Pollard Oak – Or Burr?


3823aPollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practised today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height. The bole of the tree, constantly cut back over a period of years, will eventually form a lump, or ‘burr’, which when sawn for veneer, gives a lovely grained, swirling figure.

The effect is similar to that of burr walnut with its distinctive speckled grain. Burrs, or ‘burls’, are growths which appear on the side of tree trunks, resulting from a tree undergoing some form of stress. They may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus.

During the 19th century great strides were made in the mechanisation of cabinet making. Marc Isambard Brunel [Isambard Kingdom’s father] built the first steam driven saw mill, and invented a circular saw that could be used to cut veneers thinly and evenly for the first time. He also developed the first hydraulic veneer press. The figured wood cut from burrs and pollards is notoriously difficult to cut and lay: the wild grain which makes it so attractive results in a very delicate, brittle veneer. The new machines enabled the Victorian craftsmen to make the most of these beautiful timbers.

The quality of this pollard oak bookcase, dating from about 1850, is exceptional. The proportions are lovely, and the intricately grained veneers are beautifully selected and matched. It is oak lined throughout, and with its original patina, faded to a ‘honey’ colour.

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What is a Ho Ho Bird?


The Ho ho bird comes from the mythical Japanese version of the Phoenix. Although most commonly referred to as the Ho ho, the mysterious creature, with a long beak and curving neck, flowing tail, claws and crest takes on many other names, including hoo, foo, ho-wo, hobo, howo, ho and sacred river! Originally appearing as a motif in Asian decorative art (ceramics, woodwork and plasterwork), the bird was said to bring luck, symbolising good fortune; specifically longevity, fidelity and wisdom. It is often portrayed as an amalgam of several birds, including the phoenix, pheasant, stork, heron and bird of paradise.

Ho ho birds occur frequently within Rococo decoration from 18th century France, commonly on mirrors, mantel clocks and candle stands.

Ho ho birds first starting appearing in England in the 18th century on Georgian furniture and also on quality porcelain. The most common place for these birds to appear was on Georgian fret mirrors (many of which we frequently have in stock at Thakeham Furniture) These mirrors, dating from about 1760 onwards, usually incorporate a shaped cresting board in which the gilt Ho ho bird is mounted. (please see example) They are a simple decorative element that give a little lift to an otherwise understated classic Georgian design.

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The Norman Adams Collection


3824aWhen we bought this mahogany whatnot last week and turned it over, we were not surprised to see the label ‘Norman Adams’ attached to the underside. The name has become synonymous with the finest quality English furniture of the l8th and early 19th centuries.

Norman Adams was the son of a Bristol schoolmaster and antique dealer, and in 1928 opened his famous shop at 8 – 10 Hans Road, Knightsbridge, which only closed in 2009. He was known as an unrivalled supplier of what is possibly the finest period of English furniture. His ‘eye’ for quality was unerring, and many of the very finest pieces from the Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite eras passed through his hands. His particular passion was the importance of ‘patina’ – that elusive quality that builds up on the surface of a good piece. It is that extra ingredient that transforms the surface, giving it a lustrous depth.

In 1983 the Antique Collectors Club published ‘The Norman Adams Collection’, cataloguing some of his finest pieces, which is today often used as a guide to really good ‘period’ furniture.

This whatnot, dating from about 1800, displays the typically high quality of cabinet work. The turnings are restrained in design and crisply executed; the mahogany is of the very finest quality, and the colour has that lovely faded lustre.

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Antique Brass Handles – A Guide


Brass mounts were used on furniture from the 17th century onwards – the metal was popular because it had a good colour which enhanced the surrounding wood; it was also relatively soft and easy to work – and could be reproduced quickly and easily by casting.


gfgfThe earliest examples were the  pear-drop: a bulbous drop fitted to a circular back plate. These were typically used during the William and Mary period, on mostly heavy, moulded oak pieces. With the advent of the walnut period, these and similar strap drops continued to be used, but also introduced was a type of handle used throughout the 18th century: the loop handle with two fastenings.


DSCF7742The first of these had a shaped back plate with a chased, or engraved, decoration on it. As the century progressed, and the walnut and early mahogany furniture grew more sophisticated, the shaping of these back plates became more elaborate, with scrollwork and arabesques. The centre was often fretted out to echo the design, and matched with equally elaborate ‘escutcheons’, or key hole plates.


DSCF7747In about 1750 a new, simpler type supplanted these: retaining the loop or ‘swan neck’ handle, the single back plate disappeared to be replaced by two small circular plates. The focus became less on the handles, more on the figure of the wood during the classic Georgian period. French influence began to be apparent around this time too, such as the flamboyant Rococo mounts of the Chippendale style, and these were often gilded to protect the metal from tarnishing.


DSCF7748The development of sheet brass which could be stamped or pressed intoshape saw the introduction, in the 1780s, of the first metal knobs, with pressed brass fronts, decorated with fashionable motifs of the day, such as thistles. Throughout the Sheraton period brass knobs became smaller and more elegant, before they were superseded by wooden ones at the start of the 19th century.


DSCF7749The continuous back-plate also re-emerged in the 1780s, pressed most commonly into an oval or round shape, sometimes in geometric form – ushering in the Regency period with its exotic designs. ‘Lion’s Mask’ handles were typical – a cast lions head, with a ring in its mouth as the handle.



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Edwards and Roberts


3739aThe firm of Edwards & Roberts was founded in 1845, and had premises at 21 Wardour Street, London. They were primarily cabinet makers and produced some of the very finest furniture of the late Victorian and Edwardian era. By 1892 they occupied more than a dozen buildings in Wardour Street, where they continued to trade until the end of the century.
Known and feted as one of the leading London cabinet makers and retailers, they worked in a variety of styles, both modern and revivalist. Their marquetry work was of a quality that equalled the creations of the French ébenistes of the 18th century.
The business involved making and retailing their own output, as well as adapting and restoring both English & Continental antique furniture. Many examples that passed through their hands bear their stamp or trade label, such as this exquisite rosewood Bonheur du Jour, or ladies writing desk. Dating from about 1820, the stamp ‘Edwards & Roberts Wardour St London’ is in the right hand drawer. It is a supremely elegant Regency piece, with its delicate turned and reeded legs, and fine brass gallery.

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Furniture Of The Turner Era


Currently taking place at Petworth house, and running until 12th March is ‘Turner’s Sussex’: an exhibition examining the artist’s work in the county of Sussex. To celebrate this, we have considered here what was happening in terms of furniture design during the Turner era.

Regency furniture is popularly described as the furniture produced in the period 1790 to 1830 – covering almost exactly the period of Turner’s working life. These years produced some of the most inventive and decorative furniture that has ever been made.

The desire for homes built ‘a la mode’ grew increasingly from the late 1700s. The economy was going from strength to strength, opening up new areas for commercial expansion, and heralding a greater French influence in design .It was fashionable for educated people to show an interest in history and an appreciation of the arts; increasing numbers of affluent people undertook the Grand Tour, and, like Turner himself, returned home with eyes educated to appreciate fine art.

The Regency attitude to inter3717bior decoration involved treating each room as a unit, with furnishings in harmony of theme or colour. Rooms were designed for a more informal style of living; windows were large and often used as doors into the garden. To fit suitably into these new interiors furniture had to be light and small enough to be easily moved about.

Popular interest in novelty and invention also resulted in the production of pieces with dual purpose: such as these library steps which conceal a commode!

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Cracking The Tambour

A tambour is a sliding door consisting of a series of narrow mouldings or reeds of wood glued side by side to a stout canvas backing. Once dry, the tambour is the then ‘cracked’, whereby the glue between between each reed is loosened in the hands, to allow it to curve into shape. One end of the tambour is then fitted into a groove on the inner side of the piece of furniture, thus guiding the top in the direction required.

Tambour doors first came into existence in France circa 1750, and then in England towards the end of the century. In Hepplewhite’s ‘Guide’ 1788, he describes them as ‘very convenient pieces of furniture’

Roll top bureaus (in which the top is enclosed beneath a curved sliding tambour), came into popularity at the turn of the 19th century. However, Sheraton criticised the use of tambour within larger items of furniture, labelling them ‘almost out of use being both insecure and liable to injury’.  On smaller items of furniture the tambour is certainly strong and attractive feature. An example of this is on commodes and pot cupboards, which was commonplace in the mid nineteenth century.  On commode doors the slats are generally quite fine, however larger pieces tended to have wider slats as the depth of the cabinet provides plenty of room for a gently curved track.

A fine example of the use of tambour doors, is on this 18th century Dutch mahogany side cabinet. It has a figured top and a pretty dentil moulded cornice over two doors that slide open to reveal an adjustable shelf; perfect for use as a drinks cabinet!

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Butler’s Trays


In the 18th century trays were often mounted on legs or folding stands and used, in Thomas Sheraton’s words, ‘as a sideboard for the butler, who has the care of the liquor at a gentleman’s table’; others served as dumb waiters, and for tea. This composite form of furniture first appears in the early Georgian period. Shortly after 1750 mahogany trays were made for butlers’ use, set on the familiar X-shaped folding stand. The sides of the trays were sometimes pierced, either with cut-out handles of fretwork. Honduras mahogany would be used for the sides, but  the base would be made of Spanish or Cuban mahogany as it is harder and so more resistant to dents from glasses and decanters.

In the Regency period the folding stands became more decorative and were often turned and ringed. The trays evolved too, with the oval form becoming popular: these had  hinged edges which stand up to make a rectangular tray, such as in this beautiful example from the 1800s. The hinges are beautifully made: stopped, and also haunched, so that the sides do not simply fall down again. Butler’s trays are useful pieces of furniture that bring slightly more height to a room, and can be folded up and put away.

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Flame, Burr and Birdseye: A Guide to Figures in Timber


While ‘grain’ refers to the orientation of the fibres within timber, ‘figure’ describes the various distinctive patterns that result from this. More simply put, it is the surface pattern. Many things create and shape a wood’s figure, from the difference in density between earlywood and latewood cells, natural pigments and the number of growth rings; to deformations such as knots and external forces such as tensions and compression. Below are some of the most common examples of figure found on antique furniture.

Flame: Flame mahogany is cut at the crotch; the junction of a branch with the main stem of the tree, producing a flame-like figuring. This is an expensive process, with beautiful results which make it highly desirable within antique furniture.



Fiddleback: A wavy or rippled effect; the name derives from the common use on the backs of violins.



Birdseye: A rare, distinctive figure that most commonly occurs with maple. It appears like lots of tiny eyes in the grain.



Burr (or burl): A burr results from a tree undergoing some form of stress such as injury, virus or fungus. A swirly figure made up of tiny knots, it has the appearance of clustered buds and eyes surrounded by contorted veins and lines. Prized for its beauty



plum pudding: Plum pudding , usually occurring in mahogany, is an irregular grain caused by natural pigmentation from infiltrates. It has a streaky appearance which again is highly rare and desirable.



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Wood fit for a King

New in this week is this elegant lamp table veneered in Kingwood. Sometimes known as ‘violet wood’ because if its slightly purple hue, Kingwood [Dalbergia Ciarensis] is an exotic hardwood originating from South America. It is a small diameter tree, so although the timber is strong and straight-grained, it was mainly used as a decorative veneer. Described in some early inventories as ‘Prince’s wood’ it was prized for its colouring and distinctive, stripy grain.

First used by the French cabinet makers, or ‘ebenistes’, of the Louis XIV period, it was very popular; often used in conjunction with Tulipwood, another decorative hardwood with a distinctive pink and cream stripe, many of the grand, ormulu-mounted commodes of the day were quarter veneered with these.

Imported from such a long way, and only in small quantities, it would have been an expensive veneer. In England it became popular during the Sheraton period of the late 18th century, often used as a decorative crossbanding with other exotic hardwoods, such as Satinwood and Purpleheart. It remained in occasional use throughout the Regency period, although Rosewood, to which it looks very similar, was more popular.

To have an entire piece veneered in Kingwood, as this table is, was very unusual; it is a lovely quality piece in every aspect, from the mahogany carcase wood to the delicate boxwood line and elegant castors.

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