12 April 2021




Antique Chests: The Antique Chest is one of the oldest forms of furniture made by man

The antique chest of drawers that commonly finds its way into modern bedrooms originated from a 17th century plain oak box chest. These early antique chests, often called dowry chests, had a drawer in the base. From this they transmuted to the modern chest of drawers that we know today. Other items of furniture, such as the desk, also evolved from these basic oak box antique chests.

The antique chest originally began its life as a hollowed out log with a wrought iron strapped hinged lid. In the Middle Ages, planks superseded the rustic log where five were nailed together to form a rectangular box. The sixth plank made the lid which lifted on pin hinges. Chests like this used for money and valuables were called coffers and often had a domed lid. These basic chests were being made in a number of different sizes and were still being constructed in this early form well into the 19th century. Legs were added to keep linen and clothes off cold and damp ground and candle compartments were included where candles kept away moths.

The humbleantique chest continued as the mainstay across the classes and in the 19th century every servant and seaman had a chest. The antique chest also laid itself open for elaborate and exotic painted decoration and carving. Most early carving was geometric in design for practical reasons where hand carving could produce inaccuracies. One of the most sought after chests is the linenfold panelling design and was popular with Victorians. This design was used by Pugin in the decoration of the then new Palace of Westminster.  

Most of the early antique chests are made from oak, then fruitwoods, cedar, yew and teak and plainer examples were usually made in pine. There were many revivals of the antique oak chest during the19th century. You can find examples of antique chests here at Christian Davies Antiques in Preston, Lancashire, not far from Cumbria, where we have many fine period and revival pieces on show.

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