Acorns

A Newsletter for Lovers of Early English Oak Furniture

January 2010

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Triangular Box

Michael Cox is a regular Acorns reader and he’s agreed to share details of an unusual triangular box that he has just acquired. Triangular boxes are often called "hat boxes," but this one is clearly too early and of the wrong proportions for a tricorn hat. Michael dates it to the middle years of the seventeenth century, based in part on very similar carving on a chest dated 1639.

Michael did some research and found three more boxes like his with remarkably similar dimensions: widths 77cm; 74cm; 76cm (30", 29", 29-3/4"); depths (front to back) 38.5cm, 40cm, 38cm (14-1/2", 15-3/4", 14-1/2"). Basically, these boxes are 30" wide and 15" deep: the similarity in size does seem to suggest a common purpose.

After yet more research, Michael has come up with the idea that these boxes might have been made to hold coifs and forehead cloths, which were common pieces of clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries. Forehead cloths were triangular and many were decorated with silver and gold thread. They might well have merited a special box in which they could be stored without folding. Coifs, which were often worn with forehead cloths, weren’t triangular when laid flat, but still could have fitted in the box. He sent us pictures of his box, a forehead cloth, a coif and a hat box to support his theory,

A possible problem is that the boxes are considerably larger than forehead cloths, which are around 42 x 20 cm (16-1/2" x 9"). Coifs were about 45 cm (17-3/4") wide.

Does the disparity in size invalidate the idea that these boxes stored forehead cloths? If they didn’t, what did they store? Michael would welcome any suggestions at , and please copy us so that we may share them in a future Acorns.

Good Queen Bess

John was reading Paul Hentzner’s Travels in England (1598) when he came across Hentzner’s lively and detailed description of Queen Elizabeth. We thought you might enjoy it, too. We also thought it would be fun to compare a German tourist’s written description of the Queen with miniatures by Nicholas Hillyard, who was, of course, paid by her and thus might have been tempted to indulge in a little tactful airbrushing.

… next came the Queen, in the sixty-fifth year of her age, as we were told, very majestic; her face oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked; her lips narrow, and her teeth black (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar); she had in her ears two pearls, with very rich drops; she wore false hair, and that red; upon her head she had a small crown…; her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it till they marry; and she had on a necklace of exceedingly fine jewels; her hands were small, her fingers long, and her stature neither tall nor low; her air was stately, her manner of speaking mild and obliging. That day she was dressed in white silk, bordered with pearls the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk, shot with silver threads; her train was very long, the end of it borne by a marchioness.

The first Hillyard portrait was painted when the Queen was 67 (a couple of years after Hentzner saw her), and the unusual depiction of her flowing hair indicates her virginity (but was the hair hers?). The second miniature was painted a little earlier when she was 54. Both, typically for Hillyard, show the Queen as eternally young. In the third portrait she is 42. (This miniature is paired with one of her favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Astonishingly, they are only ¾" high and were probably set in rings worn by the sitters -- they just sold at Bonhams for $118,605.)

Whose Queen should we believe? Hentzner’s (wrinkled, balding, black-toothed) or Hillyard’s?

If the miniatures have whetted your appetite, you might enjoy Judith Dunn’s "English Portrait Miniatures, 1525-1810" (New England Antiques Journal, Nov 2009). If you’ve not visited NEAJ's online edition previously, you can click on any page to enlarge or reduce it, and turn the pages by grabbing a corner with your mouse or by clicking on the arrows at the bottom of the page. On p. 30 click in the box, top left, for another gallery of miniatures.

 

From an Old Fashioned Auction

This little rocking chair is a perfect miniaturization of the adult farmhouse chair that was popular in rural areas for much of the 18th century. The maker kept the proportions so accurate that we had to enlist Cromwell to show you just how small it really is.

The joiner who made it went the extra mile – it must have been for a much loved child. Little details like echoing the cupid’s bow on the crest in the seat rail; using a single board for the back, and then applying a molded frame to it to simulate a panel; putting neat little corner moldings on the front legs – and then the bowed sides. He really spent extra time giving them a smooth, outward bow. Each is made of two boards that have been carefully shaped by a drawknife and chisel to produce a (fairly) well-rounded curve. And then he topped them with those adult-form arms!

The rockers are original, and are attached with large screws. The little owners’ of the chair have rocked it back and forth so many hundreds of thousands of times that the heads of the rear screws have been worn right down, almost to the shanks.

"Cute" is not a word that crosses John’s English, stiff-upper-lips very often, but when he first saw it he exclaimed, "Cute as all get-go!" (He really has become Americanized, hasn’t he.)

For more details, go to Furniture >> English Country.