
Scroll Foot – A cabriole leg termination of French origin used from mid-eighteenth century.
Scrutoire – Synonym for escritoire, secretaire or writing cabinet.
Serpentine – A curved shaping particularly valued in chest front forms.
Shell – The shell, or scallop, was a popular decorative motif in the walnut and early mahogany period, covering the years from 1700 up to c.1770.
Spade Foot – A tapered foot of square section used in the later eighteenth century and much associated with Sheraton and Hepplewhite designs.
Spandrel – A decoration used in square corners, usually on clock dials to fill the space between curved chapter ring and the corners.
Spiral Twist – A form of turning often known as barley-sugar twist very popular in the late seventeenth century.
Splat – The vertical central upright of a chair back. It can be solid or pierced, plain or carved.
Split Baluster – Used as a decoration on chests of sixteenth and seventeenth century and made by splitting a turned baluster vertically in half to provide a flat surface for application.
Spoon back – Descriptive of chair back on which the splat curves like a spoon handle.
Stile – The vertical part of framing of a panelled piece of furniture.
Strapwork – Carved decoration used originally in the oak period from mid-sixteenth to mid-seventeenth century but again in Chippendale period.
Stretcher – The wooden connecting strut between legs of tables and chairs.
Stringing – Thin lines of inlay used as formal decoration, usually made in contrasting woods such as box, with possibly ebony and box patterning in later eighteenth century pieces. Used from early oak period – sixteenth century onwards.
Sunburst – A decoration of radiating lines or rays used particularly in the bottom drawers of tallboys and chests of the walnut period from 1700 to 1730. Made to look like the sun’s rays and often inset in a concave shaping of the bottom drawer.
Swag – A decorative form shaped like a hanging festoon, often made up of husks or flowers. Popular in the late eighteenth century on Adam and other furniture.
Swan-neck – Term used to describe drop handles of eighteenth century form. Also used to describe the curve of a broken pediment cornice.
Tallboy – A chest upon a chest.
Tambour Front -A front made of strips of wood stuck side by side on canvas back to enable it to roll. A similar principle is used for a tambour shutter on sideboards and night tables.
Tenon – A joint form shaped to fit exactly into a cavity called a mortise. Used from the sixteenth century.
Tray-top – A top of detachable type usually with a fretted opening in the vertical sides to act as a carrying handle. Also loosely used to describe the top of a night table.
Veneer – A thin sheet of wood which can be cut from the tree in several ways. The first real vogue for veneered furniture came in the walnut period, 1680-1740, when the decorative effects of cutting veneers from walnut, laburnum, olive, tulipwood and so on, was appreciated. Originally these veneers were hand cut with a saw and were fairly thick – up to an eighth of an inch. They could be cut along the grain of the wood to give a straight, plain effect without much figure, or across the branches to form oysters. Burr veneers were obtained by malformations of the grain due to injury, such as lopping. Mahogany veneers of great decorative effect were also much used from about 1745, although the early Cuban mahogany was not much used for veneers. From the Victorian period paper thin veneers came into use and were obviously attractive because of the saving in wood. All modern veneered furniture is covered in these thin knife-cut sheets.
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