A Newsletter for Lovers of Early English Oak Furniture

January 2015

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The birthday gift

The daughter tree of the original Royal Oak in Boscobel in 2011.

Lead-glazed earthenware dish decorated in slip showing Charles in the oak tree by Thomas Toft. c.1680.

Royal Oak

John had a fairly significant birthday recently (no, don't ask), and his cousin Eric gave him a gift that shows how well he knows him: Probably no one else on the planet would have been as delighted as John was with a three-inch chunk of old oak. What got John stirred up was the label tied to it. It read, "A piece of the Royal Oak, which was given me by an old Steward of Lord Middleton in Warwickshire in the year 1744, which the Steward himself had cut from the Roots of the Oak when he was a young man."

The Royal Oak, of course, is the tree in which Charles II spent a full day hiding from Cromwell's soldiers in 1651. Eventually, he escaped to the continent where he and his court lived until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. An oak tree may have saved Charles, but Charles did not save oak: His Restoration rang the death knell for the age of oak, and ushered in the age of walnut. Oh well. Perhaps he should have hidden in a walnut tree -- but that wouldn't have caught the English imagination like an oak.

Eric, by the way, is a descendent of Lord Middleton, and the piece of oak has descended within the family, so we believe the label!

Pick of Our Picks

A quick glance at this romayne panel will show why we just had to buy it. It is the only one we have seen with a little guy holding up the roundel -- looking like a rather puny imitation of Atlas holding up the world. Look more closely still, and you'll notice something else: he is anatomically complete!

OK, the Atlas wanna-be is something out of the ordinary, but so is the fact that the figure in the roundel is full-face, and not in profile, which, we suppose technically means that this is not a romayne panel at all. Romayne was the contemporary spelling of Roman, and the design of a face in profile in a roundel was derived directly from Roman coins which were excavated in some numbers during the early Renaissance. The figure here is dressed in the style of Henry VIII.

The flowers above the roundel have been thoroughly Anglicized: they are more like the flowers found on medieval pew ends than the neo-classical swirling foliage on most romayne panels.

The carving is deep and assured, the color is excellent, and the whole panel is a fine example of something that excites us when we find it and are able to offer it to our customers.

See it on our website.

Foxy Boxy

At first glance, I thought I'd come across something really special. It was a very small box, 12" w x 6" d x 7" h, described in the auction catalog as "English, 17th/early 18th century." That description didn't hold up for a moment -- not a single piece of metal on it was old -- the nails were wire, the hinges and lock brass and the lock made no sense as a lock! No question the box was nineteenth century or later.

Also no question that the carving was among the best fake carving I've seen, The front and the lid were carved with identical patterns of foliated S-scrolls that looked pretty authentic (we might forgive the carved lid because the box was so small),

Slowly the fakery in the carving became apparent to me, giving a good example of how stupid fakers can be. Look at the pinwheels at the center of the design, and you'll see how the "wear" has been created by a chisel. Look at the frond-stalks on either side of the pinwheel and you'll see the same thing. Then ask why the center of the design (the least touched area) should have received the most wear, and why the wear was identical on both the front and the lid. See what we mean by a stupid faker.

Then look at the background that has been chiseled out -- a good place to see it is along the bottom of the front. It has not been taken out cleanly to an even depth with a fairly flat surface -- lazy faker.

The background has not been matted with a matting punch, but where there is any matting, it has been done with a single, blunt point. The absence of marks made by a proper matting tool (often two rows of six or eight small points) is frequently a sign of nineteenth-century carving. Matting tools were made locally by each joiner's shop, unlike chisels and gouges which were made in Birmingham. It seems that almost no matting tools survived, and nineteenth-century carvers did not go to the trouble of having one made.

Once I'd spotted the fakery in the details, the design itself became less convincing. The back-to-back S-scrolls were too far apart, and didn't form a heart shape when looked at together. The scrolls at each end of S were the same size -- the faker couldn't even copy an S-scroll accurately.

But, overall, the box is good looking -- it has a great color, it looks old, and it would make an interesting (and useful) "study piece" in a serious collection. But I didn't buy it.