Early 18th century antique chests of drawers remained the preserve of the rich and influential. These early pieces were usually made of solid walnut or walnut veneered onto a pine frame. Walnut as the cabinet makers’ choice of wood was becoming scarce in Britain after a succession of severe frosts early in the century and France, another potential supplier, banned the export of timber in 1720. So good examples of these early pieces of furniture are now becoming quite hard to find and can go for many thousands of pounds at auction and through dealerships.
The chest of drawers as a piece of furniture evolved from placing a chest, often made of Baltic pine, on stands fitted with two or three drawers made of walnut. The stand was then dowelled into the base of the chest. From this, rich walnut veneers and marquetry inlay could be applied. Although oak was unsuitable as a base for veneering walnut, the wood was often used for drawer linings. When walnut became scarce, mahogany was substituted as the wood of choice without drastically changing the design of these early pieces.
It is the wonderful rich mottled patina of these early walnut pieces that ensures their popularity today and retains their price. It is also their flexibility and their compactness that is important to modern day living. An early walnut chest of drawers not only looks fantastic but fits easily into a small sitting room and provides useful storage. A regular polish ensures an illusion of warmth that only a real fire could supersede.
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