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Slip of veneer - tips for collectors

Saturday 27th February 2016 at 16:20

Good Afternoon,

It really is hard to believe that we are still in February - today is a bright sunny Spring day here in Witney and everywhere plants and bushes are coming into bud , even the grape vine which has taken over the side of my home is in bud. The wind is still coming from the east bringing a sharply cold edge across Witney but it is good to see life regenerating all around.

An early visit to my local Butcher, Mr Baker (and no we don't have a baker by the name of Butcher paradoxically!) for some game to make a game casserole tomorrow for during the week and to the Saturday Market where the cheese trader sells local cheese for some Burford and a piece of Oxford Blue made me ponder on just how lucky I am to be in this fantastic bustling, thriving market town in the heart of Oxfordshire.

There once was a very good Antique Furniture dealer in Windsor by the name of Guy Bousfield and he often placed collectors tips under his advertisements with the header "A slip of veneer" and during the course of what has been another busy week I was asked about restoration of furniture by a collector and in particular early escritoires. Here then is my own slip of veneer.

This rare and very beautiful Kingwood escritoire was recently In my collection and as you can see it has the interior layout which we expect to see with the central door having pull out pigeon hole sections above and the open section below. It also has the metal straps to support the fall when open and the pin hinges which you can just make out inset into the edge of the fall. Back in the late 17th. century it was not possible to make the fall  front in one piece so it is absolutely normal to for it to have been constructed of several planks or panels all joined together and held in place by being cleated all round before being planed smooth and veneered to produce the beautiful patterns we see nowadays. 

There is a minor problem that the cabinetmakers of William and Mary's reign could not foresee as over the course of 3 centuries there will always have been a little bit of shrinkage across the grain of the woods used which forces the boards to separate ever so slightly causing the veneers to wrinkle. The above shot shows how you sometimes have to look very carefully to see this effect but it will always be there. This is a true mark of the age of the piece and is also found on the doors of walnut or kingwood cabinets on chests of this period too as they are of similar construction. As a dealer, this is one of the signs of genuineness that I look for.

When we see that in some cases these escritoires could  more easily be fixed  by removing the fall and converting into a cabinet on chest it is often simple to identify where this has occurred.                    

This exquisite kingwood cabinet on chest is currently in stock and here you can see the normal interior layout for a cabinet without the pigeon hole compartments at the top which are necessary for ease of access on an escritoire as the owner had to lean across the fall to access them. The doors on the cabinet are hinged and there are no marks left by previous metal straps from having been converted from an escritoire. On an escritoire, the pin hinges are not at the bottom of the fall as they would invariably break off if this were the case, instead they are raised up a short distance which means that the bottom end of the fall front actually has to fit under the lowest internal drawers when open. As you can see in the above picture, there is no space available for this to occur here. Another tell tale sign  of conversion is when you consider the location of the lock on the fall front of an escritoire and  the hole for it to lock into on the underside of the top edge above the pigeon holes.The cabinet on chest should only have a small hole for a bolt rather than the large space needed for a major lock necessary to hold the  heavy fall in place when shut.

This is another one of these wonderful Oyster Veneered Kingwood pieces currently in stock and the similarity to the one above is testament to the rules that cabinetmakers followed at that time and later. Escritoires have pigeon holes and cabinets on chest shouldn't. I apologise if this is somewhat technical and I hope you have enjoyed reading something of how a dealer's mind works and in particular studying these rare and very exciting early period pieces.

As ever,



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