Antiques Glossary



Acanthus: A Classical fleshy leaf decoration used on a wide variety of objects. Mostly a stylized version of the thistle-like leaf of the acanthus mollis plant, often used on furniture, especially brackets and legs.

Acid cutting: Used for decorating glass; objects were coated with an acid-resistant substance, often wax. A design was scratched or carved in the wax, exposing the underlying glass, and the whole item dipped in acid, which fixes the design.

Adam: The style period from 1765-1790. The Adam brothers introduced the neoclassical style in furniture and architecture to England.

Air twist stem: On drinking glasses and other glassware, a stem decorated with spiral filaments of hollow glass.

Albarello: A tin-glazed drug jar with a narrow waist.

Ambrotype: A photograph made by exposing a glass plate treated with light-sensitive wet collodion. The negative was made positive by backing with black paper or paint.

Anthemion: A stylised honeysuckle ornament, in the Classical style, with  inwards curving petals.

Apostle Spoon: A spoon with a plain stem and a cast figure of an apostle as its finial. Usually made of silver from c 1490-1650

Appliqué: In textiles, applying small patches of fabric to a base fabric to make a design.

Apron: A length of wood found beneath the bottom framing of a drawer, table top, chair seat etc. usually shaped and often decorated.

Arcading: A series of arches, usually supported on columns.

Architrave: In Classical architecture, which is reflected in classic furniture, it's the horizontal moulding above a series of capitals, which is the lowest part of an entablature. It can also be the lowest part of a frieze . Most commonly, it's the moulded frame surrounding a door, window, mirror or picture frame. They can sometimes be embellished with with projections of shoulders or ears at the corners.

Arita: An important centre for Japanese porcelain production, and a term used to describe one distinctive type of Japanese porcelain made in the area.

Arm Chair: A dining chair with arms (properly called an open armchair). Also, loosely, any chair with arms.

Armorial: An engraved design showing a crest or coat of arms.

Arts & Crafts: A late 19th century artistic movement led by William Morris which advocated a return to medieval standards of craftsmanship and simplicity of design.

Arita: An important centre for Japanese porcelain production, and a term used to describe one distinctive type of Japanese porcelain made in the area.

Automata: A term covering a wide variety of mechanical toys with moving parts, popular   during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Astragal: A narrow moulding , semi-circular in profile, sometimes carved. It is used particularly for glazing bars and the closing edges of doors.

Atlantis: The male equivalent of a caryatid, used mainly in the C17th. Sometimes referred to as an Atlanta.




Back Stool: Literally, a joint stool with a back, the earliest form of side chair.

Bail handle: The name given to an iron or brass loop handle which is suspended from a pommel at either end. Usually found on drawers, the bail handle and the pommel together form what most people would call the handle.

Ball foot: A ball-shaped foot, mainly late C17th.

Ball-and-claw foot: A carved decoration commonly found on cabriole legs from the early C18th, but used thereafter.

Baluster: A turned and shaped column, which swells out in the lower half,  that's often used in the stem of a table. When the swelling is in the upper half, it's known as an inverted baluster.

Banding: An ornamental inlay, which is generally in contrasting wood, and laid either cross-grain or diagonally. It can often be found in other materials such as ivory, silver, pewter and brass. Can also be found in a herringbone  pattern, which was popular on walnut furniture, from the early C18th.

Barley twist: The turning of a leg or column etc. resembling a screw thread (also known as spiral twist or barley sugar twist).

Baroque: Originating in Italy, this architectural and decorative style spread through Europe in the C17th. It is characterised by its exuberant grandeur and bold curvaceous forms, and sometimes tends towards heaviness and pomposity.

Basaltes: Unglazed black  stoneware, developed by Wedgwood.

Beading: Another name for Astragal , it can also refer to a moulding of small repeated roundel s like beads, which is properly called Pearling, and not to be confused with gadrooning . See also *censored* bead .

Bearer: Used in the construction of furniture, this horizontal member is used  to support another part, for instance the leaves of a dining table. (See loper ).

Bed Bench (or Bed Settle): A wooden bench or settle whose box-like seat opened out to form a bed.

Bed Hangings : Curtains surrounding a four-poster bed that not only ensured warmth and privacy but also displayed the family's wealth and good taste. Bed hangings were among the most expensive linens in a colonial household.

Bed Pole: Either the poles running between the tops of the bed posts to support the hangings, or a long-handled paddle used for smoothing the sheets when making a bed kept in the corner of a room.

Bed Steps: A set of two or three steps, sometimes with a compartment for a chamber pot, to help the elderly, the delicate, and the short-legged get in and out of high beds.

Bed Warmer: A long-handled brass or copper pan that held hot coals for warming the bed. Called a "warming pan" in England.

Bedding-Down candle: A short candle that burned for only 15 or 20 minutes and extinguished itself after one had gone to bed. The stub ends of regular candles were often used in this way.

Bedmoss: A fibrous growth on trees, sometimes called Spanish moss, used for bed stuffing.

Bedstead-Washstand: A piece of furniture resembling a secretary, in which the "desk" opened to a washstand, and the "bookcase" to a bed. An extreme example of Victorian ingenuity, but there were many like it, showing that even by the end of the 19th century, living rooms were still slept in.

Bed Hangings: Curtains surrounding a four-poster bed that not only ensured warmth and privacy but also displayed the family's wealth and good taste. Bed hangings were among the most expensive linens in a colonial household.

Bed Pole: Either the poles running between the tops of the bed posts to support the hangings, or a long-handled paddle used for smoothing the sheets when making a bed kept in the corner of  a room.

Bed Step: A set of two or three steps, sometimes with a compartment for a chamber pot, to help the elderly, the delicate, and the short-legged get in and out of high beds.

Bed Warmer: A long-handled brass or copper pan that held hot coals for warming the bed. Called a "warming pan" in England.

Bedding-Down candle: A short candle that burned for only 15 or 20 minutes and extinguished itself after one had gone to bed. The stub ends of regular candles were often used in this way.

Bedmoss: A fibrous growth on trees, sometimes called Spanish moss, used for bed stuffing.

Bedstead-Washstand: A piece of furniture resembling a secretary, in which the "desk" opened to a washstand, and the "bookcase" to a bed. An extreme example of Victorian ingenuity, but there were many like it, showing that even by the end of the 19th century,  living rooms were still slept in.

Berlin Woolwork: Amateur embroidery using coloured wools on a canvas grid.

Berry Spoon: A dessert-sized spoon with fruit embossed on the bowl (many Georgian spoons have Victorian embossing).  Used for eating fruit. 

Bevel: A surface or edge cut at an angle, particularly applies to a panel, and commonly seen on glass and mirrors. When at 45 degrees, it's known as a chamfer .

Birdcage: A device used under a table top to mount it on the pedestal, which allows it to rotate and tip up. It takes the form of four columns, hence its  name.

Biscuit: Unglazed porcelain, fired only once.

Blanket Chest: See Mule Chest. An American term for a lift-top chest with drawers underneath.

Blind Fret: See Fret

Block foot: A cube-shaped foot, a solid block of wood, which is used generally with a square untapered leg.

Blue-and-White Staffordshire: Staffordshire was the center of the pottery industry in England, and many factories operated there from the mid-18th century to the present day. The development of transfer printing (see below) allowed these potteries to become among the earliest mass manufacturers, and their affordable products rapidly swept pewter and treen off the tables of the English and American middle-class households. From the 1780s, Staffordshire factories produced huge quantities of transferware for the domestic and export markets. To protect  these profitable industries, English colonial laws forbad the development of ceramic factories in America, so shiploads of blue and white crossed the Atlantic. Blue was the most popular color, partly because cobalt was the easiest pigment to fire, but transferware was also produced in green, magenta, and black. Designs that required fine lines, such as a ship's rigging, reproduced most clearly in black.

Blue-dash charger: A delftware dish decorated with a border of blue brush strokes.

Blueing: A decorative heat treatment applied to metal weapons which also protect from rust.

Blue Willow: The most common of all transfer patterns, blue willow was first produced at the Caughley Pottery in 1780 and is still made today. The pattern was derived from the Chinese by Thomas Turner. His busy, crowded composition is a westernization of the sparer, more economical Chinese design (oriental wares made for export were always more heavily decorated than those made for domestic use), and it caught European taste so well that it was widely produce by factories in England, Germany, Holland, Japan, and, later on, America. The pattern depicts three figures, a bridge, a pagoda, birds, and trees in a Chinese landscape. According to legend, it tells the story of a pair of lovers fleeing from an angry father: the gods changed them into birds to enable them to escape him. A nice, romantic nineteenth century story that is purely European in concept: China is a land of arranged marriages, not of romantic love.

Bobbin-turning: Repeated bell-turning, in the form of bobbins, one on top of  the other. It looks a bit like a stick made of balls and was much used on C17th furniture, on legs and stretchers .

Bolection moulding: A raised and rebated moulding , projecting beyond the face  of the frame into which it is inserted, and which was often used to cover a joint between two surfaces.

Bombe: A style common on Dutch furniture, and cabinet furniture of the Rococo period, this is characterised by the vertical swelling of concave and convex curves on the fronts and/or sides, giving a bulbous appearance.

Bone china: Porcelain made by the addition of large quantities of bone ash.

Boss: An ornament, generally carved and most often circular, which applied over joints or used decoratively at the top of legs etc.

Boulle: Foliate and figural marquetry of tortoise-shell (which is actually almost always turtle-shell) and brass (and sometimes pewter, mother-of-pearl and ivory) made fashionable in France (but not invented) by the maitre ebiniste Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732). Boulle work is called premiere-partie is used when the ground is brass, and contra-partie when it is tortoise-shell; such pieces were often made in "pairs".

Bow-front: So called because of the bow-like appearance the slightly convex or segmental shape gives to the front of a cabinet or chest In the C18th, this was often referred to as 'sweep-front'.

Bracket clock: A type of  spring-driven clock, designed to stand on a surface.

Bracket foot: A flat two-piece (usually symmetrical) foot, used on cabinet furniture, set at a corner (usually the front) and shaped like a right-angled bracket.

Braganza: A fancy name for an Inscrolled foot, also known as a Knurled foot,  and a Spanish foot.

Breakfast Table: A small movable table with drop leaves or rectangular tilting top on a tripod base.

Break-front: A term usually applied to cabinets, chests, bookcases etc. of which the ends are recessed in relation to the middle, therefore making the middle part protrude. Where the centre is recessed, the piece is known as a Reverse break-front. (Also known as a Wing bookcase).

Britannia metal: An alloy of tin antimony and copper, used during the 19th century as a substitute for pewter.

British Plate: A nickel alloy which was used in the mid C19th as a substitute for silver, until it was superseded by the much cheaper electro-plating process. Pieces made in British Plate often carry fake hallmarks intended to make the item appear to be genuine silver.

Brushing slide: So called because one of its primary purposes was to provide a surface for brushing down clothes, this is a wooden slide found in some chests of drawers, whch pulls forward/slides out of a slot in the top, to provide extra working surface.

Buffet: This is a term loosely applied to any furniture composed of more than one tier, whether or not the resultant sections are enclosed. Some such furniture has specific and correct names. See Court cupboard, Press (cupboard) and Livery cupboard , for example. As with all these very early pieces, the terms are rather loose, and often the descriptions found in early inventories etc. are rather vague.

Bun foot: A C17th foot, similar to the ball foot also in use at the time, but where the "ball" appears to be slightly squashed. Quite often found on Victorian pine furniture.

Bureau: A piece of furniture, with drawers, performing the function of a desk. It has either a fall-front , which slopes at 45 degrees, a cylinder front, or a tambour front.

Burl: Another name for burr, principally used in the US.

Burr: A term usually applied to a type of veneer, or perhaps more properly the marks in the veneer itself. The veneer is cut from a knot or other protruding growth on the tree, and as a result displays highly attractive graining. Walnut is especially popular for this, and bird's eye maple is another, particularly well-known type of burr veneer.

Butt joint: A simple glue joint between two surfaces, joined with no overlap, tenons , or shoulders.


Cabochon: Popular in the mid C18th, it's a motif or ornament generally carved on the knees of cabriole legs, and comprises of a ball or domed shape, usually with rocaille or foliate surround. The term is also applied to a jewel cut into a domed shape, and was especially popular in the late C19th.

Cabriole leg: An elegant, tall, curving leg, subject to many designs and variations, and found on many pieces of furniture, from the height of its  popularity in the first half of the C18th, right through to the late C19th. It is formed of a convex curve above a concave one and resembles an animal's leg: in fact, the name 'cabriole' is derived from the Italian 'Capro', or goat. This type of leg was made with many different types of foot including plain, club , pad, paw, ball ,ball-and-claw ,scroll etc.

Caddy Spoon: A short spoon (usually about 3" long) with a large bowl. Used for spooning tea leaves from a tea caddy. Made of sterling silver in many fanciful and decorative shapes. Highly collectible.

Cake or Pie Server: A symmetrical utensil shaped like a large, flat triangle, used for serving cakes and pies. See Fish Slice.

Cameo glass: Wares made by combining two or more layers of  differently coloured glass which was carved to make a design in  relief.

Campaign bed: A four poster bed, easil demountable, for use by military officers in the field.

Can or Wine Can: A small handleless cup of silver or porcelain, usually a straight-sided or slightly flared cylinder, used for drinking wine in the eighteenth century.

Candle-slide: A thin, small slide designe Card or Game Table : A small folding table at which four people could sit. Used for playing cards or other games. Often with a fold-over top. A very common form of table in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More information about turret corner card tables.

Card table: A table with a fold-over top, usually supported by a gateleg , and which is lined with green baize for playing cards. These tables often also have dishes for the money or tokens.

Carriage clock: A small portable clock with a carrying handle.

Carton Pierre: See Papier mache

Cartouche: An ornate shield or tablet, properly in the form of an unrolled scroll, and often surrounded by scrollwork or foliate decoration. They often bear an heraldic coat of arms, maker's name, or some other inscription.

Caryatid: A Classical upright female figure used as "supporting" decoration. The term is often incorrectly applied to the male equivalent, which, however, is correctly called an Atlantis .

Case furniture: Furniture intended as a receptacle, such as a chest of drawers.

Caster Spoon (or Ladle): A sauce ladle with a pierced bowl. Used for sprinkling sugar over fruit.

Cavetto moulding: A quarter-round concave moulding, often used on cornices.  (See ovolo).

Cellaret: An eighteenth century lidded case for wine bottles, often of the highest craftsmanship, usually on casters. Cellarets were fitted with locks to keep bibulous servants at bay and were typically kept under serving tables in the dining room. Sideboards, introduced at the end of the century, included cupboards for storing bottles. They rapidly replaced cellarets.

Chain: Often found at each end of a festoon (or garland), it's a Classical decorative pendant of flowers and fruit suspended vertically from one end. Also a name sometimes used for the threads that make the warp or weft of a carpet.

Chamfer: Abevelled edge, usually at 45°.

Charles II or Restoration: The style period after the Cromwellian Protectorate (1660-1680). King Charles II brought French taste to England following his exile from England to the French court. Characterized by the use of walnut, although oak is still prominent.

Chasing: A method of decorating silver and other metals by creating a raised pattern using a hammer or punch.  Also known as embossing.

Chequered inlay: Alternating light and dark inlaid wooden squares, as would  be found on a chess board, but forming a single line or strip of inlay . See Parquetry .

Chest: A large storage box with lid, designed to stand on the floor. The earliest form of storage, common from the seventeenth century onwards. (See also Coffer.)

Chest on Chest: A two-part case piece with both parts containing three or four layers of drawers and standing on low feet or base.

Chest of Drawers (wrongly called Dresser): A chest fitted with drawers.

Chest on Stand: A two-part case piece consisting of a chest of drawers on a separate stand that may have one drawer in it, or raised on short legs (see Highboy).

Chinoiserie: The term applied to furniture and other items following the fashion, prevalent in the late C18th, for Chinese style decoration and ornamentation. This manifested itself on fabrics, wallpapers, porcelain, furniture, garden architecture, and decoration in general.

Chippendale: English furniture designer and maker whose book The Director , published in 1754, dramatically influenced the direction of English (and American) style and taste.

Cleat: A strip of wood applied at the edge of a boarded flat surface, such as a table-top, for neatness, and to secure and stabilise the boards.

Cloisonné: A term used to describe a method of decorating metal with enamel. Metal filaments are fused to the surface of an object to outline a design which is then filled with enamel paste.

Club foot: Virtually the same as a Pad foot, this was popular in the early to mid C18th. Found mostly on a cabriole or turned tapered leg, the foot swells to a depressed circular pad. (See Pad foot ).

Coffer : A chest, originally for storing valuables, but now used to refer to one made in the seventeenth century. More information about early Tudor coffers.

Censored bead: A small protruding half-round moulding found on the edges of drawer fronts and doors. Also known as censored beading.

Collar: A thin banding or moulding applied round legs etc.

: The most common Roman order, especially for temples, the Corinthian capital has two rows of acanthus leaves, with stalks sprouting to form spirals (volutes) at the angles. Surmounting the capital is a flat slab (abacus) with an acanthus flower in the center of each side.

Corkscrew: The earliest ones, usually of steel, were made around 1600, and are now very rare. Much more common are silver handled ones, produced in Birmingham, England, from about 1775,  and imported in large quantities for the rapidly growing American middle class. Many were fitted with a brush for cleaning the labels in the dusty cellar. The nineteenth century saw a huge proliferation of corkscrews whose handles were made in almost every metal in forms that ranged from the beautiful through the curious to the obscene.

Corner Chair: A chair with a semi-circular back around two sides. In the period, often called desk chair or smoking chair, and rarely set in a corner. An eighteenth-century form.

Corner Washstand: A triangular washstand designed to stand in the corner of a bedroom. (See Washstand.)

Cornice: Amoulded projection or ledge finishing off or crowning the top of a piece of case furniture, a wall, door-surround, window etc., sometimes embellished with dentils etc.

Counter-fluting: Fluting in which part of each channel is filled with a reed of wood or brass (Also known as Stop-fluting).

Court Cupboard: Sometimes referred to by the generic term buffet, this is a piece composed of two or three open tiers, the primary function of which was to show off or display plate and other such finery.

Coved top: A flat top, with a cavetto moulded edge, often found on a lid.

Creamware: Creamy-white earthenware.

Credence Table: A seventeenth-century side table with folding top, often semi-circular or hexagonal in form.

Credenza: A long side-cabinet with glazed or solid doors.

Crenellation: (or crenellated). Originally, this was called battlemented, and is a repeated geometric decoration based on the battlements of a castle or similarly fortified building. It is also used to described the tops of pottery  vessels which have a wavy or even pie-crust rim. Can also be a term applied to  a cornice .

Cresting: A shaped ornamental decoration usually set in the centre of the top of a chair-back, but can also be found on a mirror, cabinet etc.

Crinoline stretcher: An arched stretcher found on some windsor chairs ; highly desirable.

Cromwellian: The style period of Puritan rule from 1640-1660. Characterized by a severity and absence of unnecessary decoration.

Cross-banding: A veneered edge at right-angles to the main veneer.

Cruet:- A frame for holding casters and bottles containing condiments.

Cylinder-top: A rounded or cylindrical shutter-front found on a desk or bureau, enclosing the working area inside. See also Tambour.


Davenport: A pretty and small writing desk with a sloping front, usually supported by ornate legs, with a series of drawers down one side, and false drawers on the opposite side. So called because the first one was ordered by one Capt. John Davenport in the late 1790s.  Some examples have a writing surface which slides forwards as opposed to a fall-front , and quite a few harlequin examples exist. In the US, this is a term for a sort of sofa, or day bed, specifically with a head rest.

Delftware: Tin-glazed earthenware from England or the Low Countries.

Dentil: Afrieze moulding of small rectangular blocks in an equidistant series resembling teeth. Taken from the Ionic and Corinthian orders, such moulding is often used to ornament a cornice .

Desert Spoon: A mid-sized spoon made from about 1750 onwards, usually in sets. 

Dial: The "face" of a clock,  which shows the time.

Dining Chairs: A set of chairs comprising sides and two arms designed to go around a dining table.

Dining Table: A table designed exclusively for eating, usually large, often made in sections or to fold so that it could be made smaller when not in use.

Dishing: A (usually) turned shallow depression in the top of a table, often a gaming table, in which case they are used for storing the money or chips, and are also known as guinea pockets. Also found on candlestands and such-like. The main purpose of it is to stop objects from slipping off; The term also applies to the shaping of the wooden seat of (say) a Windsor chair for comfort. A term used to  describe an object that has been artificially aged.

Dog Nose (or Wavy End) Spoon: A rat tail spoon, whose finial is like that of a trefid with the notches eliminated, shaped like a dog's head when viewed from above. Dog nose spoons were made from c 1690-1710 in silver and pewter.

Domed top: A term properly applied to a three-dimensional vault, but it also refers to the arched top of a late C17th/early C18th cabinet, and the tops of similar items such as or boxes etc.

Dovetail: A cabinet-maker's joint, fitting two pieces of wood together at right angles, in which a series of wedge-shaped projections (the 'dove's tail', hence the name) in one piece, fit into corresponding slots in the other. It is a strong joint, especially resistant to outward pull, hence often found on drawers. A Half-dovetail has one side (of both the protruding dovetail and the slot part) angled and the other straight; a Lapped-dovetail does not extend all the way through on one surface.

Dowel: A small headless peg or pin of wood used in cabinet-making for securing a joint, or to mount finials snd suchlike.


Dresser: The name derives from the original use of these, which was a piece of furniture on which food was "dressed". They appear inn two forms, low-dressers, and high-dressers. The former are simply a sideboard-type piece, whereas the latter, sport racks or shelves above the "sideboard".


Drop-finial: Repeated pendants beneath a rail, in some cases it will form an apron . It's occasionally used as another term for a chain (see Finial ).

Drop leaf: A hinged extension flap to a table, dropping vertically when not in use, which can be supported horizontally by a swing leg, a fly bracket or a loper. It's often made using a rule joint, but may be a butt.

Drop leaf Table: A table incorporating a drop leaf or leaves , sometimes called a 'flag table', and includes such tables as Pembrokes ,Sutherlands ,sofas and gatelegs circular-topped table with a frieze  containing drawers and supported by a central pedestal.

Dustboard: A thin board, generally of softwood, fixed to the rails between the drawers of a chest. Its purpose, of course, is to keep dust off the contents of the drawers.


Early Georgian (George I and II): The style period from 1715-1760. Characterized by the increasing use of mahogany and the introduction of Chippendale style.

Ebonized: Stained black in imitation of ebony.


End Grain: The view of the grain at the end of a piece of timber, such as is  seen when timber is cut across the grain direction (traverse).

Entablature: In Classical architecture, it's the sum of the mouldings (or the beam) above columns, composed of the architrave ,frieze , and the cornice .

Escutcheon: Basically, it's any applied metal plate, but the term mainly applies to the pivoting metal guard or plate found over over a keyhole, and, properly, to the keyhole surround itself. Also, used as a term for the plate bearing the maker's name

Étui: A small case for  scissors and other small implements.



Façon de Venise: Glassware imitating Venetian styles.

Faïence: Tin-glazed earthenware from France.


Fall-front: The front or flap of a cabinet, secretaire or bureau , hinged at the bottom edge so it forms a horizontal surface when lowered, almost always as a writing surface. It can be either vertical or sloped, and will almost always supported by a loper , or a quadrant stay .

Farm Table: A country table with a solid top and no drop leaves, usually rectangular in shape.

Federal: The style period from 1790-1830. Specific to American furniture and architecture. Derived from Hepplewhite and Sheraton and, towards the end of the period, from French empire .

Festoon: A Garland or Swag of flowers and foliage, or perhaps a ribbon, suspended from the ends; not to be confused with a chain, which often hangs from each end of a festoon.  From the Baroque style, it resembles a hammock.

Fielded panel: A wooden panel used in a framework or door. It consists of a panel with a raised central area made with a wide chamfered or bevelled rebate worked around the edges. Often a small moulding is worked at the inner side of the rebate .

Fillet: Put simply, just a thin strip of wood, but it can also be a narrow flat band or moulding which is placed between two larger mouldings or flutes .

Finger joint: Also known as a knuckle joint, this is a wooden hinge (with a metal pintle) used in the supporting mechanism such as the fly-bracket of a drop-leaf or folding table or the swing leg of a gateleg or card table .

Finial: A knob or spire-like ornamental projection finishing off an upright member, pediment or any vertical projection. Commonly carved in a number of forms, from architectural forms like columns, to animals and human figures, When found on furniture, it's basically a small, turned projection. A downward-pointing finial is called a pendant (See drop-finial ). It's also a term applied to silver spoons, when it describes the turning or pattern found at the opposite end of the shaft (or handle) to the bowl.

Fish Slice: An assymetrical serving utensil with a wide, flat blade, usually pierced and decorated, using for serving fish at the table.

Flare: The outward, concave curve of a leg etc.

Flag table: See drop leaf table .

Flatback: Ceramic portrait  figures with flat, undecorated backs, designed to stand against a wall or on a  mantelpiece.

Flatware: Any flat  or shallow tableware, such as plates or cutlery.

Flow Blue (originally called "flowingblue"): Transferware produced in numerous patterns in which the cobalt blue ink flowed, or smeared, during firing. The resulting out-of-focus look was colorful and popular, and flow blue was widely produced in England and the Netherlands from 1830 to 1900. Its popularity was welcomed by the manufacturers, because the flowing disguised the smudges that were made if the transfer was moved slightly as it was laid on the item: this enabled them to deskill the decorating process even more, and thus to pay even lower wages to the women and girls who did the job.

Flutes/Fluting: Repeated and close-set half-round and vertically-running concave grooves found particularly on columns, but also pilasters , decorative panels. 

Fly bracket: A small, shaped and hinged bracket, usually incorporating a finger joint and always mounted vertically, used to support a flap of a table etc.

Four-poster: A bed with four tall corner posts, that may, or may not, support a tester.

French foot: See Outscrolled foot .

Fret (fretwork): Pierced (Open fret) or applied (Blind fret) is an intricate form of decoration, usually done in plywood for strength. Frequently done in intricate patterns, which are often based on Chinoiserie and Gothic designs.

Frieze: A horizontal flat band, often decorated either by painting, or carved or sculpted. When convex, it's known as a Pulvinated frieze.  The term also applies to the surface (framing) just beneath the top of a table such as a table, or the base of a chest of drawers.



Gadrooning: A term derived from the French word 'godron', which means 'ruffle', it's a carved decorative edge moulding, often found on the handles and rims of C18th silver, which is composed of a series of raised convex curves. In furniture, the term applies to an ornamental carved edge of tapered, curving and alternating concave and convex sections, usually diverging obliquely either side of a central point. This decoration is also found set square to the edge, in which case, on furniture, it's called Nulling.

Garland: See Festoon

Gateleg table: A type of drop leaf table which gets its name from the "gates" (a frame of legs and stretchers ) which support the leaves when open.

George III: The style period from 1760-1820. The rise of the wealthy middle class resulted in a huge increase the furniture industry; thus, more examples of late Georgian furniture survive than from any prior period. Styles from this period include Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Regency, and Adam (see definitions).

Gesso: A mixture made of Plaster of Paris (whiting) and glue size applied to wood so as to provide a decorative surface which can be painted, gilded or lacquered . The surface can either be smooth or carved/moulded in low-relief. It's often used on picture frames.

Gothic: Principally a term applied to Gothic architecture, this is a style of furniture design which similarly shows a lot of curved and pointed arches, resplendent with embellishments.

Gouging: A term applied to both the technique, and the decoration of a surface with repeated small carved-out semi-circular depressions. This decoration is often found on oak furniture.

Greek key: Sometimes referred to as a Grecian Key, this is a carved Classical geometric decoration resembling a maze, and repeated in bands. It's composed of interlocking straight and right-angled lines.

Guinea pockets: See dishing ..


Hairy-paw foot: See Paw foot .

Half-dovetail: See Dovetail .

Hallmark: The marks  stamped on silver or gold objects when passed at assay (the test for quality).

Hard-paste porcelain: See Porcelain .

Handkerchief Table: A triangular table with a triangular drop leaf that becomes square when the leaf is raised

Hard-paste porcelain: Porcelain made using the ancient Chinese combination of  kaolin and petuntse

Harlequin: A piece of furniture which has a rising part composed of a box-like structure, fitted with drawers or small receptacles concealed in the body of the furniture and made to rise by means of weights. This is most commonly found in tables, but can also be found in some desks, particularly Davenports .

Harlequin table: A hybrid table, which essentially combines a card and tea table, and has been created by means of a series of folding tops. Sometimes known as a triple-top table.

Harvest Table: A long narrow table with two narrow drop leaves supported on pull-out lopers.

Hepplewhite: The style period from 1780-1795. His Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide, published in 1788, was widely influential.

Highboy (also called Tallboy in England): A two-part case piece. The upper consisting of three or four layers drawers, the lower of one or two layers of drawers raised on legs.

Hipped: This is a term applied to an extension at the top of a cabriole leg which continues into, and joins, the rail above, usually a seat rail. Furthermore, it's a feature usually only found on better quality pieces. Hipped is also used in reference to the protuberance sometimes found at the top of the flared legs of a C19th centre-support table.

Hired man's bed: A narrow slatted bed, often spool turned, produced in quantity by factories in the Midwest and New England between about 1840 and 1890. Despite its name, it was designed as cottage furniture, not for servants.

Historical Blue: A blue-and-white china made in Staffordshire for the American market from about 1820 to 1840. The pattern shows American scenes or historical events surrounded by a flowered border. Each factory had its own border, but the same scenes were copied by many factories. English scenes were also produced, but it is the American ones that are most eagerly collected. "Second period" historical blue was popular from about 1850 to 1920. It showed a greater number of scenes, many of which were specially printed as souveniers for the growing tourist trade. It is often printed in a lighter blue than the deep cobalt of the first period, is easier to find, cheaper, and widely collected..



Imbrication: A decorative motif carved to resemble overlapping fish scales.

Inlay: In furniture, it's decorative patterns or figural designs created with pieces of different coloured woods, or ivory, bone, shell, brass etc. which have been set into cut-out sections of the base, solid wood (see Marquetry ). Similarly, in firearms, pieces of precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum, and ivory, are used in the stock as decoration and embellishment.

Inscrolled foot: A carved foot (especially found on furniture of the late C17th/early C18th) which usually appears on an otherwise straight leg, and which curls under and inwards a lot like a hockey-stick. (See Braganza and Outscrolled foot )

Intaglio: Incised gemstone or any incised decoration; the opposite of carving in relief.

Inverted baluster: See Baluster .

Istoriato: Narrative scenes painted on Italian maiolica.


Jacobean: Loosely used to refer to the seventeenth century (1600-1699), but literally the style period from 1600-1650. Furniture of this period was characterized by vivacious carving on solid forms.

Jacobite glass : Wine glasses engraved with symbols of the Jacobites (supporters of Prince Charles  Edward Stuart's claim to the throne).


Japanning: In furniture, it's the European (and American) imitation of Oriental lacquering, made by using spirit and oil varnishes, in use from the late C17th. It's also a term applied to the black varnish coating on the hilt of swords, the primary purpose of which is to prevent rusting. These are often augmented by decorative use of overpainting and giltwork.


Jasperware: A hard  fine-grained stoneware decorated with high relief medallions, developed by Wedgwood.


Joined: Term used to  describe furniture made by a joiner.


Joint Stool: A stool made with mortise-and-tenon joints (as opposed to a boarded-and-nailed stool). The most common piece of furniture in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses.






Kakiemon: Sparsely-decorated Japanese porcelain made by the Kakiemon family in the 17th century. The style was much imitated by later potters.

Kaolin: A fine white  granite clay used in hard-paste porcelain, also known as China clay.

Kashan: Rug-making  centre in Southern Iran, noted for high quality products.

Kazak: Rugs from  central Caucasus, usually decorated with distinctive geometric designs.


Keeled: Resembling the keel of a boat, it's the sharp edge frequently found on the corner of cabriole legs .

Kelim: A flat woven rug with no pile.

Kerfing: When a piece of wood is cut on one side of with a number of deep, close-set parallel slits, the purpose of which is as to bend it. Used in the construction of rounded drawer-fronts, etc.

Kicker: Fixed on the carcase either side and just above a (usually top) drawer this strip or block of wood prevents it from tipping downwards when open.

Kneehole desk:writing desk with drawers on either side and a central recess for the user's  legs.

Knuckle joint: See Finger joint .

Knurled foot: See Braganza



Lacquer: Made from the sap of the lac tree, which turns hard and black on exposure to air and sunlight, and applied in successive layers, lacquer is used as a ground for Chinese or Japanese decoration, usually of figures in landscapes etc. More rarely, dyes were mixed with the sap to produce various colours. It can also be carved, and polished, and layers of differing colours, carved and etched, were often used to great effect.

Ladder back: A country chair with a back made  from a series of horizontal bars between the two vertical uprights.

Ladik: A Turkish prayer rug, usually decorated with a niche and stylized tulip  flowers.
Lap joint: In silverware, the technique used  to join a spoon finial to the stem by cutting each piece in opposing  L-shapes.

Lapped-dovetail: See Dovetail

Lead Crystal: Glass containing lead oxide which gives extra weight and brilliance.

Leaf: The "flap" of a table, as in drop leaf table, or a piece of wood inserted into an extending table.

Library table: A  rectangular table with frieze drawers, end supports and a central stretcher.

Linen chest: A hybrid coffer/chest of drawers, which may have both drawers and a lift-up top.

Linenfold: Popular on panelling from the C16th, this relief carved motif, resembles vertical folds of cloth from which it takes its name.

Linen Press: Often referred to as simply a Press, or sometimes a Press Chest, this form of cupboard is composed of sliding drawers housed behind doors above a series of drawers, in what looks like (and is!) a chest-of-drawers. As the name implies, its function was to store linen and clothes. The term is also applied to a wooden frame, housing a large wooden screw and two boards, the purpose of which was to "press" linen.

Lipping: A strip of superior timber added to the most visible part of a board, such as a dustboard made from some inferior timber.

Livery Cupboard: Sometimes referred to by the generic term buffet, this piece resembles a court cupboard in that it's composed of three tiers, but in this case, the centre tier is an enclosed compartment, typically with canted sides.

Loaded: In  silverware, a hollow object (often a candlestick) which has been filled with  pitch to give weight.

Lock: The firing mechanism of a gun. Lolling Chair (also called Library Chair or Martha Washington Chair): A chair with upholstered back and seat and open arms. An eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century form.

Long arm: A firearm with a long barrel.

Longcase clock: A tall clock with a case  containing weights and pendulum and hood housing dial and movement.

Loper: A wooden slide or bar pulled out from a slot which is used to support a table leaf or an open bureau fall-front etc.

Lowboy: A small dressing table, often with a single frieze drawer flanked by a deeper drawer.

Low Dresser: A dresser made without a plate rack.

Lunette: Carved decoration in the form of a semicircle resembling a half-moon (hence its name), especially found on early oak furniture. Can appear in repeated bands or can be intersected, and can be embellished with foliate or other decoration.


Maiolica: Tin-glazed earthenwares from Italy.

Majolica: Enamelled stoneware with high relief decoration developed by Minton in the 19th century.

Marquetry: Pieces of veneers of different coloured woods, natural, stained, and burned (to give shading), laid into a wooden ground (solid or veneer). Often seen on Dutch furniture, especially early examples of marquetry, it always depicts architectural, figural or foliate designs. (See Inlay and Parquetry ).

Marriage: The joining together of two  previously unrelated parts to form a whole.

Marrow Scoop (or Spoon): A utensil with a long narrow scoop at both ends. Used for extracting marrow from

Mihrab: A niche with a pointed arch, seen on prayer rugs.

Millefiori: Glass made by fusing differently coloured rods of glass which resembles "a thousand flowers"; used especially for paperweights.

Mitre: Typically seen at the corners of a picture frame, this is the oblique bisecting line at the [mitre] joint of two pieces of wood, which is generally  (but not always) a right angle.

Monteith: Large silver bowl, with a  shallow scalloped rim.

Mortices: Rectangular holes or slots cut into wood that will receive another, similarly-shaped and sized member (called a tenon ) to make a right-angle joint.

Mortice and tenon: A cabinet-maker's joint where a square or rectangular projection cut on the end of one piece of wood (tenon) fits into a hole or  slot of identical size, shape (and depth) that's been cut into the other piece (mortice). This is a very common joint in cabinet making.

Mote Spoon (or Skimmer): A spoon whose bowl is decoratively pierced. Used to skim off tea leafs. The handle is thin and tapers to a point, which was used to unclog the spout of a teapot.

Mother-of-pearl: Slices of shell often used for decorative inlay.

Motif: A decorative detail, often repeated to form a pattern.

Moulded glass: Glasswares manufactured in large quantities by forcing glass into a mould.

Moulding: In furniture, a shaped strip of wood, of uniform cross-section, and which is sometimes carved, used either as decoration, or to conceal a joint. In pottery, it was once a term applied to any item that had been cast in a mould, but now applies to any carved projection, in wood or stone, or even one cast in plaster.

Mule Chest: A chest with lifting top and drawers below. A hybrid between a chest and chest of drawers, hence the name "mule." An English term.

Muntin: A main vertical framing member of a stile, specifically the central upright connecting the top and bottom rails of a frame.

Mystery clock: A clock of novel form in which the movement is ingeniously disguised.


Neo-classicism: A decorative style used in architecture, furniture and decoration/ornamentation derived from the interest in the Classical world which spread through Europe in the second half of the C18th, spurred on by the Grand Tours popular at the time. It was made popular in Britain by Robert Adam (1728-1792) and others, who used the classical motifs in completely new ways.

Nulling: See Gadrooning:


Ogee: Often found on the (bracket) feet of Georgian furniture, this is a double-curved Gothic moulding of architectural origins, consisting of a convex arc above a concave arc, creating a wave-like profile.

One-Drawer Stand: A small four-legged table with a drawer. A late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century form.

Open Fret: See Fret:

Ormolu: Strictly speaking, this applies only to ornaments cast in brass or bronze, with fire (mercury) gilt surfaces. However, it's often applied to any yellow metal. Early uses were restricted to furniture, especially in handles and decorative mounts. By the late C18th though, many objects such as ink stands, decorative cases for clocks, candlesticks were made in ormolu.

Outscrolled foot: A carved foot (later and more elegant than the Inscrolled foot) which usually appears on an otherwise straight leg, and which curls under and outwards a lot like a hockey-stick. (See Braganza and Inscrolled foot). It's also known as the French foot.

Outset corner: A circular or square projection beyond the line of the sides of a table top etc. See also Architrave .

Ovolo moulding: This moulding has a convex surface (as opposed to a cavetto ) formed from a quarter of a circle or ellipse. It's found especially at the corners of panels etc. and is sometimes found at the corners of drawers where it forms a bridge onto the carcase. (See cavetto).

Oyster: Veneers cut across the grain of small branches of trees such as walnut, sycamore, olive and laburnum, and laid decoratively. Popular circa 1700.


Pad foot: A rounded foot resting on a wooden disc, rather like the padded foot of an animal, and very similar to a club foot , but less elegant, and usually larger.

Paw foot: Self-explanatory really, it looks like an animal's paw, and often has claws. There is a variant called a hairy-paw foot, which is similar, but with the addition of, well, hairs!

Papier mache: A durable and malleable material made from paper or cardboard and glue-size, popular in the C18th and C19th for architectural mouldings, boxes and smaller items of furniture. Also known as Carton Pierre.

Parcel gilt: when a surface has been partially gilded to highlight features.

Parquetry: Geometric veneered surface decoration of various coloured woods. See Marquetry .

Pearling: See Beading .

Pedestal: Basically something that other things stand on, such as a pedestal desk, which has two of them, or a pedestal table which has one. Also a stand for a vase, or sculpture, etc.

Pembroke: A Pembroke table is similar to, but not the same as a Sutherland . It has a wide rectangular top, with narrow, hinged leaves ; usually it has four delicate and fine legs, and is seldom more than three feet in width when extended. Usually rectangular, sometimes, and more desirably, they can be oval or round. First recorded in about 1750, and according to Sheraton, so called because the first one was ordered by the Countess of Pembroke. Chippendale is known to have supplied one with a drawer in 1766, and towards 1790, harlequins began to appear. It was particularly popular in the latter half of the C18th, but was made right up to the end of the C19th.

Pendant or drop-finial: Actually, not just for finials , this is a general term used to describe any form of suspended (hanging down) decoration. On furniture, repeated pendants beneath a rail may form an apron. It's also occasionally used as another term for a chain. (See finial).

Period: Refers to a piece made at the time when its style first originated.

Piecrust: Resembling a crusty pie-crust, this is the shaped carved/moulded edge of a circular table top (usually a tripod) or of a tray. It was popular from the mid C18th, and copies the shape of earlier silver salvers.

Pilaster: A flat-faced column, usually of a Classical order, and usually projecting from a wall. It was often used decoratively in low relief, and almost never as a means of support.

Pitched top: A term generally applied to a lid, in which four sloping or hipped sides rise to a ridge or flat centre. For obvious reasons, it's called Pyramidal if the slopes meet at a point.

Plate: Largely out of use nowadays, this is a term applied to gold and silver vessels, and is not to be confused with " Sheffield Plate ", or electroplated items generally.

Plinth: The solid board on which some furniture rests instead of feet. Strictly-speaking the term is applied to the square, flat block at the bottom of a pillar or column (or a pedestal for that matter).

Plywood: Much maligned for being cheap and nasty, which it often is, plywood was first developed by the Ancient Egyptions some 3,500 years ago. Composed of layers, or "plys" of wood laid at 90° to each other, it has two inherent properties important in furniture making; it is extremely strong, and it does not (usually) warp or crack. Its first use in furniture dates back to the mid C18th, when the fashion for fretwork and Chinoiserie came about. Normal wood was useless for the fine patterns required, and ply was used instead.

Pommel: In furniture, it's the bolt with a rounded or sometimes decorative head which is passed through a drawer front or similar, and which secures a bail handle , thus forming what most people call the handle. When applied to a sword or dagger, it's the terminal piece of the weapon, found at the end of the handle, and is usually circular.

Porcelain: There are two types of porcelain; hard-paste, and soft-paste. The easiest way to learn to tell the difference, is to find some broken porcelain of each type, and to examine it thoroughly. Of course, read the following first!

Hard-paste porcelain is fired at a much higher temperature than soft paste, and hence has a very cold feel to the touch. Chips from it are flint or glass-like; it has a hard, glittery glaze which is fused to the paste.

Soft paste, fired at a lower temperature, was much less stable in the kiln, figures in particular were difficult to fire. Meissen was one of the factories which perfected this art, and no English figures can compare with them. A file will cut easily into soft paste (I suggest you don't try this at home!) and chips from it are granular. It feels warmer to the skin. Ones mouth is particularly sensitive to this, and with practice, it's quite easy to tell the difference between the two types by feeling them with the lips. Because of the difference in firing temperature, the glaze is softer, and does not fuse with the underlying paste in the same way as it does with hard paste. Glazes, therefore, have a tendency to pool and craze, and early soft paste was prone to discolouration.

As a point of interest, soft paste was discovered/developed in the mid C18th by English potters in search of the method of making hard paste porcelain, the secret of which had long been guarded by the Chinese. Soft paste was generally superseded by hard paste, sometime known as "true" porcelain, by the late C18th, when the technique was perfected in Europe.

Pot board: The name given to the low shelf (or tier) under a dresser or buffet on which flagons and pots were kept.

Press: See Linen Press

Press Chest: See Linen Press:

Press cupboard: Sometimes, incorrectly, known by the generic term buffet, this piece is a wholly enclosed cupboard, composed of two parts, the lower of which is entirely enclosed, with doors, and the upper of which is recessed, with either a flat or canted front.

Pulminated frieze: See frieze

Putti: Winged cherubs (singular Putto).

Pyramidal top: See Pitched top .


Quadrant drawer: A quarter-round drawer, usually found in the frieze of a desk or table, pivoted such that it swings out to open.

Quadrant hinge: A hinge, often used at the top and bottom of a cabinet door, with two long arms rotating on a short pintle. It occurs in a similar form on (for instance) a card table flap or on a fall-front .

Quadrant stay: A sliding piece of metal of quarter circle circumference, used to support a fall-front or secretaire drawer, where it would be impossible or inappropriate to use a loper . It's also used to support adjustable chair-backs.

Quartering: Aveneering technique, found particularly on early C18th walnut furniture, in which four essentially identical and usually highly-figured sheets of veneer are laid opposite to each other, thereby producing a symmetrical and mirrored design. The pieces are made (effectively) identical by cutting them sequentially from the same piece of wood.

Quarter veneered: See Quartering.

Quarter-sawn: The method by which a log is cut to achieve maximum grain figuring and stability. This is done by cutting it radially, or across the grain.

Queen Anne: The style period from 1700-1730. Characterized by the introduction of the cabriole leg and sinuous curves. The English Queen Anne period was earlier and shorter than the American period of the same name. 


Rabbet: See rebate .

Rail: A horizontal framing member in joinery, such as a seat-rail, table carcase, chair frame, back-rail etc., or as found in a door.

Rake: The angle, inclination or slope backwards at which, for example a chair back deviates from the vertical. (See Splay ).

Rat Tail (Spoon): A tapering ridge found on a spoon, running from the base of the handle to the midpoint on the back of the bowl. Serves as reinforcement and decoration. Spoons featured rat tails from c 1670-1720 and were made in silver and pewter.

Rebate (note, this is pronounded as rabbit!): A right-angled recess cut in the edge of a piece of wood, or formed by two pieces, to house another piece such as a panel or drop-in seat. It can also be a groove, such as that used to hold a removable shelf. Can also be spelt rabbet.

Reed: A long, thin piece or sliver of something such as brass, inserted into a slot cut into the background, solely for for decorative effect.

Reeding: Repeated, decorative half-round convex mouldings in parallel lines used especially round pillars or legs. Can sometimes be found in flutes.

Refectory Table: A long narrow table made in the seventeenth century. The earliest form of dining table.

Regency: The style period from 1810-1825.  The last of the Georgian styles.

Renaissance: Principally a rejection of the Gothic, this revival of Classical ideas, styles, architecture and decoration began in C15th Italy (principally Florence), and spread to Northern Europe during the C16th, eventually reaching England. Bringing a new naturalism, this influence didn't really affect English art and design until the early C17th

Ribbing: A repeated decoration of small-scale reeds (see reeding ), which is often used in flat panels.

Rocaille: A French word meaning rockwork, often applied to shell and rockwork decoration found in Rococo work.

Rococo: A term derived from the French rocaille meaning rockwork, this extravagant architectural and decorative style developed in France in the early C18th, spreading to and being developed all over Europe. It was principally a reaction against, and was born out of, the heaviness and seriousness of Baroque . Principally used in interior decoration, its influence spilled over into furniture design. In essence it was frivolous, light and asymmetrical, its principal motifs being Chinese and Indian motifs, and delicate curvaceous shapes.

Rosette: A circular-shaped, floral ornament. They were often used at the corner joints of fireplaces and in cabinet making.

Roundel: A circular ornament, which may or may not incorporate some applied or inlaid decorative moulding or carving.

Rule joint: A stopped hinged joint used on table leaves ,press doors etc., comprising a long ovolo moulding which leaves no gap at any stage of the opening or closing. This involves routing or planing an ovolo mould on a table with a radius profile on the leaf to match.

Runner: So-called because they're the strips of wood fixed to the carcase of a piece of cabinet furniture, on either side and on which a drawer runs. It's a good idea to give these a rub with a candle if the drawers stick.


Sabot: Derived from the French word for hoof, it's a cast brass or ormolu foot mount used on furniture in the French taste.

Salt Spoon: A small (2-3") spoon, usually with a round, ladle-shaped bowl, used with a salt cellar.

Sauce Ladle: A small version of a soup ladle (about 7" long), using for serving sauce at the table.

Scroll foot: A foot that scrolls outwards, and then back onto itself. (See Inscrolled foot and Outscrolled foot ).

Scalloped: A term used to describe decoration composed of a series of concave depressions, resembling a scallop shell, with a lobed or foiled edge. Mostly used on the rims of silver and earthenware vessels, it also applies to any shell-like decoration or ornament.

Secretaire: This is a form of writing desk which resembles a chest of drawers, but in which the top "drawer" and/or a flap or brushing-slide pulls out to provide the writing surface. This surface may also take the form of a simple top surface on the chest beneath, or it may have a flat-front flap, or fall-front to provide the writing surface. See also bureau .

Secretary: The US name for a secretaire.

Serpentine: The name given to a bulbous double-curved outline (wavy!), composed of a convex curve flanked by two concave curves, derived form the shape associated with snakes, applied, for instance, to the sinuous shape used in a horizontal plane on better furniture of the Rococo Period (see Bombe ).

Serving Spoon: A long spoon (approx. 9" long) used for serving food at the table.

Serving Table (also called Server): A narrow table used in the dining room for the service of food.

Settee (also called Sofa): A seat for two or more people with upholstered back and seat.

Settle: A bench seat with a tall, solid back used from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries to ward off drafts. Often used by a hearth.

Sewing Table (also called Work Table): A small table, usually of high quality. Fitted with drawers and/or a sliding bag to hold material and needlework tools.

Sheffield Plate: The first thing to say is that Sheffield Plate is emphatically not electro-plated silver, in any way, shape or form. Sheffield Plate is rolled sheet silver which sandwiches an internal layer or sheet of copper, to which it is fused. The process was accidentally discovered in 1742 by Thomas Boulsover in Sheffield, and domestic articles were made using the technique from the 1750s until about the 1850s. It was recognised by the Sheffield Assay Office in 1784, after which date articles were stamped accordingly, and was being made there and elsewhere (Birmingham was a big producer) by the 1760s. By 1800 a wide range of articles were being produced in large quantites and a variety of styles, in many English towns. It was also copied abroad, notably France, Russia and Poland. The invention/development of " British Plate " in the 1840s brought production to an end, and in turn British Plate was superseded by the much cheaper electro-plating developed in the mid-to-late C18th.

Sheffield Plate is very strong, and surviving pieces, and there are many, are generally in good condition. On the other hand, C19th silver plated ware can often be in poor condition, with worn off plate commonly evident.

Sheraton: The style period from 1790-1805. His book The Cabinetmaker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, published in four parts from 1791-94, established the style that came to be known as Federal in America.

Shoe, shoe-brace or shoe-piece: A shaped horizontal bar fitted at the bottom of the chair back, on the rail , and into which the splat is fitted. Used on many C18th chairs, it was often fitted over the upholstery and tacked through into the back rail.

Sideboard: A dining room piece designed to store linens and equipment and for the service of food. Originated in the late eighteenth century.

Side Chair: A dining chair without arms.

Sleigh Bed: Bed with curved head- and foot-boards resembling a sleigh. An Empire period design, showing the French influence whose popularity at the time reflected the belief that the French Revolution and the American Revolution were twins.

Snuff Spoon: The smallest spoon of all (2" long), with a narrow bowl, used for extracting snuff from bottles.

Sofa: This is a long seat, which was developed from the French day-bed. They were almost always fully upholstered, and of a rounded appearance. Sprung upholstery didn't appear until about 1830.

Sofa table:  First made in about 1790, and developed from the Pembroke table, this drop leaf table was designed to sit behind a sofa (hence its name, of course), and is long and thin, with two short drop-leaves at each end, and usually two drawers in the frieze . The best ones have two end-supports connected by a stretcher ; the single pedestal type is much less desirable.

Soft-paste Porcelain: See Porcelain .

Soup Ladle: A long-handled, large-bowled utensil with an arched handle. Used to serve soup at the table. About 12" long.

Spade foot: A square tapered foot, generally used in the late C18th on a tapered leg, usually found on chairs, tables and sideboards. Can also be called a thermed (or termed ) foot, a term (pardon the pun)  derived from the name for the stones used in antiquity to make boundaries, and which they resemble.

Spandrel: Usually associated with clocks, where spandrels decorate the four courners of a dial. On furniture, it's the triangular space formed between the curve of an arch and its square framing. Without the arch, the shape is that of a bracket.

Spanish foot: See Braganza .

Spelter: Spelter [metal] is an alloy composed chiefly of zinc. It was much used around the latter part of the C19th as a cheaper substitute for bronze, principally in cast decorative pieces, and was often painted or patinated to simulate ivory or bronze. It is very soft and malleable, but when cast tends to be crystalline and brittle, and which when broken shows a granular, silvery fracture plane. In many cases it was copper-plated before any other finish such as gold plating was applied and therefore a worn piece may look coppery. It as quite fragile if thin and there is no really satisfactory method of repair. In some cases such as figurines, a filler such as plaster may be added to give weight and strength. Spelter can often be detected by a scratch in an inconspicuous place showing a bright silver colour where otherwise one might expect bronze or copper.

Spindle: A slender turned baluster, often decoratively used in rows, such as can be seen in the back of (say) a Windsor chair.

Spiral twist: See barley twist.

Splint or splat: A vertical board, usually flat, and often with shaped sides and frequently pierced or carved, which is the central upright of a chair back, between the top and seat rails. Such a chair is known as a splat-back.

Splay: The angled taper of the sides of, for instance, a splay foot. When curved, this is termed flared .

Stile: A subsidiary vertical framing member of a muntin , or the outermost vertical section of a panelled construction.

Stop-fluting: Fluting where part of each channel is filled with a reed of wood or brass (see counter-fluting ).

Straight-front: The front of a cabinet or chest that is flat and not recessed (see break-front ).

Strainer Spoon: A large spoon with a vertical strainer in the middle of the bowl, used for serving soups or stews.

Strapwork: Originally used in the mid C16th to mid C17th, and then revived in the late C18th, this is a symmetical and repeated carved ornament of flat, interlaced bands or ribbons, resembling plaited strips.

Stretcher: A horizontal strut connecting and bracing chair or table legs, sometimes used decoratively, such as a cross-stretcher or arched ( Crinoline ) stretcher.

Stringing: A thin decorative inlaid line of brass or contrasting wood, generally in veneer .

Stub-Tenon: A small tenon which does not go completely through the timber. See through-tenon .

Stuffing (or Basting) Spoon: A long-handled spoon (12" or more).

Style: Usually refers to a piece made in the manner of a previous period.

Style Period: Refers to the forms fashionable in a particular period, usually identified by the monarch  (e.g., Georgian) or designer (e.g., Chippendale).

Sutherland table: A form of dropleaf table which has a top that is so shallow as to be almost useless as a functional table, at least until the flaps are extended, and which typically sits atop end columns joined by a central stretcher . First recorded in about 1850, almost exactly 100 years after the similar Pembroke was first made, they were named after Harriet, the Duchess of Pembroke, and reached their height of popularity in the late C19th.

Swag: See Festoon

Sweep-front: See Bow-front .

Swing-leg: A leg such as is used on a gateleg table, in which one side is hinged or more usually pivoted, and the other swings out to support the table leaf . In effect, it's another word for a gate-leg.


Table clip or 'fork': A two-pronged, generally brass, clip which slides into sockets to link two table leaves .

Tall Chest: A one-part case piece with five, six or seven layers of drawers.

Tambour: A flexible, sliding shutter, which is made of strips of wood laid longways, side-by-side, and stuck to a canvas backing. Frequently found on bureaux and roll-top desks.

Tantalus: A lockable liquor rack, usually holding three cut-glass decanters, that allowed the liquor to be seen but not drunk. A Victorian invention designed to ensure that the master of the house controlled its alcohol.

Taster: A small bowl, with one or two handles, made of silver or pewter, and used for tasting wine, beer, or other whiskey. They were sometimes hung on a cord round the neck of the cellar master as he moved round the cellar sampling his maturing stock.  

Tavern Table (also called Tap Table): A small general purpose country table often found in a tavern.

Teaspoon: A small spoon used for  stirring tea. Usually made in sets of six or more. The earliest teaspoons were made c 1700 and are rare; Georgian and Victorian ones are readily available.

Tea Table: A small table from which to serve tea. Often circular with a tilting top on tripod base but earlier ones were rectangular with four legs.      

Tenon: A square or rectangular projection cut on the end of one piece of wood (tenon) and which fits into a hole or slot of identical size, shape (and depth) that's been cut into the other piece (mortice). See Mortice and tenon , and Stub tenon .

Term: The name is originally derived from the name for the stones used in antiquity to make boundaries, but is now used to describe a pedestal or pilaster tapered to its base, culminating in a human figure, which is often an armless torso and head (see caryatid ).

Tester: A flat wooden canopy, especially over a bed, in which case it's usually supported by two or four wooden posts. If it extends over the whole bed, it's called a full tester, and if only half of it, always the bedhead, it's called a half tester.

Through-tenon: Atenon where where the mortice is cut right through a piece of wood. See Stub-tenon .

Toddy Ladle: A small ladle, sometimes with a long handle, sometimes with a pouring lip, used for serving hot toddy. Sometimes from shells, sometimes with a coin set into the bottom of the bowl, sometimes with turned wooden handles or baleen (whalebone).

Toddy table: An eighteenth century name, now fallen into disuse, for a side table for holding drinks. Its alliterative aptness makes it a term worth reviving. The interior design guru David Hicks advises readers of Antique Interiors International that drinks should always be served on a marble- or stone-topped table and never from a *censored* tail cabinet, which he disdains as suitable only for the outer reaches of suburbia.

Tongue-and-groove: Often used in wall panelling (and floors, of course), this  is a long joint formed by cutting male and female interlocking shapes (the  tongue and the groove) in the centre of the edge of a board, usual Trefoil: A Gothic motif of three arcs or lobes, looks a bit like a shamrock.

Trifid Foot: A form of club foot which is generally found on a cabriole leg , it's formed of three parts (hence its name), and sometimes has foliate decoration.

Trefid (or Trifid) Spoon: A spoon with a flat stem that widens at the top and has two notches on the finial that make it a three-lobed shape. The bowl is oval with a rattail. Trefid spoons were made from c 1670-1700 of silver and pewter.

Triple-top table: See Harlequin .

Trundle bed (or Truckle Bed): A low bed on wheels that was kept under a large bed and trundled out at night for use, probably by a child.

Tudor: The style period from 1485-1600 in England. A small number of chests, cupboards, and chairs are all that have survived from this era. King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I are the best-known Tudor monarchs

Tunbridge work: Objects decorated with an inlay composed of small-scale mosaic of various coloured woods which have been bundled together and cut into sections. It was usually used geometrically, but sometimes pictorially with quite elaborate scenes. It was introduced in the mid C17th, and was popular in the C19th, especially on tea-caddies and work-boxes.



Undress Sword: A term applied to a sword designed for use in action, a working sword, rather than on which is intended for ceremonial or decorative use.

Underglaze: This applies to any porcelain or china decoration which is applied under rather than over the glazed finish.

Upholder: A term commonly used in the C18th for an upholsterer.

Uprights: This is just another name for side rails .

Urn Stand: A small stand designed to hold a hot water urn for brewing tea, usually with splayed legs for stability.

Urushi : The Japanese name for the sap of the lac tree, a form of ash, and which forms the basis for lacquer .


Vitruvian scroll: A repeated Classical wave-like decoration.

Veneer: An extremely important devlopment in cabinet-making, as it allowed expensive, exotic woods go much further than if they were used in the solid. Early veneers were hand-sawn; the machines required to cut the thinner, much later veneers, didn't appear until about the 1830s. Consequently, early veneer is usually between 1.6mm and 3mm thick. Additionally, rotary-cut veneers, which have a distinctive and not very attractive pattern, are taken from a trunk and peeled off like carpet from a roll, and require quite sophisticated machinery which didn't appear until early this century. Older veneers are always crown-cut, quarter-cut , curl-cut, oyster or burr .



Wainscot: From the Dutch wagenschott, this is a type of fine straight-grained quarter-cut oak which was imported from the Baltic in the C16th and C17th, and which was originally used for wagon shafts.  The term later became synonymous with oak, largely because the term is also applied to oak panelling used to line the interior walls of houses in the late C16th and early C17th.

Washstand: A small stand designed to hold a wash basin, a pitcher or bottle of water, and beakers.

Waterleaf: A decorative motif, popularly carved on mouldings circa 1810-1840 which was based on waterlily foliage, and took the form of a narrow leaf with a central stem, in horizontal undulations.

Wave moulding: A convex curve between two concave curves (see serpentine ).

William & Mary: The style period  at the end of the seventeenth century (1680-1700) referring to the reign of William of Orange and Queen Mary, who brought Dutch and Continental tastes to England.

Windsor Chair: A country chair, introduced in the late C18th, and although largely made in Slough near Windsor, (hence the name) they are found in some quite distinct regional variations.  Its principal distinguishing feature is that it's essentially a stool with a back on it. They always have solid, shaped seats, into which the leg and back assembly is dowelled, holding the whole thing together. Crinoline stretchers are very desirable.

Wine Coaster: Originally, in the eighteenth century, a small wagon on wheels used for circulating wine around a large dining table. Often a coaster would be fitted with decanters for port, claret, and madeira. Coasters were made of silver or mahogany and later were made to slide on baize rather than roll on wheels. It is this form that evolved into the modern coaster.

Wine Cooler (also called Cistern):  A floor-standing box lined with lead in which to keep white wine in ice          water.

Wine Funnel: A small funnel made from silver or plate used for decanting wine. It had a filter at the top to catch any lees, and its spout was angled at the bottom to send the wine down the glass side of the decanter so that its color could be checked.

Wine Labels (also called Spirit Labels): Small shield-shaped labels hung on fine silver chains around the necks of decanters to identify their contents. Common from about 1775 until the end of the Victorian period and still reproduced, the labels.

Wine Stand: A small, low stand, usually on a tripod base.

Wing bookcase: A Break-front bookcase.


X-frame: This term is used to describe the X-shaped construction of some chairs and stools.

Xylonite: Made to simulate wood, this is an early and rare form of plastic dating from 1868.



Yatate: A Japanese brush and ink holder - it resembles in purpose if not looks, an antique fountain pen. They are extremely unusual in the West, but some people collect them.



Zar: A unit of measurement used in carpet-making, which is somewhere between one yard and one metre in length.

Zaranim: A term given to a measurement of one and a half Zars, and which is about 5feet (1.53 metres), and is the typical width of many Oriental rugs.

Zebrawood: This South American wood, mainly brown in colour, takes its name from its distinctive black stripes. It was used as a veneer , mainly for inlay ,marquetry and parquetry .

Zoëtrope: An early effort in the field of animation, this was composed of a revolving cylinder of quite large diameter, into which a circular strip of card with pictures was placed. When the cylinder is spun, the pictures appear to move.