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Chest

Chest

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1600-25 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elm, with carved decoration

  • Museum number:

    W.5-1938

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 135, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY6, shelf WALL

This is one of the simplest types of chest, formed from 6 boards nailed together, and made from the Middle Ages onwards. It could have been made in any basic workshop since it did not require the cutting of mortise and tenon joints, and the carved decoration could have been created with little more than a knife blade. Such chests were commonly made by carpenters rather than joiners, but in rural areas the same woodworker might produce nailed and jointed furniture and woodwork. One of the intrinsic problems of boarded furniture is that the timber will shrink across the grain as it dries out, causing splitting at the nail fixings. Sometimes, though not here, iron straps were used to bind the boards more securely.

This example is made of elm, a durable wood native to England, often found in hedgerows, making it a readily accessible timber for village carpenters. It tends to distort over time. Elm’s irregular, interlocking grain makes it very difficult to rive (split), so is usually sawn (as here).

Wooden chests were probably the most common form of domestic furniture in early modern England. They were used to contain all kinds of household and personal effects, and vary in size, construction, material and decoration. In particular they were used for storing clothing, bedding and linen, and are often recorded near bedchambers or standing at the foot of a bed.

Physical description

Rectangular boarded chest, the front carved in low relief with paired C-scrolls and spiral rosettes, nulling down left and right edges of the front, and with added spandrel blocks with spiral scratch ornament. The sides cut at the base with semi-circular arches forming four feet.

At both ends, the flat hinged lid has a shaped oak batten nailed to the underside. The lid is held on 2 internal iron hinges (replacments for 2 similar lost orginals).
The chest is fitted with an iron lock nailed to the front, which is apparently the only one ever fitted. To the underside of the lid is nailed an iron strap hasp (broken). The interior is plain.

Construction
The chest is of boarded construction, the front, back, bottom and lid (all grained side to side), and the sides (grained top to bottom) are formed from single, sawn elm planks nailed together using cut iron nails. The front and back are nailed onto the sides, with five nails each side (spaced about 6cm apart). The front and back are nailed onto the bottom. The bottom is nailed up into the front and back.

Later modifications
At both ends of the lid, on the underside, a modern oak batten held with screws and nails.
A strip of elm(?) added along the back of the lid, held in place with two (non-original) iron strap hinges (held with nails).
Back left foot tipped (11cm from the floor), and an added support bracket. Otherwise, convincing level of wear.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1600-25 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Elm, with carved decoration

Dimensions

Height: 50.5 cm, Width: 97 cm, Depth: 38 cm

Object history note

Bought for £15 from Miss I.M. Fulton, 18 Tregunter Road, London SW10, '1 oak [sic] coffer..(chipped, worn, split, part loose, worm-eaten, repaired)'
RF 809/1938
On loan to Mary Newman’s Cottage, Saltash 1984-2012. V&A location records before 1984 not available.

The scrolling decoration on the front of this example is accomplished, and suggests a date around the beginning of the 17th century.

Historical context note

This is one of the simplest types of chest, formed from 6 boards nailed together, and made from the Middle Ages onwards. In order to preserve the chest and its contents from the effects of damp or vermin, the end boards were often carried down below the main body of the chest to keep it raised off the floor. Shaped wooden brackets are sometimes, as here, attached to the front to enhance its appearance.

It could have been made in any basic workshop since it did not require the cutting of mortise and tenon joints, and the carved decoration could have been created with little more than a knife blade. Such chests were commonly made by carpenters rather than joiners, but in rural areas the same woodworker might produce nailed and jointed furniture and woodwork. One of the intrinsic problems of boarded furniture is that the timber will shrink across the grain as it dries out, causing splitting at the nail fixings. Sometimes iron straps were used to bind the boards more securely.

This example is made of elm, a durable wood native to England, often found in hedgerows, making it a readily accessible timber for village carpenters. It tends to distort over time. Elm’s irregular, interlocking grain makes it very difficult to rive (split), so is usually sawn (as here).

Wooden chests were probably the most common form of domestic furniture in early modern England. They were used to contain all kinds of household and personal effects, and vary in size, construction, material and decoration. In particular they were used for storing clothing, bedding and linen, and are often recorded near bedchambers or standing at the foot of a bed.

Descriptive line

Elm, boarded construction with carved front. English, 1600-25, RF 76/1553

Labels and date

Chest
About 1600–25

England
Elm, carved

Museum no. W.5-1938

Boarded and nailed construction is quick but heavy. It was often the work of carpenters rather than joiners.

In this chest the six boards are held together with simple ‘lap’ joints reinforced with nails. In the long boards the grain runs laterally, in the side boards it is vertical. This avoids having to nail into the weak endgrain.
[01/12/2012]

Techniques

Carving

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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