"... a book which deserves a place on the shelf of every furniture historian, museum curator and antique dealer." -- Huon Mallalieu, Country Life, 16 Jan 1992
"..it is interesting and obviously researched as well as possible, considering the dearth of information on this subject. Dealers, or collectors of early oak furniture, will no doubt find this a refreshing approach to the subject" -- R.E., Antiques Bulletin, 25 January 1992
"This is a novel approach to furniture study and a very attractive argument, which certainly merits the most serious attention." "Finally, detailed and very nicely illustrated are presented of sixty individual chests, desks and boxes" -- Dr William Linnard, Regional Furniture Society Newsletter, Winter 1991
From the Author
So far as I can tell, nobody has yet looked at antique oak furniture with a view to determining the origin of the timber from which it was made, and yet much information as to the sources lies within the timber itself.
Variations in annual ring-width are easily seen in oak, but the method of construction of joined 16th and 17th Century furniture usually obscures the end-grain of the larger panels. The end-grain of the boards used to construct six-plank chests and table boxes however can be easily examined; hence this book.
The information locked up in the cross-section of a tree gives us not only the age of the tree, but with trees of some age the system employed in their past management can be determined; equally, a lack of management shows up in the annual rings. Each ring is virtually a photograph of the conditions which prevailed during the year in which it was laid down, and a sequence of rings can provide a great deal of information. Variations in ring-widths not only tell us which years were periods of drought; they also give us an indication of periods when the tree slowed in growth due to competition from other trees, or grew more rapidly following thinning operations, or the cutting of competing coppice growth.
Our modern "high forest" system of oak management is only some three hundred years old and was not employed when the timber which is found in 16th and 17th century furniture was laid down. Home-grown timber must have been processed very near to the woodland or coppice in which it grew and I believe that information from the annual ring sequences can provide clues to the locality in which various items were manufactured.
Interpreting this information is of course a different matter, and what follows is an attempt to gain useful data from timber which was felled and seasoned more than three centuries ago, and then made into chests and boxes.
I have included some information on tools, and the box-makers, and the forms of decoration employed; I also suggest dates for each of the chests, desks, and table boxes illustrated towards the end of the book, in the hope that this "background" information may make it easier to appreciate the items themselves. I make no apology for the amount of pure speculation; by the law of averages some of this must be valid. I will leave the reader to decide which.