Hold everything! And this centuries old antique hardwood coffer probably has over time, given its remarkable longevity! Take a look at this large, incredibly detailed wooden storage chest that I found at a recent New England Antique Show's event. This special find is truly the best of all worlds - both beautiful and functional. Let's take a closer look at what makes this chest so remarkable.
Wooden you just love to have this oak masterpiece in your own home? The chest is English and was manufactured in about 1670 (the same year that Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France signed the Secret Treaty of Dover, ending hostilities between their kingdoms.) It was originally designed to store textiles or other household items that were not needed on a regular basis, since the hinged lid made access a little complicated. It measures 54-1/2"wide by 21-1/2" deep by 29" high. Its façade is formed of three masterfully carved oak panels, suspended in a fancifully carved frame. The sides are made of two undecorated panels, between two rails with simple moulded edges.
The quality and integrity of the coffer's construction help explain why this chest will soon be celebrating its 350th birthday! The entire coffer is made from solid oak. The sides, lid, and back are constructed in the same manner as the face, although their decoration is considerably simpler. The frames of the top and sides are decorated with only a shaped moulding, which was created by the joiner with a hand plane. The side and top panels were left smooth. The back, which was never intended to be seen, is completely undecorated, as is the interior. The bottom is made of smaller boards, nailed into place and left plain. The lid is secured to the chest by three hand-forged cotter pin hinges, which were probably produced by a local blacksmith, or by the woodworker himself. Overall, the carving on the coffer suggests that the original owners, who probably commissioned the piece from a local woodworking shop, were reasonably well-to-do, since the quality and density of the carving are above average.
Although this particular coffer is English, similar types of "functional furniture" patterns have been used for centuries across the globe. It is interesting to note that pre-16th century, most coffers were found in churches, where they were used to store vestments, formal documents, and other valuables. In terms of "home use", coffers are also known as a "cassones" in Italy and "blanket boxes" in the US. But regardless of location, a large piece of elaborately carved furniture was most certainly intended to be a decorative focal point in a room. A moderately wealthy family may have had several coffers for storage, as well as cupboards. Most would be embellished with carving of this type, although none would match any of the others as each was made carefully by hand, often by different craftspeople.
I need to get this off my chest - John and Jan Maggs are just terrific for sharing this delightful antiquity with us! The Maggs own Jan and John Maggs Antiques in Conway, MA. Their shop, located in a 19th century barn adjacent to their home, has furniture and smalls of the 17th and 18th centuries beautifully displayed in domestic settings. To learn more about this coffer - which will also be on display at the upcoming New England Antique Show's Wilmington event - please contact John directly at 413-369-4256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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