For something that has been around since the ancient Egyptians, the antique chest still remains a firm storage favourite.
Due to its longevity and popularity, many ages and variety of antique chests still survive and a fairly basic piece of furniture can make an attractive addition to any room in the house. Certainly the glorious patinas on 17th century heavily carved domed lidded oak coffers present a fabulous piece of early furniture that will fit perfectly into any smart living room and provide useful storage. Often these early chests will have the addition of a candle box fitted under the lid where the smell of the wax acted as a deterrent to insects, particularly moths.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the chest, as well as retaining its basic shape, also became the base for other pieces of furniture like the chest of drawers for example, which evolved from the larger mule chest which had two drawers fitted below. At this stage it was the poorer members of society that owned the basic chest, where the wealthy elite began to benefit from innovative cabinetry that was producing fine furniture at the beginning of the 18th century.
Many early chests were quite heavily painted and carved, although practically none have survived with the painted decoration in tact. Decorative carving on early pieces was often abstract, with circular lunettes and guilloches, a type of ornamental border. However, the linenfold panel first used at the end of the 15th century is the most sought after design today but be aware that Victorians happily had this design re-carved onto old chests in the 19th century.
Early chests were usually made of oak, but pine was the wood of choice during the 19th century. Cedar, because of its wonderful scent, was also used to line them and kept clothes smelling sweet.
There were many revivals of the medieval chest during the Victorian era so be sure you know what you are getting. When buying antique chests, Cumbria dealers can advise on age, wood, style and potential investment.
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