Of course, these popular dressers are copied and faked, genuine old oak being employed in many cases in their manufacture. The honestly modern dresser made after an old design is, however a piece of furniture no one need be ashamed of, for, strange as it may seem, it is still possible to buy in London, or in the country, a genuine old oak dresser of plain design for less money than would be given for a good modern copy.
Small Jacobean chests of drawers, with moulded panels and brass drop handles, may frequently be found in old farmhouses. Sometimes they are raised upon a frame after the fashion of the "tall-boy" of later date. These chests of drawers were in olden days a source of pride and joy to their housewifely owner, and their fine polished surface testifies to this. They look charming in the-hall, upon a landing, or in the library, and are admirable for holding old prints and other collections of antiques which require careful keeping, and cannot be exposed in cabinets or upon shelves.
It is a remarkable fact that until late in the sixteenth century the chair was not a piece of furniture in ordinary use. On the contrary, it was a kind of throne, used only by the master of the house or by an honoured guest, and there is little doubt that our latter-day expression to "take the chair" is a survival of those times.
Many of the massive old oak armchairs which we see to-day belonged originally to the Church and to ecclesiastical houses, where they were used by the bishop and other dignitaries. In the home the carved wooden chair was rendered more comfortable by the
Messrs. Hampton and Sons. Pall Mall addition of a loose cushion attached by a string. Later on, as people became more sociable, the chair was more commonly used, and cane-work was introduced for seats and as a panel down the back.
Illustrated is an early Jacobean, which is almost the counterpart of one which stands in the bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots at Holyrood. This chair is of walnut, which was largely used in Stuart times, and which many people erroneously term "old oak." It may interest readers to know that it was found in a cottage in the country, where the owner-an old woman-had relegated it to an outhouse as "old rummage," and who thought "the quality" had taken leave of their senses when she received half a crown in exchange for it.
There was once-not long ago-an artist who went to Devonshire to paint. He put up at a farmhouse, and in idle moments strolled round the farmyard. He was fond of antiques, and thought he knew all about them. The farmer soon discovered that his pigsty had a fascination for the visitor, but he kept his counsel. One day the painterapproached him.
"I should like to buy that old oak in your pigsty," he said. "What will you take for it?"
"I b'ain't gwine to part wi' 'er," said the farmer; " er 'ave bin in my fambly hundreds av years."
"Then why let it rot in the pigsty?"
"'tis me own, and I does what I like wi' 'er."
The artist was grieved: the more he thought of that old oak the more he wanted it.
At last, after much persuasion, the farmer was induced to give way. Fourteen pounds was paid, and the oak was sent to London to be cleaned and repaired.
"I wonder how your oak got so dirty, sir?" said the tradesman to whom it had been consigned. "It isn't as if it were old."
"Not old ! " roared the artist.
"Why, no, sir; the carving is machine work."
And then the artist knew he had bought one of those many modern pieces manufactured in London, and "planted " in the country to trap the unwary. Alas, the history of curio collecting, and, indeed, of all bargain hunting, is full of such incidents, and in reading them our sympathy is curiously divided.
How to Recognise Genuine Old Oak
How, then, is one to distinguish between genuine old oak and the modern imitation? First of all, one must examine the wood. The new is stained, and is darker and duller. The old is a rich brown, and an examination of the surface will show that this has been produced by coatings of beeswax and turpentine, and by many years of generous rubbing.
A small Jacobean chest of drawers, with moulded panels and brass drop handles. Such a chest make an admirable receptacle for old prints or a collection of antiques
Then the old joiner used wooden pegs to fasten together the various parts, and some large presses can be taken to pieces by the removal of two or three of these.
Old carving is mellowed by age, and the edges have lost their sharpness. Patterns are less mechanical; the carver showed his individuality in his work, and was not tied down to matching or copying his design in the slavish present day fashion.
Lastly, the collector of antiques, who loves these things, develops a sense of the atmosphere which clings to them, and which she fails entirely to discern in those of later date. She also acquires what the French term flair, and makes few mistakes.