Glossary Antiques Terms
Classical ornamental device based on leaves of the Acanthus plant.
French term for a large, tall cupboard or press used for storing clothes.
Derived from an historic Paris exposition in 1925 that celebrated the marriage of art and industry in denunciation of Art Nouveau. It introduced simple, streamlined forms that were majestically interpreted in exotic woods and materials. American designers of the 1930s took this look further, using asymmetry, arcs, sleek lines, and geometric shapes not only in furniture, but also in architecture and a wide range of household objects.
A close-grained wood resembling oak; ash was popular for country furniture and for drawer linings.
A pair of iron bars, usually decorated at the front end by a vertical member, placed at each side of the hearth and upon which the burning logs were supported. Sometimes referred to as "fire-dogs."
A period and/or style of decoration which first appeared in England in the 1880’s and spread throughout Europe, particularly Belgium, France and Germany, in the early 1890s. It survived for 20 years, reflecting a return to nature and to the values of good workmanship. The characteristics of Art Nouveau were drawn from nature and featured plants and flowers in sinuous curves and convolutions.
Used for decorating glass; objects were coated with an acid-resistant substance, often wax. A design was scratched or carved in the wax, exposing the underlying glass, and the whole item dipped in acid, which fixes the design.
Turned, curving column consisting of several parts: a base, a swelling known as the poire (pear) or panse (belly), a neck immediately above this, above which, in turn, is a culminating capital. Balusters often used on legs for tables and chairs.
Narrow decorative strips of veneer or inlay usually forming a border.
Style of architecture and decoration originating in Italy during late 16th Century and spreading to other areas of Europe. Style is characterized by large scale, bold detail and sweeping curves. It was followed by the rococo style.
An hardwood often used to make chair frames and country furniture.
Lightweight or laminated wood that has been bent into curved shapes by steaming or soaking in hot water.
French upholstered armchair. In the 19th Century, this term applied to an upholstered, deep-seated chair with a loose cushion and padded arms.
French term - literally library. In furniture terms, it is a bookcase.
Gilded metal, especially cast brass or bronze gilded over fire with an amalgam of gold and mercury, used for furniture mounts and ornamental objects.
The name given to an iron or brass loop handle which is suspended from a pommel at either end. Usually found on drawers, the bail handle and the pommel together form what most people would call the handle
Commonly misunderstood as an actual cabinetmaker or furniture designer, Biedermeier was a fictitious character created by two German satirists in the late 1840s. The Biedermeier style in furniture was known for its clean lines, proportion, utility and geometry of form, which stood out as a rejection of the extravagance and ornament of the previous Empire Style. The furniture was often crafted from locally available fruit woods such as cherry and pear, as well as ash and oak. These woods provide much of the aesthetic that has become known as Biedermeier.
Close-grained yellow wood used for chairs and case furniture.
Birds Eye Maple
Pale wood in which the grain forms rings around small dark knots; popular for veneers.
Unglazed, fired porcelain, usually left entirely undecorated.
French term - literally blown out. Used to describe the bulging forms frequent in Louis XV case furniture.
Bonheur Du Jour
A ladys writing desk with shelves and pigeonholes, introduced in the mid-1700s.
Style of marquetry using tortoise shell and brass inlay perfected by Andre-Charles Boulle, Louis XIVs cabinetmaker.
Small, four-legged table with two hinged flaps; easily moved.
A side or serving table usually of two or more tiers, the function of which was replaced in the 18th Century by the sideboard
Abnormal excresence on a tree that produces mottled or speckled patterns in wood, which is much prized in veneers.
A veneer cut from a cross-section of the gnarled grain at a trees base.
Decorative devise based on the letter C, popular on Rococo furniture.
A sinuous tapering leg, curving outward at the knee, in toward the ankle and out again at the foot. Cabriole legs were popular from early to late 1700s.
A dining chair with arms, which is also often called an elbow chair.
Support shaped like a female figure.
A small wheel, made of wood, china, brass or leather, attached to the bottom of tables or chairs allowing them to be moved easily.
A branched candlestick usually cast in bronze, white metal or silver.
European furniture employing Chinese style decorations and ornamentation which was popular in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Elaborately painted laquer is a common feature of chinoiserie furniture
A table that stands against the wall and is usually supported by two, bracket-shaped legs.
Crenellation: (or crenellated)
Originally, this was called battlemented, and is a repeated geometric decoration based on the battlements of a castle or similarly fortified building. It is also used to described the tops of pottery vessels which have a wavy or even pie-crust rim. Can also be a term applied to a cornice.
A pretty and small writing desk with a sloping front, usually supported by ornate legs, with a series of drawers down one side, and false drawers on the opposite side. So called because the first one was ordered by one Capt. John Davenport in the late 1790s. Some examples have a writing surface which slides forwards as opposed to a fall-front, and quite a few harlequin examples exist
A frieze moulding of small rectangular blocks in an equidistant series resembling teeth. Taken from the Ionic and Corinthian orders, such moulding is often used to ornament a cornice
A (usually) turned shallow depression in the top of a table, often a gaming table, in which case they are used for storing the money or chips, and are also known as guinea pockets. Also found on candlestands and such-like. The main purpose of it is to stop objects from slipping off; The term also applies to the shaping of the wooden seat of (say) a Windsor chair for comfort.
A small headless peg or pin of wood used in cabinet-making for securing a joint, or to mount finials snd suchlike.
Repeated pendants beneath a rail, in some cases it will form an apron. It's occasionally used as another term for a chain
A hinged extension flap to a table, dropping vertically when not in use, which can be supported horizontally by a swing leg, a fly bracket or a loper. It's often made using a rule joint, but may be a butt.
French term for a cabinetmaker specializing in veneer.
Refers to components surmounting a column: the architrave, frieze and cornice.
Metal plate surrounding keyhole on furniture, serves both decorative and protective function; also a carved shield on a pediment.
The view of the grain at the end of a piece of timber, such as is seen when timber is cut across the grain direction (traverse).
Carved, turned or metal ornament mounted on top of a piece of furniture.
A French term for glazed earthenware such as Quimper
An upholstered armchair with open sides.
A Garland or Swag of flowers and foliage, or perhaps a ribbon, suspended from the ends; not to be confused with a chain, which often hangs from each end of a festoon. From the Baroque style, it resembles a hammock.
Pierced (Open fret) or applied (Blind fret) is an intricate form of decoration, usually done in plywood for strength. Frequently done in intricate patterns, which are often based on Chinoiserie and Gothic designs.
A term derived from the French word 'godron', which means 'ruffle', it's a carved decorative edge moulding, often found on the handles and rims of C18th silver, which is composed of a series of raised convex curves. In furniture, the term applies to an ornamental carved edge of tapered, curving and alternating concave and convex sections, usually diverging obliquely either side of a central point. This decoration is also found set square to the edge, in which case, on furniture, it's called Nulling.
A type of drop leaf table which gets its name from the "gates" (a frame of legs and stretchers) which support the leaves when open.
A mixture made of Plaster of Paris (whiting) and glue size applied to wood so as to provide a decorative surface which can be painted, gilded or lacquered. The surface can either be smooth or carved/moulded in low-relief. It's often used on picture frames.
Principally a term applied to Gothic architecture, this is a style of furniture design which similarly shows a lot of curved and pointed arches, resplendent with embellishments.
A piece of furniture which has a rising part composed of a box-like structure, fitted with drawers or small receptacles concealed in the body of the furniture and made to rise by means of weights. This is most commonly found in tables, but can also be found in some desks, particularly Davenports.
This is a term applied to an extension at the top of a cabriole leg which continues into, and joins, the rail above, usually a seat rail. Furthermore, it's a feature usually only found on better quality pieces. Hipped is also used in reference to the protuberance sometimes found at the top of the flared legs of a C19th centre-support table.
A decorative motif carved to resemble overlapping fish scales.
In furniture, it's decorative patterns or figural designs created with pieces of different coloured woods, or ivory, bone, shell, brass etc. which have been set into cut-out sections of the base, solid wood (see Marquetry). Similarly, in firearms, pieces of precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum, and ivory, are used in the stock as decoration and embellishment
A carved foot (especially found on furniture of the late C17th/early C18th) which usually appears on an otherwise straight leg, and which curls under and inwards a lot like a hockey-stick.
In furniture, it's the European (and American) imitation of Oriental lacquering, made by using spirit and oil varnishes, in use from the late C17th. It's also a term applied to the black varnish coating on the hilt of swords, the primary purpose of which is to prevent rusting. These are often augmented by decorative use of overpainting and giltwork.
Resembling the keel of a boat, it's the sharp edge frequently found on the corner of cabriole legs
When a piece of wood is cut on one side of with a number of deep, close-set parallel slits, the purpose of which is as to bend it. Used in the construction of rounded drawer-fronts, etc.
Fixed on the carcase either side and just above a (usually top) drawer this strip or block of wood prevents it from tipping downwards when open.
Layer of hard, glossy resin built up and carved, or inlaid with various materials.
Popular on panelling from the C16th, this relief carved motif, resembles vertical folds of cloth from which it takes its name.
Often referred to as simply a Press, or sometimes a Press Chest, this form of cupboard is composed of sliding drawers housed behind doors above a series of drawers, in what looks like (and is!) a chest-of-drawers. As the name implies, its function was to store linen and clothes. The term is also applied to a wooden frame, housing a large wooden screw and two boards, the purpose of which was to "press" linen.
Carved decoration in the form of a semicircle resembling a half-moon (hence its name), especially found on early oak furniture. Can appear in repeated bands or can be intersected, and can be embellished with foliate or other decoration.
Rich copper red wood from Central and South America.
Floral, landscape or other pattern of veneer in woods of contrasting grains and patterns.
Typically seen at the corners of a picture frame, this is the oblique bisecting line at the [mitre] joint of two pieces of wood, which is generally (but not always) a right angle.
The Second Empire of 1848 - 1870. Period of joyous resurrection of many previous furniture styles most notably Renaissance, Rococo and Louis XVI styles. Furniture ornament during this period was rich and often exuberant, taking many forms and using variety of materials and techniques.
A decorative style used in architecture, furniture and decoration/ornamentation derived from the interest in the Classical world which spread through Europe in the second half of the C18th, spurred on by the Grand Tours popular at the time. It was made popular in Britain by Robert Adam (1728-1792) and others, who used the classical motifs in completely new ways.
Popular wood for country and provincial furniture. Oak has a strong grain that darkens with age.
Powdered gold used to decorate bronze, or other metal, furniture mounts; also refers to the mounts themselves.
Often found on the (bracket) feet of Georgian furniture, this is a double-curved Gothic moulding of architectural origins, consisting of a convex arc above a concave arc, creating a wave-like profile.
Form of marquetry based on a repeated geometric pattern worked in contrasting woods.
Circular or oval motif decorated in low relief and widely used ornamentally; often resembling a stylised flower or rosette.
Softwood used for making less expensive furniture and often for the frames and carcasses of more expensive pieces.
A durable and malleable material made from paper or cardboard and glue-size, popular in the C18th and C19th for architectural mouldings, boxes and smaller items of furniture. Also known as Carton Pierre.
A flat-faced column, usually of a Classical order, and usually projecting from a wall. It was often used decoratively in low relief, and almost never as a means of support.
There are two types of porcelain; hard-paste, and soft-paste. The easiest way to learn to tell the difference, is to find some broken porcelain of each type, and to examine it thoroughly. Of course, read the following first!
Hard-paste porcelain is fired at a much higher temperature than soft paste, and hence has a very cold feel to the touch. Chips from it are flint or glass-like; it has a hard, glittery glaze which is fused to the paste.
Soft paste, fired at a lower temperature, was much less stable in the kiln, figures in particular were difficult to fire. Meissen was one of the factories which perfected this art, and no English figures can compare with them. A file will cut easily into soft paste (I suggest you don't try this at home!) and chips from it are granular. It feels warmer to the skin. Ones mouth is particularly sensitive to this, and with practice, it's quite easy to tell the difference between the two types by feeling them with the lips. Because of the difference in firing temperature, the glaze is softer, and does not fuse with the underlying paste in the same way as it does with hard paste. Glazes, therefore, have a tendency to pool and craze, and early soft paste was prone to discolouration.
A quarter-round drawer, usually found in the frieze of a desk or table, pivoted such that it swings out to open.
A veneering technique, found particularly on early C18th walnut furniture, in which four essentially identical and usually highly-figured sheets of veneer are laid opposite to each other, thereby producing a symmetrical and mirrored design. The pieces are made (effectively) identical by cutting them sequentially from the same piece of wood.
Decoration in the form of parallel ribbing, especially on columns and pilasters or on the legs of furniture.
Principally a rejection of the Gothic, this revival of Classical ideas, styles, architecture and decoration began in C15th Italy (principally Florence), and spread to Northern Europe during the C16th, eventually reaching England. Bringing a new naturalism, this influence didn't really affect English art and design until the early C17th
A French word meaning rockwork, often applied to shell and rockwork decoration found in Rococo work.
A circular-shaped, floral ornament. They were often used at the corner joints of fireplaces and in cabinet making.
The angle, inclination or slope backwards at which, for example a chair back deviates from the vertical
Wall light consisting of a backplate and candle holders.
Writing desk usually with a drop-front
In the form of an undulating curve.
Horizontal crosspiece used to join and strengthen the legs and pieces of furniture.
A stand for a candle or lamp.
A flexible, sliding shutter, which is made of strips of wood laid longways, side-by-side, and stuck to a canvas backing. Frequently found on bureaux and roll-top desks.
A flat wooden canopy, especially over a bed, in which case it's usually supported by two or four wooden posts. If it extends over the whole bed, it's called a full tester, and if only half of it, always the bedhead, it's called a half tester.
Derived from and resembling the stone openwork typically found in Gothic windows, this is carved, pierced or blind decoration
A Gothic motif of three arcs or lobes, looks a bit like a shamrock.
A term applied to a sword designed for use in action, a working sword, rather than on which is intended for ceremonial or decorative use.
This applies to any porcelain or china decoration which is applied under rather than over the glazed finish.
The Japanese name for the sap of the lac tree, a form of ash, and which forms the basis for lacquer.
Thin sheet of grained wood applied to a surface for decorative effect; technique was popular in Europe from the 17th Century.
Often favored for fine furniture, walnut has a faint grain and coarse with scattered pores. It varies in color from light to dark brown.
From the Dutch wagenschott, this is a type of fine straight-grained quarter-cut oak which was imported from the Baltic in the C16th and C17th, and which was originally used for wagon shafts. The term later became synonymous with oak, largely because the term is also applied to oak panelling used to line the interior walls of houses in the late C16th and early C17th.
A decorative motif, popularly carved on mouldings circa 1810-1840 which was based on waterlily foliage, and took the form of a narrow leaf with a central stem, in horizontal undulations
Arrangement of diagonal stretchers joining the front and back legs of a piece of furniture and crossing to form an X
A Japanese brush and ink holder - it resembles in purpose if not looks, an antique fountain pen. They are extremely unusual in the West, but some people collect them.
A unit of measurement used in carpet-making, which is somewhere between one yard and one metre in length.
A term given to a measurement of one and a half Zars, and which is about 5feet (1.53 metres), and is the typical width of many Oriental rugs.
An early effort in the field of animation, this was composed of a revolving cylinder of quite large diameter, into which a circular strip of card with pictures was placed. When the cylinder is spun, the pictures appear to move.