Below is an extensive listing of antique realted slang terms which you may have seen, and been confused by. After reading up on the definitions, you'll be talking about antiques like a true professional!
Ornament resembling an acorn or an egg in an egg cup. Typically found in Jacobean furniture as finials on chair posts and bedposts, as pendants, and as the profile of leg turnings in Jacobean tables.
A deep, violet-colored wood otherwise known as purple wood. Also called "violetwood" and "purpleheart." The wood was used in the 18th century for veneering and marquetry mainly in France.
A structural part of furniture. The downward extension below what would normally be the bottom edge. It is purely decorative or, as in a close chair, hiding something unattractive. In tables, it is the piece just under the top, connecting the legs. In chairs, it is beneath the seat. The apron is sometimes called "skirt."
A series of carved ornamental arches, most often found in architecture but also in relief on furniture (for example chair backs). Arcades were popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
A large ornamental cupboard with shelves, hanging space and doors. Also known as a wardrobe. The Gothic types are huge and decorated with elaborate iron hinges and locks. The earliest armoires were likely painted, and were used to store arms and armor. Later, panels were carved intricately with pictures or simple linenfold patterns. During the French Renaissance, armoires were lavished with columns, canopied niches, and panels carved with mythological pictures.
The highly decorative style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Art Nouveau is characterized by a flowing lines often ending in abrupt whip like sharp curves based on plant forms and influenced by Japanese and Gothic art. The style was born out of a rejection of the typical stale, conservatism of the time and a revolt of the mass production of furniture. A conscious effort to create along new lines inspired this "New Art."
Characteristic of the 17th century, but also found earlier and later, the ball foot is a spherical foot on chests, tables, etc.. Also called a bun foot in England.
European design from the late 16th to the early 18th Century tended toward exaggeration and over-emphasis. Straying from the Renaissance Classical disciplines, Baroque strived for great vigor and movement, eventually leading to the ultra-ornamental Rococo. Motion is the essence of the Baroque with large curves, fantastic and irregular ornaments, twisted columns and oversized moldings. Baroque introduced a new meaning to scale and proportion.
A pale brown wood with a dense texture used widely in the 17th Century in country furniture. Used as an imitation of the more expensive Walnut; found in good French provincial furniture.
A stylized carving or inlay (or painted) of three-petalled bud resembling bell shaped flowers on the legs of chairs and tables in the late 18th Century. Usually arranged vertically.
A sideboard or dining room dresser with shelves above and often a cupboard below. Usually used for serving and for items not immediately wanted at the table. Originally Italian, the buffet was highly developed in France and in England in the Stuart period, and later in many forms throughout the Georgian Era.
The most common distinguishing feature in chairs, etc. From the late 17th to the late 18th Century. The leg starts just under the seat or table and curves outward forming a knee, then curves inward, tapering, to the foot. It is originally from China. The cabriole leg is sometimes called a bandy leg. In French, cabriole means "to caper like a goat."
A French sofa or settee with a high, unbroken back often with auxiliary cushions and closed ends. Popular during the Louis XV period (and later).
Style of furniture associated with the famous English cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale (1718-79). Chippendale designs are derived from Rococo, revived Gothic and Chinese.
Claw And Ball
A claw-and-ball foot is a carved foot used on tables and chairs in the early years of the 18th Century in England. It is perhaps derived from the claw of the Chinese dragon grasping the sacred pearl.
18th Century French chest of drawers. The English also use the term to mean a chest of drawers. Usually, a commode is highly decorated, with or without drawers and on short legs with a rounded or serpentine front. They sometimes have cupboards. Often the French commodes are more highly decorated with gilt-bronze mounts, veneering, and marquetry, and usually with a marble top. They were used mainly in salons and the more important rooms. The word means "commodious" or "convenient" and were often used for storage.
A small narrow writing desk, mainly mid-19th Century English. Usually, these desks have a sloping writing area and drawers or cupboards below (often pulling out sideways). The first Davenport desks were made around 1790 to the order of Captain Davenport, but most are mid-Victorian.
English country chair made during the Jacobean period.
An upholstered bench, or backless and armless sofa. Originally, this piece of furniture expressed nostalgia for the Near East. Now, the divan is characteristic of cheaply furnished bed-sitting rooms.
Method of joining boards, often in drawers, in which interlocking tendons suggest the form of a dovetail.
Round wooden pegs which, with glue, are used to hold two pieces of wood together.
A three-toed foot often seen in 18th Century furniture
Derived from the European word: Dressoir. A dresser is also known as a sideboard or buffet used mostly for storage and display of utensils. It can also be a low chest of drawers with a mirror, used for dressing and the storage of clothing.
Also called Egg-and-Tongue or Egg-and-Anchor. Moulding or carved enrichment in the form of a row of ovals alternating with dart-like forms. Popular in Neo-Classical furniture, Egg-and-Dart is one of the most frequent in carved woodwork after the early 16th Century.
The neoclassic style of architecture and decoration led by Napoleon. Covers roughly the first quarter of the 19th Century in the French style. Based on the imperial forms of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. The furniture is massive, rectangular and uses rich woods such as Mahogany, Rosewood and Ebony as well as metal mountings.
A slight, convex curve or swelling of a column at the middle of an otherwise straight column. Entasis was used in Doric columns to overcome the optical illusion of hollowness that appears in a perfectly straight column.
A tier of shelves supported by columns above a table or cupboard for displaying ornaments or hanging shelves. Although most common in the 19th Century, étagère carved from exotic woods can be seen from the time of Louis XVI.
Recurring wave scroll often decorating friezes and bands.
An early (12th Century) portable folding chair. Similar to a camp stool, with the legs in an X and extending up to create arm rests and a back rail. In religious use, a litany desk.
Roman decoration appearing mostly in classical revivals such as Louis XIV and the Empire. The motif resembles a bundle of rods with a projecting ax.
American furniture during the early years of the Republic, roughly 1780-1830. Essentially Neo-Classical with traces of antique Pompeian and Greco-Roman design. Influenced by the Directoire and Empire, or Regency styles.
Queen Anne style (18th Century) chair with a back resembling a violin. It also has the delicately grained veneer as found on the back of a violin.
Decorative piece usually placed on the top of a piece to accentuate a point or ending of a structural feature (usually on a canopy, pediment, dish cover, etc..).
A small, ornamental railing of metal or wood, usually fretted or pierced. Gallery's are most often found around the tops or edges of tables or the tops of cabinets in the Louis XVI style. Chippendale style also frequently used wooden galleries. Various works had silver or brass galleries. Galleries were most popular in the latter half of the 18th Century.
A type of folding table in which one or more drop leaves are supported by a leg or gate that swings away form a central fixed structure. First appearing in the early 17th Century, gateleg tables became more elaborate having up to four gates (rather than the normal two) and barleytwist turned legs were found in the finest specimens. Gatelegs were made with as many as twelve legs and appeared in every style in the 17th Century.
Decoration with gold in the 18th Century. Gold-leaf could be used in several different colors from a full yellow to a leaf with a slightly reddish cast. Application could be either via gold-leaf or powder in a liquid vehicle. Gilding was used to produce a sumptuous effect.
Also called swan-neck or broken arch, gooseneck is a curved arch of the pediment of highboys and the like.
(or Gryphon) In Greek mythology, a beast with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle. Occurring in much Late Italian Renaissance, French Renaissance through Louis XIV, and the work of Adam and Sheraton, and again in the Empire and Regency styles. A Griffin represents strength, agility and the destroying power of the gods.
Tall, chest of drawers, usually in two sections. A highboy is an 18th Century English piece, usually with broken-arch pediment and cabriole legs. The upper chest is usually being carried on a tablelike structure or lowboy with long legs. Transported to America, a highboy has William and Mary and Queen Anne influences which were altered to Colonial American tastes.
American type of chair from 1820-1850 with caned seat and painted floral designs. The style is associated with Lambert Hitchcock of Hitchcocksville, Connecticut. The typical form derives from a Sheraton "fancy" chair and has a pillow back or oval-turned top rail, and straight-turned front legs.
A cabriole leg with a curve and angle inside the knee. Also known as Hipped.
Chair back in which the top rail and uprights form a curve which descends continually to the seat and the arms continue to form a single back rail. Bow back in Windsor chairs.
A small cabinet or chest used for storing food often with a pierced door or ventilation. Usually has legs and doors and backed with a coarse cloth. From the French huche, a hutch descends from the Middle Ages and was common in France and Italy and especially in Early Jacobean England.
Decoration resembling fish scales, or overlapping in the manner of tiles or shingles on a roof. Imbrication was adapted from the antique Roman in the Italian Renaissance.
decoration and designs formed in flat surfaces of wood made by cutting a shallow pattern and filling it with wood of contrasting color, or shell, ivory, metal, mother-of-pearl, etc.. The process is one of the oldest arts and has been valued as one of the highest achievements in ancient woodworkers records.
Incised carving cut into the surface. The design is cut out rather than the surround, as in a seal.
Form of wood inlay, principally of other materials such as shell, ivory and metal, derived from Oriental ivory inlays. Intarsia first was used in the 13th Century in European work in Siena.
A metal used since prehistoric times. Iron is easy to work with, especially when hot, cheap and easy to mass produce. Most popular for garden furniture in the 19th Century. Iron figures in furniture in both cast and wrought form. The earliest wood construction relied on iron reinforcement in hinges and straps.
A Brazilian hardwood originating from various trees. Most often used in Portuguese chairs during the 17th and 18th Centuries.
From the Latin Jacobus (James). General term for English styles up to 1688 (King James I ruled from 1603-25). Foreign influence and the passing of the Oak styles can be noticed. Furniture becomes lighter and the decoration moves from Early Renaissance types to Baroque.
The art of coating surfaces such as wood or metal (particularly tin-plate) with different varnishes dried in heat chambers before painting or engraving, etc.. Used heavily in the Orient.. Also know as Lacquering
The mechanics of furniture and wood-work mid-way between carpentry and cabinetmaking focusing on smaller items. An antiquated term, joinery is to the interior designer what masonry is to the architect. Literally, joinery means the joining together of pieces of wood.
Style in Germany similar to the 'Art Nouveau period in France (1895-1912). Literally means "Youth Style." Jugendstil emerged in a time of rebellion and self-consciousness and never reached international acclaim.
Kidney desk, table, bench, etc.. Shaped like a horseshoe, or oval with a concave front. Kidney shaped furniture appeared in the late 18th Century in France and England.
A dark, reddish-brown, sometimes purple wood similar to rosewood. Used primarily for inlay and veneer, Kingwood was popular in the 17th Century in the periods of Louis XV, Queen Anne and Late Georgian. It was mostly imported from Brazil.
An Ancient Greek chair revived during the Neo-Classical period. Characterized with sabre-curved legs and a shallow, curved backrest on three posts.
Desks, tables or chests were often built with an opening in the center to accommodate the knees of a person while seated. This area, the kneehole, is usually between two sets of drawers. Sometimes there is a compartment at the back with additional doors or storage.
A large Dutch cupboard from the 17th or 18th Century. Often with decorative inlay.
Chairback designed with several horizontal slats or rails similar to a ladder going across the back. Oftentimes, ladderback are used on highback chairs. Originally a country piece, or Pilgrim furniture, ladderbacks became popular with Chippendale style work and 17th Century elaborately carved chairs.
Gothic carved decoration in the imitation of folded cloth in the upright position (on a panel, cupboard etc..). Probably originating following the pattern of folded napkins on the chalice in the Catholic ritual. Most often, linenfold is found in Oak and on Tudor furniture.
A special cupboard used during the 16th Century England to store food. Open doors or grilles of wooden spindles were used for ventilation.
English low chest or table often with two layers and drawers. Made around 1700, lowboys often complimented highboys. Beginning in the Jacobean period by lifting a chest up on taller legs, the lowboy was quickly extended to side tables, dressing tables, and the like.
A decorative band or moulding in which the halfmoon shape is repeated with elaborate carvings, inlay or paintings. Most often used in the 18th Century dressing tables, commodes, etc.. In English Late Georgian work, lunettes were often inlaid or painted with fan-shaped designs.
A reddish-brown wood originating from the West Indies. Mahogany was the most common wood used for cabinetmaking since the early 18th Century. The wood has medium hardness, great strength and is easy to polish. Thus it is very conducive to cabinetmaking. Used all over England, France, Spain and Italy, Mahogany is also prevalent in the Empire and Federal period of American work.
Marble dates back to the Roman, Greek and Egyptian times. The substance is a strong, beautiful, crystalline limestone appearing in various colors. The Empire style revived the classic use of marble and it was used extensively throughout 19th Century Europe and America.
An ornamental inlay of contrasting woods, shell, ivory, metal, etc.. into a background of veneer.
During the 1900s, the Arts and Crafts Movement represented the crude, thick style of furniture built by missionaires and Indians in the Spanish missions of Southwest America. Most Mission furniture is heavy and square, made of Oak, and mostly unfinished.
Most often made of wood, molding is a band around a wall at the ceiling, around a panel or on a cornice. Moldings are used to emphasize the difference in planes or in certain lighting.
Nail Head Decoration
Nails with ornamental heads were used for the finishing of upholstery work (Securing upholstery to the frame). Ornamental nails are also often used to make patterns. For example, in the French period of Henry II, nails were arranged in a daisy pattern on screens and coffers. Large nail heads are characteristic of Portuguese and Spanish work.
Nails And Screws
It is often thought that iron nails and screws are not used in antique furniture. Even though wooden dowels were most often used in early furniture, nails and screws are also found in early pieces. Nails were all hand cut until about 1790 and appear more triangular with larger heads than modern screws. Screws were introduced in 1675 and therefore should not be present in anything before this time. The threads on early screws were hand filed and the ends were not pointed. Modern pointed screws were not introduced until 1851, however screws may have been used to repair pieces from before this time on hinges and locks. Because nails often fall out and need to be replaced, it is difficult to date a piece based upon the nails and screws.
The revival of interest in the classical design which includes styles such as Renaissance, Adam, and Empire. Although the classic style never totally died in England, its revival was encouraged by the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The principal influences at work in the dissemination of the new discoveries were Johann Joachim Winckelmann the Comte de Caylus and Sir William Hamilton the English Ambassador at Naples. The return to the classical style was also encouraged by reaction against the excesses of Rococo style.
The revival of the gothic style in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A Tudor chest with inlaid decoration suggestive of the famous Nonsuch palace built by Henry VIII. (no longer exists) It is probably of Flemish rather than English make.
Simple form of decoration found in primitive woodwork.
Name given to any short legged, low seated chair, whether or not designed for a nursing mother.
A pale brown hard, durable wood of course texture. Its hardness made it difficult to carve but quite durable. Oak has been very widely used in furniture up to the 17th century. Because of its heavy use in the 17th century, it has often been called the "oak period". Practically all Gothic work is of oak. It is the typical wood of all the Tudor and Jacobean styles in England, and the Early Renaissance in Flanders and Germany. After the 17th century, oak has been used more as a secondary wood.
A hard, close-grained wood, greenish yellow in color, with irregular dark markings. Often used for veneers and boxes form the 17th century. The tree is sacred to Athene. The wreaths of branches symbolize peace and the foliage in Christian art symbolizes the Virgin.
Oval-shaped cabinet foot. Similar to a bun foot, flattened at the bottom and with an upward curve at the top.
A fruit wood sometimes used in Portuguese and Spanish furniture.
A long, low stuffed bench having neither a back or arms. These were first seen in the early 18th century by the Ottoman Turks. The term has more widely been used to describe various shapes and sizes of overstuffed seats without backs. The ottoman should not be confused with an Ottoman which was primarily a small settee, usually with an oval seat, and the arms integral to the back.
A chair shape developed by Hepplewhite after the French precedent
Oyster Veneer or Oystering
Whirling patterns of veneers cut from roots and small branches. Laid side by side and in irregular concentric rings which resemble oyster shells. Perhaps originally a Dutch technique, Oyster Veneer is found chiefly on panels and drawer fronts from the late 17th century. Commonly used woods are walnut, laburnum saplings, lignum vatae, olive wood and some fruitwoods.
Flattish, rounded foot end of a cabriole leg. Very similar to a club foot and the term is often used interchangeably.
A decorative motif in the form of a stylized palm leaf. Originated on Egyptian and Assyrian work and later was incorporated on many other styles.
Parquetry was originally used to refer to the design of wood-block floors. The blocks were laid in a pattern to contrast the grain of each piece. This method has been used on furniture veneers to make patterns of contrasting grain. Parquetry generally uses the same wood laid to make geometric designs and differs from Marquetry which creates more pictorial designs.
Changes to the color and texture of a surface as the result of the passage of time, which includes normal wear and tear. The shellac, varnish, or oil will deepen on wood furniture as time passes. After many years of polishing, edges wear smooth and sharp outlines tend to soften. Sunlight and air pollutants will also have a long term effect on the surface of furniture. A fine patina is characteristic of quality antique furniture, as it is almost impossible to reproduce in a way which will deceive those who have studied the subject. However, during the 19th century, a good deal of old furniture was stripped of its patination and the surface refinished.
A furniture leg ending in an animal paw. The most common animal paw used is the lion, but sometimes a dogs paw is used. During the Neo-Classical period, the paw foot was often gilded.
A American cabinet maker of Scottish descent. Arriving in New York around 1790, he began is work in the Adam-Hepplewhite style. His early work is heavily influenced by Sheraton, and his later work by the French Empire and English Regency styles. His early work was made from Mahogany and later he used much Rosewood. Delicately carved lines, carvings of leaves, plumes and animal motives exemplify his work. The lyre motif he used so often can be seen on chair backs and table bases.
A small table, usually round with edge carved or molded in scalloped outline suggestive of pie crust. The table usually sits atop a tripod base. During the Chippendale style, the pedestals were elaborately carved. The tripod base consists of three cabriole legs ending in claw and ball feet.
Method of applying veneer to largeish flat surfaces. Four thin slices of veneer are cut from the same piece and are laid in opposite mirror images on a surface such as a desk or table.
Queen Anne Style
The style of English furniture during the reign of Queen Anne. She ruled from 1702 to 1714 yet the style continued in various forms throughout the 18th century. The period is characterized by curves rather than straight lines. The Queen Anne style can is identified with the cabriole leg, the use of walnut rather than oak, increasing elegance of style and use of upholstery. The Queen Anne style existed in the United States during roughly the same time.
A type of joint in furniture making. Similar to the tongue-and-groove where rectangular groove is cut in wood to allow the carved tongue to fit in.
The opposite of Fluting. It is an ornament using slim vertical, convex bands. The reeds are often raised above the surface they decorate but are also set flush against it. Reeding is often used along with fluting to ornament furniture.
A long narrow dining table named after the refectory of a monastery. Traditionally the piece is made of oak and is accompanied by benches.
Style fashionable from 1811 to 1820 when the Prince of Wales was regent. However the term is commonly used to cover anything between 1793 to the accession of Queen Victory in 1837. The style is often confused with Directoire and Empire as they were in fashion through the same period. The Regency style shows decreasing influence of Pompeii, and puts increasing emphasis upon early Greek, Roman, and Egyptian styles. The style is characterized by the use of dark woods, strict adherence to classical forms, inlaid brass stringing, and heavy use of brass mounts. Some influence of oriental styles can be seen.
Renaissance literally means "The Rebirth". This period is marked by a return to the classical arts and learning of Greece and Rome. This period follows the Gothic Period in Europe beginning around the 15th century. For simplicity, many scholars separate the period into three distinct parts: Early Renaissance from about 1420 to 1500, High Renaissance which ended around 1530, and Late Renaissance from 1530 to 1600. The Renaissance style began in Italy (Florence) fostered by the wealth of the Medici Family. An outburst of new motifs and styles were created during this period as general economic conditions improved for peasants. A middle class began to evolve and furniture became more essential.
A round table on a pedestal which has the days of the week and months written on the side along with drawers. The tables were used by landlords so that tenants could pay rent systematically. These are also often called drum tables.
A reproduction or replica refers to a piece created in a historic style intending to copy an original. Great care is taken in creating reproductions coping the form, style, and material of the piece. The patination of a antique piece is often simulated as well.
Art Nouveau style in design in Vienna, Austria beginning around 1896. Artists Klimt and Olbrich set up a firm dictating the direct, graceful, charming style.
Also called a bureau in Europe, a secretary usually has drawers below and a bookcase above. The desk, used for writing, is often closed in.
Describes a waving or undulating surface such as on the front of a commode or dresser. The pattern resembles a flat S . On furniture, the center is usually protruding and the ends are concave.
A seat similar to a sofa about the width of two chairs together. The arms are usually low and the back is sometimes upholstered. The seat is light and open.
Furniture made from the religious group called the Shakers in America. Usually the furniture is extremely simple and unadorned. Following the lines of nature, shaker furniture is plain, clean and mostly made of local wood such as maple.
Small chairs typical in France in the late 18th and 19th Centuries, having a delicate back resembling a graceful bundle of rods spreading out in a fan shape. Usually, they have straw seats.
Small space or recess in a piece of furniture, such as a cabinet, designed for a statue or a vase. Originally a movable dwelling, such as a tent, especially the dwelling place of the Jewish God during the exile of the Israelites had tabernacles, or niches, to hold shrines or a holy images.
Otherwise known as the American highboy, a tallboy is literally a chest on a chest. The bottom chest is usually wide and low and carries a narrower and slightly taller chest. Often the top drawer is divided into three.
Three-scrolled feet, sometimes just grooved with three lines.
Any folding table where the top is hinged to the base or pedestal so that it may be tipped to a vertical positon to save space or display the decoration on the top. Appearing the late 18th Century, tilt-top tables were usually round at the surface.
In furniture, a large brace or understructure for tables and chest-stands, or a bracket. Usually used as ornamentation.
Used mostly in the mid-19th Century in England, umbrella stands grew from a simple, functional holder of umbrellas, to an elaborate, decorate piece of furniture in the hall.
Stretchers and braces supporting furniture such as tables, chairs and stands with legs.
hoofed, as on a handle of a spoon, foot of a chair leg, etc..
a work applied to certain pieces of furniture in the 19th Century having some special versatility. For example, an extending table, an adjustable easy chair or a clock dial that shows the time throughout the world would be universal.
A classical form of Vase-shaped vessel used as decoration in Greco-Roman The urn has a wide mouth, a curved body and two handles and feet. It is used free standing as finials and at the intersection of crossed stretchers, etc.. Especially in the Adam and Louis XVI styles.
The modern word for a dressing table.
The art of gluing a thin layer (1/8 of an inch or less) of decorative wood to a thicker backing for substance. Veneering began chiefly for cheapness as importing exotic woods was expensive. The art goes back to ancient Egypt and Rome but was not seen in England before the late 17th Century.
English and American furniture from 1840-1900. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901). Often the style is a revival of past styles such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Chinese.
term used to describe a chair back in which the splat is shaped like a violin or to veneer like the back of a violin. Appearing in the 18th Century.
Spiral classical scroll form as on Ionic capitals, occurring in pairs.
Panel work made out of wood (usually Oak) not covering the wall all the way to the ceiling. Used in the 16th Century in the Gothic style.
A light brown wood with well defined markings. Walnut has been a leading wood for furniture since ancient times due to its prevalence wherever civilizations have flourished as well as its excellence and wide adaptability.
Formerly a cupboard where clothing was kept, evolved into a large cabinet or cupboard with shelved for the same purpose. Similar to the old armoire.
Used in the 18th Century, washstands were developed to hold a water basin and pitcher for cleaning oneself. Usually a small table or cabinet holds the basin and other cleaning accessories. Washstands were often in the bedroom.
William and Mary
Style during William and Mary's reign from 1689-1702 in England. This period is marked by the age of Walnut and replaced the Jacobean style. Characteristics of William and Mary furniture are the cabriole leg, seaweed marquetry, the highboy and flat serpentine stretchers.
X-Chair or X-Stool
Ancient chair based on the folding chair. Earliest forms of the stool had leather or skin seats. The legs form the shape of an X.
Crossed stretchers on chairs or tables, etc.. Used for support.
hard and durable, close-grained, light brown to reddish brown wood. Resistant to decay and wear, Yew was popular since the 17th Century although it was also used in ancient times. Used mainly in country furniture such as Windsor chairs.
English carved side chair from the 17th Century, peculiar to Yorkshire. Usually it is made of Oak with turned front legs and stretchers.
Tasmanian oak with dense texture and regular curly figure.
Wood from British Guiana with deep stripings of dark reddish brown on creamy ground. Used mainly as decorative inlays and bandings.
A low, elaborately carved two-staged cupboard on ball feet.
A decoration in a shape similar to lightening (a jagged line).