Antiques Terminology

Aneroid Barometer An aneroid barometer uses a small, flexible metal box called an aneroid cell. This aneroid capsule (cell) is made from an alloy of beryllium and copper. The evacuated capsule (or usually more capsules) is prevented from collapsing by a strong spring. Small changes in external air pressure cause the cell to expand or contract. This expansion and contraction drives mechanical levers such that the tiny movements of the capsule are amplified and displayed on the face of the aneroid barometer.

Astragal – An astragal is a small molding profile composed of a half round surface surrounded by two flat planes (fillets). An astragal is sometimes referred to as a miniature torus. It can be an architectural element used at the top or base of a column, but is also employed as a framing device on furniture and woodwork. An astragal is commonly used as a term to describe the division between panes in a glazed cabinet.

Baize – Baize is a coarse woolen (or in cheaper variants cotton) cloth, sometimes called "felt" in American English based on a similarity in appearance. Baize is traditionally used to cover games tables to provide a playing surface for cards or billiards. The surface finish of baize is not very fine and therefore increases friction to slow the balls down.

Bergeré The term bergeré is often used to refer to the woven cane seat of a chair. Although the original meaning is the French name for a deep, tub-shaped, upholstered armchair from 19th century, with continuous top and arm rails and a slightly concave back. Some versions were caned between the arms and seat and have a loose seat cushion.  These bergeré seats were often over upholstered beneath the drop in cushion.

Bevelled – A general term used for any edge cut at an angle to a flat surface. The word bevel means to cut or shape.

Bird Cage Action – A wooden hinged mechanism that is usually found on 18th century tripod tables. It is a fixed mechanism at the top of the pedestal that allows the table to swivel, tilt, fold or be fixed horizontally.

Bois Durci – A hard, highly polishable composition, made of fine sawdust from hard wood (as rosewood) mixed with animal's blood, and pressed.

Breakfront – A term used to describe a piece of furniture with part of its front projecting. Breakfront bookcases, sideboards, wardrobes and clothes presses were popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Buhl / Boulle – Boulle is a marquetry technique, also known as Buhl work, using metal (usually brass) and tortoiseshell in reverse patterns, sometimes combined with other materials and often set in an ebony veneer. It was a popular technique in France from the late 17th century through to the 19th century and in Britain from 1815. The term is associated with the French cabinet-maker and ebeniste, Andre Boulle (1642-1732) of the Louis XIV period in France. He specialised in elegant, highly ornamental furniture - mainly for the nobility.

Cabriole Legs A cabriole leg is one of (usually four) vertical supports of a piece of furniture shaped in two curves; the upper arc is convex, while lower is concave; the upper curve always bows outward, while the lower curve bows inward. The axes of the two curves must lie within the same plane. This design was used by the ancient Chinese and Greeks, but emerged in Europe in the very early 18th century, when it was incorporated into the more curvilinear styles produced in France, England and Holland.

Casters – A caster (or castor) is an undriven, single, double, or compound wheel mounted on an object to make movement easier. Most furniture is mounted on swivel casters to make moving heavy loads easier in all directions, although some items may have fixed casters that only allow straight movement.

Chippendale – Thomas Chippendale was a London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754, he became the first cabinet-maker to publish a book of his designs, entitled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. Chippendale furniture is often considered the finest in British history and his much celebrated designs have been reproduced for years after his death in 1779.

Claw and Ball Feet – A term used to describe the feet of a piece of furniture that is carved to resemble a bird/animals claw grasping a ball. Perhaps first adapted in Europe by the Dutch, it spread to England, from whence it was introduced to America about 1735. Enormously popular as the foot of American cabriole leg furniture in the Queen Anne and Chippendale, styles. In America, a bird's claw was generally used, mostly the eagle's.

Club Foot – A term used to describe the feet of a piece of furniture with a slightly pointed toe, usually thick and substantial.

Cornice The term cornice comes from Italian, meaning “ledge.” Cornice molding is generally any horizontal decorative molding which crowns any building or furniture element: the cornice over a door or window, for instance, or the cornice around the edge of a pedestal.

Crossbanding – The traditional cabinetmakers skill of Crossbanding dates from when European explorers brought back exotic woods like tulipwood and satinwood from the Americas and the Orient. The term refers to the use of thin strips of veneer inlaid at 90 degrees to the main veneer direction.

Cross Stretchers A stretcher is a horizontal support element of a table, chair or other item of furniture; this structure is normally made of exposed wood and ties vertical elements of the piece together. There are numerous styles of the stretcher including crossed, circumferential, double and spindle design.

Demi-Lune – The term Demi Lune is a French term meaning ‘half moon’. In reference to furniture it is usually used in the context of the shape, such as a half moon (demi lune) shaped table.

Dovetail A dovetail joint or simply dovetail is a joint technique most commonly used in woodworking joinery. Noted for its resistance to being pulled apart (tensile strength), the dovetail joint is commonly used to join the sides of a drawer to the front. A series of pins cut to extend from the end of one board interlock with a series of tails cut into the end of another board. The pins and tails have a trapezoidal shape. Once glued, a wooden dovetail joint requires no mechanical fasteners.

Eight-Day Striking Movement – This term refers to a clock that has to be wound up every eight days (usually once a week) and strikes the hour (some clocks also strike every half hour.) Additional characteristics include two keyholes, one to be wound for time and one for the striking mechanism.

Escutcheons An escutcheon is an architectural item that surrounds a keyhole or lock cylinder. Escutcheons are mainly decorative: they draw the eye to the keyhole. However some help to protect a lock cylinder from drilling or snapping, and the surrounding area from wear.

Étagère An étagère is a piece of light furniture very similar to the English what-not, which was extensively made in France during the latter part of the 18th century. As the name implies, it consists of a series of stages or shelves for the reception of ornaments or other small articles. Like the what-not it was very often cornerwise in shape, and the best Louis XVI examples in exotic woods are exceedingly graceful and elegant.

Faceted – The term faceted refers to glass / gemstones being cut at an angle. A facet is one side of a many sided body.

Fretwork Fretwork is an interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background, or cut out with a fretsaw, jigsaw or scroll saw. Most fretwork patterns are geometric in design. The materials most commonly used are wood and metal. Fretwork is used to adorn furniture and musical instruments.

Frieze – A frieze is an ornamented, horizontal band of painted or sculptured decoration. The term also refers to the horizontal band beneath the cornice of a bookcase or cabinet.

GadroonedIn architecture it is a band of convex molding carved with ornamental beading or reeding. An ornamental band, used especially in silverwork, embellished with fluting, reeding, or another continuous pattern.

Gallery – A gallery is an architectural term used to describe a platform projecting from a wall. Although, when used in the context of furniture, refers to a protrusion of material (wood, stone, metal etc.) either horizontally or vertically from a surface. This often takes the form of a heightened back section on the surface of a table or a rail along the back of a sideboard.

Gillows of Lancaster – Gillows of Lancaster is a well-known maker of fine furniture. Robert Gillow established his firm in 1728 in Lancaster and subsequently opened a branch in London. At this time, furniture was also being traded to the West Indies from whence Gillows obtained the exotic hardwoods used in the production of some of their furniture designs. Gillows kept meticulous records, including a series of Estimate Books from 1784 to 1905, and from these it is often possible to identify the maker and original cost of the pieces.
French, English and Italian pieces collected by the Egerton family compliment the renowned Gillows collection and are displayed throughout their Mansion at Tatton Park, Cheshire. Tatton Park is considered to have the most outstanding collection of Gillows of Lancaster furniture in England.

Giltwood Any wood that is gilded, whether with gold paint or gold leaf. The gilding process involves liquid gold, which comprises of powdered gold leaf mixed with oils containing sulphur. This solution produces a thin film of metal to give lustre like finish.

Hepplewhite – George Hepplewhite was a cabinet and chair maker in the 18th century and the term Hepplewhite refers to his particular style. There are no pieces of furniture made by Hepplewhite or his firm known to exist but he gave his name to a distinctive style of light, elegant furniture that was fashionable between about 1775 and 1800.

Reproductions of his designs continued through the following centuries. One characteristic that is seen in many of his designs, but not all of them, is a shield-shaped chair back, where an expansive shield appeared in place of a narrower splat design.

Inlaid – The term inlaid refers to a piece of solid wood furniture which has pieces of coloured woods, ivory, metal or mother-of-pearl set into cut out recesses (around 3mm deep.) This technique was first used in the 15th century in Italy, although the practise died out once veneer and marquetry techniques were perfected. Inlay designs tend to be fairly simple and usually geometric.

Japy Freres This company was set up in 1771 by Georges Frederic Japy (1749-1812), known as Frederic Japy. Soon after the death of Frederic in 1812, his sons renamed the firm Japy Freres et Cie.
In about 1850, the brothers set up a factory in Beaucourt, France, for the purpose of manufacturing the complete clock, by adding production facilities which were required to manufacture clock parts normally made by other specialists. At this time, the firm began to manufacture clocks that were marked Japy Freres, and the products of this firm were marketed under the name Japy Freres et Cie after 1854. Japy exhibited at trade fairs all over Europe, and won many awards for their innovation, style, and quality.

Lamb's Tongue A decorative flourish in metal, wood or plaster that terminates with an S shape often earns the name "lamb's tongue". It is, in essence, an ogee shape. In furniture, a lamb's tongue is frequently used at the point where a stopped chamfer changes into a sharp corner.

Lion Mask Handles – A lion mask refers to the depiction of a lions face as a decoration, often seen holding a ring in its mouth. The Lion mask is a motif used from antiquity as an emblem of strength, courage, and majesty. The lion mask holding a ring in its mouth as a handle derives from ancient Roman furniture and it continues to be popular as doorknocker. From the early 18th century onwards lion mask handles featured prominently in furniture design and are commonly seen on a wide range of antique furnishings.

Marquetry Marquetry is the craft of covering a structural carcass with pieces of veneer forming decorative patterns, designs or pictures. The technique may be applied to case furniture or even seat furniture, to decorative small objects with smooth, veneerable surfaces or to free-standing pictorial panels appreciated in their own right. (Marquetry and parquetry differ from the more ancient craft of inlay, in which a solid body of one material is cut out to receive sections of another, to form the surface pattern.)

Mountings – Mounting is a term used to describe an ornamental addition to an item of furniture, applied over the main body of the item. Often mountings on furniture are a different material to the timber beneath, such as brass or ormolu.

Pad Foot A flattened disk-like foot often found under a cabriole leg. It is similar to a clubfoot.

Parquetry Parquetry is very similar in technique to marquetry: in parquetry the pieces of veneer are of simple repeating geometric shapes, forming tiling patterns such as would cover a floor (parquet), or forming basket weave or brickwork patterns, trelliswork and the like.

Pedestal – A Pedestal (from French piedestal / Italian piedistallo) is a term generally used for a solid, moulded or carved support variously adapted to form a stand for urns, sculptured figures, lamps and furniture.

Pediment A pediment is a classical architectural element consisting of the triangular section found above the horizontal structure (entablature), typically supported by columns.

Pie Crust Edge – A scalloped decorative rim reminiscent of the crimped edges of a pie, which was popular on furniture in during the mid 18th century and much reproduced in the 19th century.

Reeded – Reeding is a series of grooved lines or a set of mouldings, as used to decorate a column. Several reedings are often placed together, parallel to each other, either projecting from, or inserted into, the adjoining surface. The decoration so produced is then called, in general, reeding.

Sabre Legs – A sabre leg is an early 19th century curved chair leg, which resembles the line of a sabre blade. This term is most closely associated with the regency period, although after 1815 this type of design was sometimes referred to as a waterloo leg, after the Battle of Waterloo.

Satsuma Ware Satsuma ware, sometimes referred to as "Satsuma porcelain", is a type of Japanese earthenware pottery. It originated in the late 16th century, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, and is still produced today. Although the term can be used to describe a variety of types of pottery, the best known type of Satsuma ware has a soft, ivory-colored, crackled glaze with elaborate polychrome and gold decorations.

Splat A splat is the vertical central element of a chair back. Typically this element of a chair is of exposed wood design. The splat is an important element of furniture identification, since its design has a multitude of variations incorporating the themes of different furniture periods.

Sheraton Sheraton is a late 18th century neoclassical English furniture style, in vogue between 1785 and 1800. The term was coined by 19th century collectors and dealers to credit furniture designer Thomas Sheraton, born in Stockton-on-Tees, England in 1751 and whose books, "The Cabinet Dictionary" (1803) of engraved designs and the "Cabinet Maker's & Upholsterer's Drawing Book" (1791) of furniture patterns exemplify this style.
The Sheraton style was inspired by the Louis XVI style and features round tapered legs, fluting and most notably contrasting veneer inlays. Sheraton style furniture takes lightweight rectilinear forms, using satinwood, mahogany and tulipwood, sycamore and rosewood for inlaid decorations, though painted finishes and brass fittings are also to be found.

Turned Wood The term turned wood, in the context of furniture refers to wooden aspects of an item that have been shaped by rotating on a lathe, such as turned wood support on a table. Woodturning has been a principal decorative effect on furniture since medieval times and developed particularly during the late 16th and 17th centuries.

Waring and Gillows Waring & Gillows is a noted firm of English furniture manufacturers formed in 1897 by the merger of Gillows of Lancaster and Waring of Liverpool. Both businesses had large stores in Oxford Street, London and it is said that the expiry of the Gillow's lease prompted the two firms coming together. It remained an independent firm, until 1985, when it was taken over.

What-Not – a what-not is a piece of furniture derived from the French étagère, which was exceedingly popular in England in the first three-quarters of the 19th century. It usually consists of slender uprights or pillars, supporting a series of shelves for holding china, ornaments or trifles of any kind, hence the allusive name. In its English form, although a convenient drawing room receptacle, it was rarely beautiful. The early mahogany examples are, however, sometimes graceful in their simplicity.

W & H Sch Winterhalder and Hofmeier are one of the most famous German Victorian clockmakers. The firm was started by Anton Winterhalder in Schwarzenbach, Germany in 1810, taking Anton Hofmeier into partnership in 1850, with the business finally closing on the death of Winterhalder's last son Linus in 1910.