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Antique Chest of Drawers

English antique chest of drawers made of oak, their history through the periods.

The chest of drawers in oak followed ordinary chests & coffers, although it suggested a cabinet rather than a chest, for there was a deep drawer at the top, designed primarily for the plumed hats that were worn during this period, the 17th century, and below there were plain drawers, made more important by being enclosed by a pair of doors. Then there were innumerable combinations of cupboards and chests, and many very beautiful pieces were designed.

There has been quite a vogue for Jacobean furniture, and seventeenth century Jacobean chests have been copied, for the most part very badly, until meaningless repetition has produced a flimsy type that has nothing of the firm solidarity of the original models, The old craftsmen were masters of light and shade in the matter of skilfully-worked mouldings, but the modern manufacturers apply with gum, one imagines, a few feet of cheaply run oak bead, and believe that they are resurrecting the spirit of seventeenth century workmanship. The multiplicity of cheap copies made from American oak has sickened most of us, and has perhaps prejudiced us against a style particularly suited to English houses.

It would be wrong to say that the old-time work, such as Restoration era chests of drawers, was too elaborate, and that its price must bar it from the simply furnished room. We must remember that although elaborated pieces were made for the town houses of the wealthy, there were many provincial models, following the city furniture in general design, but usually plainer. The country produced numbers of plain, serviceable pieces that have all the beauty of line of the richly-decorated chests, but are less costly and more in keeping with simple surroundings.

From the time craftsmen discovered the superior advantages of a chest with drawers over a chest with a hinged lid, the study of convenience was taken up thoroughly. Antique tallboys were perhaps the happiest result of that increased attention, but we must not overlook the chests on stands, and the chest of drawers proper, which is so familiar that we can scarcely conceive the variety of its design. Yet in all the woods employed by makers of furniture we have chests, tall, low, bow-fronted, serpentine-fronted, richly veneered, and with numberless changes of under-framing. Then we have an equally varied array of modern models in plain, unpolished woods, and painted and decorated. Before we examine the merits of modern work, we must see what the past has to offer us, and when it is realised how many simple and beautifully proportioned chests were made in the eighteenth century, there is a strong temptation to ignore the work of contemporary producers.

From the dwarf chests veneered in walnut, to the designs of Chippendale and Hepplewhite Furniture, we have a wonderfully rich selection, and there are plenty of plain models that may still be obtained for comparatively little money. A small mahogany chest of drawers in the style of the eighteenth century, with a swing mirror framed in mahogany upon it, possesses both distinction and convenience as a dressing table ; or instead of this, a chest can be placed against a strip of wall between two windows, with a hanging mirror above it. Apart from their place in bedrooms, chests make excellent tables for landings, and can stand in window recesses. Large chests of drawers have even appeared in dining-rooms as serving tables, and the space afforded for cutlery and table linen is a recommendation worth considering, although they must necessarily lack the fitness of sideboards.

Today we have undoubtedly improved on Victorian productions, but we cannot in common honesty say we have evolved anything better than eighteenth century designs, for with a few exceptions modern achievements are without interest. There is a lot of strong colour, painted decoration and plain line, but the creations in perfectly plain wood are often lacking in character. Dullness is quite unnecessary, and in modern furniture design it may have arisen from an unfortunate confusion of simplicity with crudity. Where chests are concerned modern work will seldom stand comparison with old designs.

Next: Antique Tallboys.









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