CHESTS OR COFFER - 1200 to 1800
Known as blanket chests in the 18thC, these were used for the storage
of clothing and linen and, in the Middle Ages, other valuables too (hence their often elaborate, sometimes multiple locks). Originally placed at the end of the bed they sometimes doubled up as a seat or table. They were largely superseded in the
mid-17thC by the more sophisticated chests of drawers.
Surviving examples available for sale date mostly from the
late 16thC onwards; earlier examples are rare except in churches or public collections.
Plank or 'boarded': Comprising six pieces of timber simply nailed together. Sides
extend to the ground with V shape cut out to form feet. Usually carved decoration on front (and sometimes sides); simply carved border on sides of lid and vertical edges of front. Normally exterior plain, with square-plated iron lock with hinged hasp fastening. Although largely replaced around 1550 by
paneled chests, boarded chests were still made in country areas in 18thC.
Joined/paneled: Made from about 1550 though paneled construction had been used in building since the previous century. Rectangular, with two, three (occasionally four; panels at front and back, one or two at sides.
Lid flat, or paneled in line with base. Plain or molded edges. Side stiles continue down to form legs. Nearly always carved decoration on front (often sides too), varying in extent; never carving on lid. Rails, stiles and muntins often
molded; sometimes chamfered around panels. Interior sometimes fitted with small, lidded, incorrectly named 'candle box',
probably to contain sweet-scented herbs. On both types the underside of the lid was sometimes cross-battened.
Plenty of variation; generally only boarded, simply chip-carved and completely plain
paneled chests fail to reach the thousand mark. Plus points are: extensive vigorous carving (chip carving and punched decoration are at the bottom of the scale), no signs of repair or replacement parts, original locks and hinges, good, deep
color and patina.
Beware of large numbers of Continental chests imported for the 'decorator's' market. Look at decoration and for any difference from standard methods of construction.
Some chests had additional carving executed in the 19thC when 'Jacobean' furniture
was popular. Others were made from old fragments of carving and
discarded wall paneling. Check the construction; look for later and now
discolored staining intended to disguise new joints, and check
all carving for inappropriate ornament, execution by different hands, and 'mechanical' appearance.