What is it for?

Delightful & Usefull but what was the top used for?

In the eighteenth century many of the pieces made were done so on a commission basis. On occasion, this now results in us buying a piece whose purpose has been obscured by time.

Just in and looking as pretty as a picture, is this unusual satinwood table from about 1780. Whilst it is obviously a table, it has what appears to be a game board inlaid into the top.  It looks a little like a board for a game of Morris but it would be nice to know whether it is for a game or has some other purpose. If anyone out there knows, we would be delighted to hear from you.

In the meantime, it is for sale and its details may be found on the relevant page on our website.

Have we lost the thrill of the exotic?

By Guy Apter

In the British Museum lies a preserved duck billed platypus. In the eighteenth century, the descriptions of this absurdly unbelievable animal which were reaching London seemed so preposterous that its existence was fiercely debated and bet against. It was not until specimens started arriving in London in sufficient numbers that their existence was accepted.

A pair of cloisonné incense burners in the form of quails.

A pair of cloisonné incense burners in the form of quails. Chinese, c. 1820 £11,500

We use this example as a comparison to our current age of instant access, with a quick google search, to information about everything from everywhere. Have we lost the sense of wonder and excitement at discovering something foreign and exotic?


Detail from a Chinese Export Lacquer Screen, Chinese c. 1850 £49,000

Back in the Eighteenth century the Western world had already been trading with the East for over 100 years yet still it retained its marvellous sense of the mysterious, and was certainly still capable of inspiring some of the most exuberant and fanciful decorative art of any period. We are referring, of course, to Chinoiserie, and in a timely manner we are tipping our hat to Asian Art Week.

English furniture of the eighteenth century is rife with Chinese influence, indeed an entire genre is referred to as Chinese Chippendale. So powerful were the images and descriptions reaching England from China that there were no less than three distinct periods of Chinoiserie style, culminating in possibly the most

A stunning example of a Chinese Export Centre Table, c. 1840

A stunning example of a Chinese Export Centre Table, c. 1840 £49,000

extraordinary example of architectural creations in the Regency Period – the Brighton Pavilion.

It is important to note a distinction about Chinese style and the eighteenth century. Whilst Chinoiserie refers to the decorative arts produced in Europe and inspired by the Chinese, also available at this time were the goods created in China for export to Europe, what we now refer to as Chinese Export Ware. The tables illustrated here provide us with a very good comparison of the two different approaches.

A stunning example of a Chinoiserie centre table, English c. 1815

A stunning example of a Chinoiserie centre table, English c. 1815 £85,000

Chinese export furniture and decorative arts found a more than ready market in the European homes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has never waned in popularity since. In recent years a number of major collections have been formed and whilst the market is still priced accessibly it can only be a matter of time before Chinoiserie and Chinese Export Ware finds favour amongst Chinese collectors and demand outstrips the supply of great pieces.

For further reading on this subject, see Sheila Gibson-Stoodley’s article for Art & Antiques Magazine which can be found here.

Care of your antique furniture

Gallery Manager Alice Freyman asks Mark Fitzgerald, who specialises in the conservation and restoration of patinated surfaces, some basic questions about how to care for your antique furniture.

Imagine the scene. Your Apter Fredericks dining table is laid immaculately, and the candlelight from your recently acquired candelabra is glowing magnificently on the warm mahogany table top. The flowers are fresh, the ambience is perfect. You are filling your water glasses as a finishing touch for your dinner party when suddenly, you lose your grip.  Help! Disaster!  You accidentally spill the whole jug of water all over your beautiful antique table. What do you do?

markThe trick with any kind of spillage is to dry it up straight away, preferably with something like a clean dishcloth. When cleared up immediately, water is not usually a problem.

If the water is left on the surface for only a short length of time, it may be possible to fix this yourself with the addition of new wax. Use any commercial wax, such as Town Talk Polish Luxury Furniture Wax, and apply with a lint free cloth such as a duster.

However if water has been sitting on a surface for some time – for example a friend putting a glass with a wet bottom down and leaving it on the table overnight, then it would need professional attention. Be aware that drinks with ice can sometimes cause condensation on the outside of the glass.

A worse problem altogether would be if you spilt alcohol or a hot drink, because these liquids could perish the wax and damage the patinated surface or dissolve the shellac varnish.  This would be a problem that you couldn’t deal with yourself, and you would need to seek professional restoration. 

In order to retain the colour and to protect a piece for the future, what technique should the housekeeper / mother-in-law / small-child-after-some-pocket-money adopt when cleaning the furniture and how often should it be done?

Apart from dusting with a soft cloth, how often you wax a piece would depend on how often you use it.  A dining table which is used regularly could be waxed once a month. Just use a commercial wax as described above.  You should never use a spray cleaner as they contain a silicon ingredient which takes the surface off.  For furniture which isn’t used regularly just use a plain duster. Don’t over think it.

My grandmother said you should always keep a bowl of water near or inside furniture. What’s that all about?

This has to do with the moisture content in the air and is to do with the timber splitting or warping.  The problem is caused by modern-day heating systems which dry the air. The bowl of water is just a rudimentary form of humidification. It won’t do any harm so by all means if you’d like to keep one in your furniture then do – just make sure it doesn’t spill!

If you notice signs of the furniture drying out – for example lifting veneers or cross-banding, the doors not closing properly, or the locks not throwing the bolt so smoothly, then the best option is to buy a proper humidifier. You should aim for about 50% humidification.

Mahogany Chest with Swags

Mahogany Chest with Swags

 Is there anything else we should be aware of with regards to the care of antique furniture?

UV light and sunlight can be a problem. Whilst a bit of light can really give a wonderful colour to furniture, direct sunlight can over-fade the furniture and more importantly it can heat the wood which can then be in danger of splitting or warping when one would need professional help to restore them. I believe you can buy a clear plastic film to go on windows which can stop UV light if you are really worried.

As a final, very important point, antique furniture is valued for the surface that has developed over 200 years of history and usage.  The marks on the surface can be those very spillages that we have been discussing and an assessment must be made as to the whether more damage would be done in removing those marks than by leaving them to become a further part of the story of the antique.  Sometimes it is better to merely improve the mark than to remove it and the entire old surface along with it.  Be wary of a restorer who does not at least entertain the possibility of improving the mark before suggesting refinishing the whole piece.


150 Years of Furniture in 900 Words and 7 pictures

By Guy Apter


1700 to 1850: one hundred and fifty years of furniture manufacture in England. Yet we blithely describe ourselves as dealers in 18th & early 19th century antiques with no mention of the monumental changes that took place in both the design of, and the materials used, in furniture making during this period.

The furniture of the 1700s was generally made of native woods like oak, elm, ash and walnut, and looked entirely different to the furniture made out of a multitude of imported woods in the 1800s.  And between those years there were two neo classical periods, a rococo period, and smattering of Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and French influence to say the least

Gesso Table c. 1710

Gesso Table c. 1710

With the exception of farming, the furniture making industry employed more people than any other occupation at this time.  It was big business. It was dynamic and it was driven by a clientele who were exacting, educated and wealthy.  Like today, there was the desire for the latest trend, the newest material, the one of a kind and, of course, the showing off.

It is hard to imagine how shocking it must have been to have entered a room in the first quarter of the eighteenth century and to see for the first time a table entirely covered in gold. Where before there was dark wood in a candlelit house, now there was a ‘reflecting beacon’.  I imagine as many people would have been repulsed by this as liked it, but it certainly prevailed.

Chest on Stand c. 1720

Chest on Stand c. 1720

Furniture went from utilitarian to decorative in a very short length of time. The chest of drawers is a marvellous example. Originally a trunk, it moved from that to a chest, but a chest with little ornamentation until the very end of the 17th century.  Then in the eighteenth century,  its status had so improved that it was quite literally “elevated” – given legs – and thus became a focal point in the room.


Walnut Bookcase c. 1735

Walnut Bookcase c. 1735

By the late 1730s indigenous walnut furniture began to be superseded by imported mahogany, a dark rich red wood.  Whilst walnut was soft and structurally weak, mahogany was the antithesis and changes in style were certainly assisted if not partly led by this stronger timber allowing for lighter designs to be made.  Put simply, friezes and even legs could be pierced with fretwork and still be structurally sound.

By the 1740s classicism was all the rage due to the clients, architects and artists returning from their Grand Tours. The ancient world had captivated not just England but the whole of Europe. However, these were early days and the language and motifs brought back by the likes of Lord Burlington and William Kent were not fully understood.

Neo-Classical Side Table c. 1735-40

Neo-Classical Side Table c. 1735-40

The resulting furniture was of a bolder and grander scale than we would see in the second wave of neo classicism some twenty years later – so superbly displayed at Spencer House for example, and in the work of architects like James Wyatt and Robert Adam.

By the third quarter of the eighteenth century, under the reign of King George III, one could say that furniture making in England had reached its zenith.

Detail of Settee with fretwork c. 1760

Detail of Settee with fretwork c. 1760

The work of famous cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale, Mayhew & Ince and Vile & Cobb includes many of the greatest pieces of furniture ever made in this country. However, within the oeuvre of Chippendale and his contemporaries, their work and style changed dramatically over the years from carved mahogany furniture of the 1750s to inlaid and ormolu mounted furniture of the 1780s.

Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Detail of Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Detail of Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

As the century drew to a close, so the foreign influences came thick and fast, sometimes in one project. Nothing illustrates this better than the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton. From the outside it has clearly been influenced by Indian architecture, whilst on the inside it is very strongly Chinese in style. Now whilst the Pavilion might be regarded as a rather extreme example, it is nevertheless fair to say that furniture in the Regency period drew inspiration from a multitude of sources. A French interpretation of classicism was propagated by one the most successful architects of the period, Henry Holland, but equally influential was the work of Thomas Hope and his Greek revivalist style.  The list could go on but suffice to say it was a fast moving designer or cabinet maker who could keep abreast of taste at this time.

A Regency Period Lacquer Centre Table

A Regency Period Lacquer Centre Table c. 1815

Our role is to guide clients and to explain the merits of one example from the period over another, which is distinct from selecting one style over another.  When I first joined the business I would wonder why my father had bought table A over table B, they seemed so similar and yet the difference of a half inch in the depth of the drawers would determine his decision.  That sort of eye for detail can be inherent, for others it can take time and guidance to develop. It is our role to help.

When it comes to what to buy, only our clients can decide which roads they want to go down.  All styles can be appreciated in their own right and crucially a plain table can be every bit as beautiful and artistically valuable as a highly ornate piece.  Thus one’s desire to own these two different forms might be poles apart, but one can appreciate both for the artistry involved throughout this fascinating period of furniture history.