Thakeham Furniture

April 2, 2014

What is Rosewood?

Antique rosewood whatnot

This elegant Regency rosewood four tier whatnot came into the showroom this week. A question we are often asked is – what is rosewood? Where does it come from and when was it used?

Rosewood is a fine grained tropical hardwood, a beautiful timber that has been prized for centuries. The name comes from the scented aroma of the freshly cut timber – supposed to smell of roses, in our opinion it is more like chocolate! A decorative exotic wood, it was always expensive, and imported to England in small quantities until a rise in its popularity in the Regency period.

It was used in the solid form, but was most commonly cut and used in veneer form, as on this whatnot: the turned uprights are solid Brazilian rosewood while the shelves are veneered. Traditionally difficult to work because of its extreme density, it was known for quickly blunting tools, and, because of its oiliness, its resistance to glue.

There are two main varieties of Rosewood that were commonly used; the first and most prized is Brazilian rosewood, or Dalbergia Nigra. Also known as Rio rosewood, the colour varies from chocolate to violet brown, with distinctive black streaks that look almost like ink stains giving it dramatic figure.

During the 19th century, East Indian rosewood, or Dalbergia Latifolia, started to be imported. This also has a very distinctive figure; very dark purple-brown in colour, it is distinguished by its very fine dense grain, and the narrow parallel striped figure. Both forms polish to a beautiful smooth shine.

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