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Published by verne4444

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Published by: verne4444 on Sep 07, 2011
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Part I 
English furniture
fifty years ago, when the subject of English furniturefirst began to be studied and to be written about, it was dividedconveniently into four distinct types. One writer called his bookson the subject
The Age of Oak, The Age of Walnut, The Age of  Mahogany
The Age of Satinwood.
It is not really quite assimple as that, for each of the so-called Ages overlaps the othersand it is quite impossible to la> down strict dates as to when anyone timber was introduced or when it finally, if ever, went out of favour. However, these clear-cut divisions do make it easier todeal with the subject, and it may be as well to keep to them;bearing in mind that the dates given are no more than very roughguides.Oak is the traditionally English wood and while it alone wasalmost solely used for the making of furniture from the earliesttimes until about 1650, it has actually continued along with otherwoods right down to the present day. Old oak furniture issolidly made—the wood is very hard, and not only resists decayand woodworm but calls for time, patience and strength tofashion it—and many surviving pieces are of large size and notice-ably weighty. At the time when it was popular, the houses of those who could afford furniture (other than plain and simplepieces) were large and the principal room, the hall, was quiteoften vast in size. Tables and cupboards were correspondingly
 big, and to find a small and attractive piece of English oak furni-ture of sixteenth-century date today is thus not at all easy. Thesurviving specimens are eagerly sought and fetch high prices.Whereas a seventeenth-century chest may be bought for twentypounds or so (on the whole, the larger the cheaper) a smallcupboard of earlier date will cost several hundreds.Oak furniture was made also on the mainland of Europe, andin appearance it is not unlike that made in England. Much wasimported at the date it was made, and a further quantity of itwas sent to London during the course of the nineteenth century.As has been said above, oak continued in use for makingfurniture long after the wood had gone generally out of fashion.Pieces were made from it throughout the eighteenth and nine-teenth centuries; pieces one would expect to find in walnut ormahogany which are discovered to be of oak. This was done mostlyin the smaller country towns, where local craftsmen used timberthat was available readily. While transport was both difficultand expensive, imported woods like walnut and mahogany wouldhave been obtainable normally only near a seaport or a large town.
an attractive light brown wood with distinctive dark patterns, came into use in the later years of the seventeenthcentury. Much of it was grown in England, but the importedFrench variety was usually preferred because it was bettermarked. The esteemed markings or figurings are to be foundwhen a tree is cut across the base where the roots start to spread,and at the point (the crotch) where a branch springs from themain stem. The equally popular burr wood (marked withinnumerable tiny dark curls) is found near burrs or lumps byclusters of knots.Although a certain amount of furniture was made from walnutin the solid piece, it was used mainly in the form of a very thinsheet—veneer. This was glued down on to the main carcass of thepiece; the carcass usually being constructed of pinewood (deal)or oak. The use of veneers enabled the craftsmen to select thebest-marked portions and arrange them in patterns; a familiarform being known as 'quartering', where four successively cut
 rectangular pieces are laid on a surface so that their markingscoincide evenly. Equally popular were 'oysters', circular piecescut across a branch.A severe winter in 1709 was responsible for the destruction of a great number of walnut trees in Europe, and was followed bythe French prohibiting the export of the wood. To replace thissource of supply, the American variety of the tree, which wasalready being sent to England in increasing quantities, was usedinstead. American walnut is not unlike European, and often can-not be distinguished from it. Some of it is quite free from mark-ings, and this variety is often mistaken for mahogany when usedin pieces of furniture made at the time mahogany was beingintroduced—about 1730-40.The use of walnut declined quickly when the merits of mahog-any were brought to notice, and it is rarely found in furnituremade after 1740 until it came into fashion once more about ahundred years later. Then, it was used, as before, in the form of veneers on cabinets, tables and. other pieces, and in the solidfor chairs. These latter have come into rapidly increasing favourduring the past fifteen years, and while pre-1939 they could bebought for a matter of a few dollars a set, will now cost some-thing nearer $ 100 for six.Walnut furniture of the late seventeenth and early eighteenthcenturies is not easy to find. Veneered pieces were extremelypopular in the late 1920's and fetched high prices. This factproved an irresistible temptation to a large number of skilfulcabinet-makers, who attempted to make the supply meet thedemand and poured out large quantities of fakes of varying merit.The best of them are very difficult to detect; the poorest were sobadly made (in a vain attempt to make them look as though theyhad suffered 200 or more years of handling) that they have mostlyfallen to pieces. Apart from making fakes entirely from newtimber, much ingenuity was exercised in making them from bits of old furniture that were then worthless. This deception calls fora lot of knowledge to detect it. Walnut furniture must be boughtwith caution, and, preferably, from a trusted source.

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