A Variety of Chests of Drawers-Antique Storage Furniture for the Modern Home
Chests of drawers of all shapes and sizes are perennially popular items. Tastes may change but storage space is always essential in any interior and so we always keep a wide variety of chests of all sorts in stock in order to give our clients as much choice as is possible when furnishing their homes. In this blog post we will be looking in depth at a range of these chests of drawers fro amongst our current stock and introducing them to you in more detail.
The chest of drawers evolved from the chest on stand. We don’t have any English chests on stands in stock at the moment but we do have a quite exceptional late 18th/early 19th century chest on stand produced in India for the Portuguese market.
This particular piece, known as a contador, combines a largely Portuguese form with Indian decoration such as inlaid ivory and the use of nagas (snake figures believed to provide protection from snake bites amongst other ailments) as supporters. The piece is made in two sections in the manner of much Indian-made “campaign” furniture, presumably for ease of transport back to Portugal. The Indian state of Goa was under Portuguese control from the 16th century until 1961 and large quantities of goods for export were produced there. However few pieces of this quality were made and this is a wonderful example of Indian export furniture. There are similar examples in museum collections in Portugal and in the V&A in London and Dr. Amin Jaffer’s pioneering studies on Indian furniture discuss such pieces in great detail. This is both a highly interesting academic piece and a very decorative talking point.
The next logical step in the evolution of the chest of drawers was to add further drawers and utilise the space where the stand would have been. In this way the chest on chest, double chest or tallboy, all essentially the same thing, was created. Tallboys are difficult pieces of furniture to design. Although very practical to use, if designed poorly they can look large and cumbersome and very blocky in their outline. These pieces survive in great numbers so any potential purchaser can afford to be very selective and that is of course precisely what we have done in choosing the two examples that we currently have in stock, both of which are beautifully proportioned and have that something extra that separates a fine piece from a merely good one.
The first tallboy we shall be discussing here is one of our newest acquisitions.
Veneered in fine quality walnut and with each drawer finely feather banded (a sort of herringbone cross binding that was used on the best walnut pieces where the two pieces of inlay at opposing angles create the effect of a feather), this piece was made around 1760 and as such combines some traditional features from earlier walnut pieces with some nods towards the approaching rococo period. The rococo influence can be seen in particular in the form of the fine, and original, plate brass handles which are a very good model and quite different to those usually found on walnut pieces, and in the charming ogee bracket feet. Ogee feet have a sweeping movement to them and they are always welcome features on cabinet furniture as they break up the otherwise straight lines. They are a relatively rare feature on tallboys of any sort but are particularly unusual on walnut pieces.
This piece has a wonderful glowing colour. Some walnut pieces can be very uniform in colour, straight-grained and dull, but this is a textbook example of walnut veneered furniture at its best. Sometimes walnut pieces have cheaper veneers used on the sides or even sides made of plain deal. This is because they were made to fill a particular alcove in a house and the sides would never have been seen and this was a good way for the cabinetmaker to save time and money. Needless to say, our piece does not have any of this cost cutting and the walnut veneers on the sides are equally as impressive as those on the drawer fronts.
With tallboys, as with bookcases, it is generally the case that a piece which appears to have a low waist is more desirable and this is a fine example of that theory in action. The join between the upper and lower sections is not right in the middle of the piece-it is slightly lower than that. In combination with the ogee feet and the pronounced difference in width between the lower and upper sections, this gives the piece great balance and makes it appear to be smaller than it really is. All signs that the piece was designed very well. This is an extremely fine example.
The second tallboy that we have in stock is also a very fine example but of a very different character. Made around the same time, c.1765, it also features fine ogee bracket feet but is veneered in highly figured mahogany rather than walnut and has cast gilt brass rococo handles of great visual interest and quality. It is the open pediment to the top which is the most striking feature perhaps and tallboys with pediments are very rare indeed. In the 18th century home, tallboys might be used in bedrooms or in the formal rooms in a house and it is generally believed that those with pediments were almost always designed for these more public rooms where the pediment might sit happily alongside a similarly-adorned bureau cabinet for example.
Aside from its beautiful design, this piece is of great historical interest. Firstly this is because it can be attributed with some confidence to the firm of Gillows (see our blog post on the firm) and secondly this is because the full provenance of this wonderful piece of furniture is recorded. The piece was made for August Prevost Snr, a professional soldier born in Switzerland but who served the English crown as a member of the Royal American Regiment (the 60th Regiment), commanding the regiment for many years. His list of military achievements is a long and detailed one but in summary he fought with Woolfe in Quebec in 1759, and was promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1761. During the War of Independence he was in charge of British forces in East Florida, being promoted to Major General in 1778. He retired in 1779 but his sons also had distinguished military careers, one of them continuing to serve in America until his death in 1821 and another two killed serving alongside Wellington in 1811.
This wonderful piece of furniture moved from one family residence to another (full details in our cataloguing on the website) for many generations until we acquired it. It is rare for a piece of furniture to combine historical interest, fine design and great cabinetmaking quite so successfully as this piece and it is a true one of a kind piece.
Another tall form of chest of drawers is the Wellington chest, so-called because it is believed that the design comes from a piece taken on campaign by the Duke of Wellington. These chest are tall and narrow in their proportions and of entirely rectangular form but they always have a locking section to one side that holds all of the drawers in place which was useful if the piece was being transported on campaign. These pieces proved very popular throughout the 19th century and we have two examples in stock.
The first of our Wellington chests is an early example with many unusual features.
Made c.1825 and attributed to Gillows, this piece is of fine mahogany with brass inlay and an extremely unsual and interesting green Swedish porphyry top. The top drawer front actually conceals a range of pigeon holes and every drawer front has an inlaid tooled leather insert. Clearly absolutely no expense was spared in the construction of this piece which is far too grand to have been used as a piece of campaign furniture. It is much more likely that it was commissioned by a wealthy connoisseur to use as part of his “home office” in his library or study. This is a very interesting example of the form and of the finest possible quality.
The second Wellington chest in our collection is of more typical form. It is a later example, made c.1850, and is entirely veneered in figured mahogany throughout. It lacks the refinements of the porphyry top, brass stringing and leather drawer inserts but is far from a standard example. The veneers are so well chosen that this was clearly a piece made by a firm of some renown and, again, Gillows are the most likely makers.
For the client who would like a Wellington chest but doesn’t want anything to detract from the visual effect of the veneered surface itself this could be the perfect piece-it is beautiful and functional without being in any way ostentatious and can be employed as a sort of refined filing cabinet in the modern home.
We finish this post with a selection of chests of drawers of the most familiar form but, as ever, each of these chests has something that makes it remarkable in some way.
Moving in chronological order, we begin with this fine three drawer chest made c.1780
Of pleasing serpentine shape and raised on short tapering legs with spade feet, this piece is of grand enough proportions to be described as a commode of drawers. Its form is one which is sometimes associated with Gillows and certainly the quality of the present example would support an attribution. Details of note include the fine, yet restrained, inlay to the pilasters and legs, the leaf carving on the base of the pilasters and the graduation of the drawers. When assessing chests, drawer graduation is often a very good indicator of quality. A piece with irregularly graduated drawers is usually the product of a poor quality workshop. The octagonal handles on this piece are also unusual and of excellent quality.
This chest has very interesting 20th century provenance, having been owned by Eustace Gibbs, 3rd Baron Wraxall, KCVO, CMG at Oakley House. The Baron was career diplomat, and his postings included Consul General in Paris in 1977. This fine chest would have some very interesting tales to tell were it able to speak.
As dealers in both furniture and military/naval works of art, we have always been interested in campaign pieces as they blend together our interests so seamlessly. We currently have a fine campaign chest of drawers in stock that is of Anglo-Chinese origin, that is to say made in China for an English client, c.1820.
This piece would have been produced for an officer in the navy or serving in the East India Company and is made, as ever, in two parts so that it can be transported with the minimum of effort. It is made from a dense Chinese hardwood, probably padouk, which has acquired a fine faded colour. It has typical recessed campaign handles which are all original, and a fine Chubb lock. The top drawer front conceals a secretaire section and inside this are three tobacco pouches, one labelled “S E Lark, Lieu Paymaster R.N, 11 Woodland Terrace, Plymouth”. Samuel Edward Lark was promoted to assistant paymaster in 1868 according to the Naval List so this chest may have been a family piece passed down to him by previous seafaring relatives or may have been something that he acquired elsewhere. Campaign pieces like this have clean lines and fit in to any interior scheme and the fact that there is some provenance for this example makes it particularly interesting as a talking point. A piece for the lover of fine furniture and maritime history.
Our final piece in this post can scarcely be more different from the previous example despite having been produced at almost exactly the same time.
This chest of drawers is in the manner of the fine makers Morel and Seddon, most famous for their work in the refurbishment and furnishing of Windsor Castle for George IV. Made in burr oak, a very popular timber in the regency period amongst fine makers like Morel and Seddon and George Bullock, this chest of drawers has every possible aesthetic refinement, It is banded throughout in fine quality ormolu and has the most exceptional handles of rococo revival form. The drawer configuration is four short over one long-the long bottom drawer being very well concealed as at first glance it appears to be identical to those above it. The top has a fine moulding and employs burr timbers of great figure and colour.
This piece would have been produced for one of the connoisseurs associated with George IV and his circle-this taste being known as the “Carlton House taste” after the King’s house on Pall Mall as Regent. This taste was always an exclusive one due to the cost of furnishing in this style and so we can be sure that the original owner of this chest was someone of great wealth and, in all likelihood, someone of some social standing.
The form of the chest is quite unusual for an English piece and was almost certainly a bespoke commission produced with a specific purpose in mind. It has some similarities with plan chests produced to hold large-scale prints or architectural plans but those pieces usually have long but very shallow drawers so it is likely that this piece was produced for a different purpose. An intriguing and very beautiful piece of furniture.
We hope that this post has inspired you to consider upgrading the storage pieces in your own collection and, as always, if we can help in any way with further details of these pieces or any others on our website then do please get in touch.
Wick Antiques was established by Charles Wallrock in the early 1980s. Having grown up in the Antiques world Charles developed an extensive wealth of knowledge.