From John Evelyn, Acetaria: a Discourse of
John Evelyn recommended that mustard seeds be “bruis'd
with a polish'd Cannon-Bullet in a large wooden Bowl-Dish”
when making salad dressing. Evelyn worked hard to persuade the meat-eating
English of the virtues of vegetables. For your summer pleasure,
here is his account of a salad and its dressing (abbreviated):
We have said how necessary
it is, that in the Composure of a Sallet, every Plant should come
in to bear its part, without being over-power'd by some Herb of
a stronger Taste, so as to endanger the native Sapor and vertue
of the rest; but fall into their places, like the Notes in Music:
And tho' admitting some Discords striking in the more sprightly,
and sometimes gentler Notes, reconcile all Dissonancies, and melt
them into an agreeable Composition.
Preparatory to the Dressing therefore, let your
Herby Ingredients be exquisitely cull'd, and cleans'd of all worm-eaten,
slimy, canker'd, dry, spotted, or any ways vitiated Leaves. And
then that they be rather discreetly sprinkl'd, than over-much sob'd,
That the Oyl be very clean, not high-colour'd,
nor yellow; but smooth, light, and pleasant upon the Tongue; such
as the native Luca Olives afford, fit to allay the tartness of Vinegar,
yet gently to warm and humectate where it passes. Some who have
an aversion to Oyl, substitute fresh Butter in its stead; but 'tis
so exceedingly clogging to the Stomach, as by no means to be allow'd.
That the Vinegar be of the best Wine Vinegar, and
impregnated with the Infusion of Clove-gillyflowers, Elder, Roses,
Rosemary, Nasturtium, &c. inrich'd with the Vertues of the Plant.
That the Salt, detersive, penetrating, quickning
(and so great a resister of Putrefaction, as to have sometimes merited
Divine Epithets) be of the brightest Bay grey-Salt; moderately dried,
and contus'd, as being the least Corrosive.
That the Mustard be of the best, exquisitely sifted,
winnow'd, a little (not over-much) dry'd by the Fire, temper'd to
the consistence of a Pap with Vinegar, in which shavings of the
Horse-Radish have been steep'd.
Note, That the Seeds are pounded in a Mortar; or bruis'd with a
polish'd Cannon-Bullet, in a large wooden Bowl-Dish, or which is
most preferr'd, ground in a Quern.
The Knife, with which the Sallet Herbs are cut,
be of Silver, and by no means of Steel, which all Acids are apt
to corrode, and retain a Metalic relish of. The Saladiere be of
Porcelane, or of the Holland-Delft-Ware: Pewter or even Silver not
at all so well agreeing with Oyl and Vinegar, which leave their
And note, That there ought to be one of the Dishes,
in which to beat and mingle the Liquid Vehicles; and a second to
receive the crude Herbs in, upon which they are to be pour'd; and
then with a Fork and a Spoon kept continually stirr'd, 'till all
the Furniture be equally moisten'd: Some, who are husbands of their
Oyl, pour at first the Oyl alone, as more apt to communicate and
diffuse its Slipperiness, than when it is mingled and beaten with
the Acids; which they pour on last of all; and 'tis incredible how
small a quantity of Oyl is sufficient, to imbue a very plentiful
assembly of Sallet-Herbs.
contused: pounded, beaten small
sapor: taste, savor
vertue: beneficial properties
Sturdy, Mahogany Weak
In the UK, the highest antique furniture prices
were reached in 2001. By the end of 2004, the market had declined
by 14.7%. Within that, however, oak bucked the trend, and actually
gained 2.4%. John Andrews, who compiles the Antique Furniture Price
Index for the Antique Collectors Club, comments on the 2004 figures:
The Index began in 1968 when all categories of
furniture were given a value of 100. In 2005 the Index of all antique
furniture stood at 3184. The Oak index was 3810, making oak the
second best performer after its close cousin, Country Furniture,
which stood at 3957. (This means that you would have to pay $3,810
today for a piece of oak that you could have bought for $100 in
1968). FYI, the values and previous year’s performance of
other categories in 2005 were: Walnut 2810, maintained value; Early
mahogany 3034, down 8%; Late mahogany 2294, down 5%; Regency 3236,
down 12%; and Early Victorian 3149, down 11%.
The Index is based upon good, but not exceptional,
pieces – the average price of the oak pieces used to calculate
the index in 2005 was £4,725 ($8,600). Museum-quality and
well-provenanced pieces rose even faster. The Badminton Cabinet
at Christie’s fetched £17 million, as against £8.5
million in 1990. It is the most expensive piece of furniture ever
sold, and at its monstrous height of 12 feet 7 inches it must also
be one of the largest as well as, in our eyes at least, being one
of the ugliest. It is destined for the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna,
so at least no one will have to live with it. At Sotheby’s
sale of the Adler Collection (February 2005, see the next item),
the boarded stool shown here sold for $73,348 as against the $29,395
it fetched when Sotheby’s sold it in August 2002. The good,
the rare and the beautiful (?) are what make the best investments.
The Antique Furniture Index is published annually
in Antique Collecting, the magazine of the Antique Collectors’
Club, which covers oak and its market in England more thoroughly
than any other publication.
“Smalls,” carvings and objects, were
the stars in Sotheby’s sale of the Adler Collection (London,
24 February 2005).
The two top carvings came in first and third. They
were both about 34” high. The Magi (lot 21), a group of three
free-standing figures attributed to Henrik Douverman of Guelders,
c. 1520, was stunningly beautiful. What caught our eye was the remarkable
humanism and individualism of the figures – a sign of the
Renaissance rather than the Middle Ages. £433,000
The relief carving (lot 33) was Netherlandish,
c. 1475. Its date makes it late medieval and so, according to the
catalogue, does the more mannered treatment of the drapery. The
expressive realism of the figures approaches that of The Magi but
is not as fully developed. It does, however, show how rapidly the
key features of renaissance art were taken up by artisans working
in the medieval tradition, even as far north as the Netherlands.
The top “small” was a German Taylor’s
Yard, made of fruitwood inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, dated
1591. The inlay showed hounds, a bear, rabbits, goats playing cards
and a shield flanked by a pair of scissors. Two points of interest:
it’s a “yard” that is 21-1/4” or 54 cm long
(it was ceremonial and not, fortunately, practical!), and it was
the lot whose price beat its high estimate by the highest factor
– nearly 16 times. The Magi’s price was a mere 12 times
its high estimate. £142,400
The second “small” came in far behind.
It was an Anglo-Norman leather casket mounted in copper from about
1400, 17-1/4” long and 5-1/2” square (lot 1). £60,000
And close behind that came an Elizabethan walnut mortar and pestle
(lot 69) – interesting that this fetched more than furniture
from the same period. £40,800
My personal favorite was the Henry VIII cupboard
that fetched a fair £28,800 (lot 53). It’s as early
an example of joined and paneled construction as I’ve seen,
and the deep molded panels could well be from the early 17th century
– obviously a cutting-edge piece in its day.
Good, but more modest, carvings and fragments,
such as we carry when we can find them, were fetching strong, but
reasonable prices. A lot of three very well carved parchemin panels,
for example, fetched £3,600 ($6,400) and a panel with gothic
tracery, sold with a Tudor rose roof boss, went for £2,040
($3,672). To see our carvings and fragments, please click on Early
Oak > Carvings.
Cupboard or Almery
Dole cupboards were used for distributing left-over
food to the poor. Many were wall hung, to keep the food away from
rats and mice, but this example is floor standing. Its unusually
large size probably means that it was from one of the larger houses
of the time. Sitting on top of it is an example of the other type
of food storage, a livery cupboard.
The dole cupboard has been sturdily, but simply
and hurriedly, constructed as befits a functional piece that only
servants and beggars would see. The only decoration is the shaped
and canted skirt (which is also found on joint stools before about
1630) and the channel molding on the rails and stiles. It contains
a couple of joiner’s errors that attest to the speed of its
construction: there is a misplaced mortice in one of the door frames,
and in one of the ventilators there are four shallow drill holes
that were started in the wrong places – as an unintended bonus
they allow us to see the precise shape of the round-ended bit that
was used. Scribe lines for the tenons have been left in visible
places. The cupboard was, in short, not meant for the public rooms
of the house. As a result, to today’s eyes, it has a lot of
character and looks its age. It is also very functional. The collector
we bought it from stored his 12” LP records inside; it’s
also one of the few pieces of early oak that is suitable for books.
The practice of giving alms or dole needs to be
understood within the cultural meaning of dining. As we explain
in Living with Early Oak, the daily meal was as much a
display of the social status of the head of the house as a functional
and necessary way of feeding the household. The amount of food provided
was determined more by social status than by the numbers to be fed.
Having plentiful left-overs for dole was a sign of wealth, hospitality
and power, not of wastefulness or bad planning.
To take an extreme example: in 1251 Henry III gave
a modest wedding banquet for his daughter. He served the guests
a mere 1,300 deer, 7,000 hens, 170 boars, 60,000 herring, and 68,500
loaves of bread. The almost unimaginable scale of the feast had
little to do with number of guests or the size of their appetites,
but everything to do with an exhibition of royal munificence and
power. The dole must have been as magnificent as the feast, and
the poor as well-fed as the guests.
In their period, dole cupboards were often called
“almeries” and were placed in churches and in gatehouses.
Many great houses were like Marchalsea, in Essex, in having “a
littell olde almery in the logge at the gate” (1483). Henry
VIII decreed that, at his Eltham Palace, “All the relics and
fragments be gathered by the officers of the Almery, and be given
to the poore people at the utter gate by oversight of the almoner.”
The comparative simplicity of the construction of this example points
to its use in a gatehouse: use in a church, where it would have
been seen by both God and the public, would have required a higher
level of craftsmanship.
Dole, therefore, was not just a charitable way
of disposing of left-over scraps. It was a sign of social status,
a social obligation, and it was also a self-interested act by the
wealthy. Large numbers of starving people would have been a cause
of social disorder and might even have provoked a rebellion. Giving
dole, not as an isolated act of charity but as a regular social
practice, was a way of stabilizing the social order that had been
ordained by God. It follows, therefore, that it also served to secure
the privileged position of those who gave it. Obligation and self-interest.
And useful pieces of furniture!
For more pictures and details visit both
cupboards on our website: Early Oak > Case.