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Livery cupboard

Livery cupboard

  • Place of origin:

    England (Kent, possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1600-1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak, inlaid with strips of holly and bog oak

  • Museum number:

    W.42-1914

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case WE

Object Type
Small, lightweight, hanging cupboards like this one were widely used during the seventeenth century. Some were probably used to store food. Others may have held attractive household goods such as drinking glasses, which would have been partly visible through the openwork front. This is probably what was meant in 17th-century inventories, by 'glass cubberd' or 'glass case'.

Materials & Making
The alternating chevrons of bog oak and holly that decorate the front of the cupboard are characteristic of English furniture decoration of this period. The key hole was probably inserted at a latter date and is purely decorative. The bars are in the shape of spindles. They were turned as green (unseasoned) wood on a pole lathe and later dried out into an oval shape.

Place
The cupboard came from the village of Rolvendon, Kent.

Physical description

Hanging Livery or Food Cupboard, inlaid with holly and bog oak. The front, divided in the centre by a shelf, has two rows of fifteen turned balusters. Seven of the balusters in the middle of each row form doors hung on pivots. The band of inlay round the edge and across the centre is composed alternatively of vertical pieces of holly and bog oak. The sides are panelled.

Place of Origin

England (Kent, possibly, made)

Date

1600-1650 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Oak, inlaid with strips of holly and bog oak

Dimensions

Height: 72.5 cm, Width: 86.5 cm, Depth: 27 cm

Object history note

Hanging Livery Cupboard (loan NTWM), purchased from Tom A Lovelock, 29 St Clement's Mansions, Fulham, on 14 April 1914 for £5.

Notes from R.P. 14/2039

Listed on Purchase Form
"1. Oak Cupboard" (no price listed)

19/3/14, letter from Lovelock
offers "a very interesting piece of oak furniture of a very early period, (viz?) a china cupboard (not a corner cupboard), with turned spares & (wicket?) doors not glazed".

A notation in red on the same correspondence "cupboard - p'chase".

Historical context note

During the seventeenth century a wide variety of small mural cupboards were developed, many apparently intended to hold either food or drinking glasses. Fixed to the wall, off the ground, the contents would have been protected from vermin and accidental knocks.

Various hanging methods were used, a nailed metal hanger or nailing directing through the back boards (sometimes extended for this purpose). Some, often with small drawers, were built into the internal walls, often in the chimney, and were intended for the dry storage of salt and spices. (Some were suspended from the ceiling on ropes and pulleys.)

Mural cupboards tend to be rather flimsily constructed, using thin nailed boards - perhaps to reduce weight, and often incorporate pierced or drilled panels (or turned spindles) that allow a partial view of the contents and ventilation. It has been suggested that such cupboards may have been constructed by box makers (Chinnery p.332).

Drinking glasses were 'fairly plentiful even in lower middle class homes' in 16th and 17th century England (Chinnery), and were kept in a lightly-built, wall-mounted unit known as a glass case, glass perch or glass cupboard - with or without open-work doors.

See Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture, The British Tradition (Woodbridge, 1979), pp.329-340 for a discussion of the type.

Descriptive line

Oak, holly and bog wood livery or food cupboard, c. 1600, England, 14/2039M

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hanging Livery or Food Cupboard, inlaid with holly and bog oak. The front, divided in the centre by a shelf, has two rows of fifteen turned balusters. Seven of the balusters in the middle of each row form doors hung on pivots. The band of inlay round the edge and across the centre is composed alternatively of vertical pieces of holly and bog oak. The sides are panelled.

From Rolvenden, Kent. First half of the 17th century.
From catalogue H. 2 ft. 4 ½ in., W. 2 ft. 10 in., D. 10 ½ in.
(H. 72.4 cm, W. 86.4 cm, D. 26.7 cm)

From: H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork
(London 1930), 606, Plate 31.
Marx, P.E. and M. S. Taylor. Measured Drawings of English Furniture (London, 1931), pp 50-53, Pl. 10.

‘Hanging livery Cupboard, first half seventeenth century. As in the previous example, this hanging livery cupboard was used for the storage of the nightly allowances of food and drink served to members and retainers of the great houses. This custom of ‘serving liveries’ seems to have been discontinued after the Rebellion in 1688.
These cupboards were sometimes used in churches for the bread distributed to the poor.
Previously to the sixteenth century the method of ventilation was by pierced openwork panels, but by the end of that period turned balusters or spindles were introduced.
The cupboard now illustrated has some finely proportioned spindles with the favourite chequer pattern of inlaid bog-oak and holly on the stiles and rails.
A rather unusual feature is the lack of stiles to the two middle doors, which are hinged by means of a dowel-like continuation of the spindle which revolves in a socket made in the bottom rail.
To a modern mind this piece would be suitable for a radiator casing, and it could, in fact, be easily adapted to this use.’

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Cupboards such as this were useful for all kinds of possessions. They were often recorded in bedrooms, described as 'livery cupboards', for storing food and candles (traditionally provided for members of the household and called a livery). The bars allowed air to circulate. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Oak; Holly; Bog oak

Techniques

Inlay

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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