Glossary of Antique Terms

By John Fiske and Lisa Freeman

Adam: The style period from 1765-1790. The Adam brothers introduced the neoclassical style in furniture and architecture to England.

Apostle Spoon: A spoon with a plain stem and a cast figure of an apostle as its finial. Usually made of silver from c 1490-1650.

Arm Chair: A dining chair with arms (properly called an open armchair). Also, loosely, any chair with arms.

Back Stool: Literally, a joint stool with a back, the earliest form of side chair.

Bed Bench (or Bed Settle): A wooden bench or settle whose box-like seat opened out to form a bed.

Bed Hangings: Curtains surrounding a four-poster bed that not only ensured warmth and privacy but also displayed the family's wealth and good taste. Bed hangings were among the most expensive linens in a colonial household.

Bed Pole: Either the poles running between the tops of the bed posts to support the hangings, or a long-handled paddle used for smoothing the sheets when making a bed kept in the corner of a room.

Bed Steps: A set of two or three steps, sometimes with a compartment for a chamber pot, to help the elderly, the delicate, and the short-legged get in and out of high beds.

Bed Warmer: A long-handled brass or copper pan that held hot coals for warming the bed. Called a "warming pan" in England.

Bedding-Down candle: A short candle that burned for only 15 or 20 minutes and extinguished itself after one had gone to bed. The stub ends of regular candles were often used in this way.

Bedmoss: A fibrous growth on trees, sometimes called Spanish moss, used for bed stuffing.

Bedstead-Washstand: A piece of furniture resembling a secretary, in which the "desk" opened to a washstand, and the "bookcase" to a bed. An extreme example of Victorian ingenuity, but there were many like it, showing that even by the end of the 19th century, living rooms were still slept in.

Berry Spoon: A dessert-sized spoon with fruit embossed on the bowl (many Georgian spoons have Victorian embossing). Used for eating fruit.

Blanket Chest: See Mule Chest. An American term for a lift-top chest with drawers underneath.

Blue-and-White Staffordshire: Staffordshire was the center of the pottery industry in England, and many factories operated there from the mid-18th century to the present day. The development of transfer printing (see below) allowed these potteries to become among the earliest mass manufacturers, and their affordable products rapidly swept pewter and treen off the tables of the English and American middle-class households. From the 1780s, Staffordshire factories produced huge quantities of transferware for the domestic and export markets.   To protect these profitable industries, English colonial laws forbad the development of ceramic factories in America, so shiploads of blue and white crossed the Atlantic. Blue was the most popular color, partly because cobalt was the easiest pigment to fire, but transferware was also produced in green, magenta, and black. Designs that required fine lines, such as a ship's rigging, reproduced most clearly in black.

Blue Willow: The most common of all transfer patterns, blue willow was first produced at the Caughley Pottery in 1780 and is still made today. The pattern was derived from the Chinese by Thomas Turner. His busy, crowded composition is a westernization of the sparer, more economical Chinese design (oriental wares made for export were always more heavily decorated than those made for domestic use), and it caught European taste so well that it was widely produced by factories in England, Germany, Holland, Japan, and, later on, America. The pattern depicts three figures, a bridge, a pagoda, birds, and trees in a Chinese landscape. According to legend, it tells the story of a pair of lovers fleeing from an angry father: the gods changed them into birds to enable them to escape him. A nice, romantic nineteenth century story that is purely European in concept: China is a land of arranged marriages, not of romantic love.

Breakfast Table: A small movable table with drop leaves or rectangular tilting top on a tripod base.

Caddy Spoon: A short spoon (usually about 3" long) with a large bowl. Used for spooning tea leaves from a tea caddy. Made of sterling silver in many fanciful and decorative shapes. Highly collectible.

Cake or Pie Server: A symmetrical utensil shaped like a large, flat triangle, used for serving cakes and pies. See Fish Slice.

Campaign Bed: A four poster bed, easily demountable, for use by military officers in the field.

Can or Wine Can: A small handleless cup of silver or porcelain, usually a straight-sided or slightly flared cylinder, used for drinking wine in the eighteenth century.

Candlestand: A small stand, usually on a tripod base, and easily movable. To hold a candlestick.

Card or Game Table: A small folding table at which four people could sit. Used for playing cards or other games. Often with a fold-over top. A very common form of table in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Caster Spoon (or Ladle): A sauce ladle with a pierced bowl. Used for sprinkling sugar over fruit.

Cellaret: An eighteenth century lidded case for wine bottles, often of the highest craftsmanship, usually on casters. Cellarets were fitted with locks to keep bibulous servants at bay and were typically kept under serving tables in the dining room. Sideboards, introduced at the end of the century, included cupboards for storing bottles. They rapidly replaced cellarets.

Charles II or Restoration: The style period after the Cromwellian Protectorate (1660-1680). King Charles II brought French taste to England following his exile from England to the French court. Characterized by the use of walnut, although oak is still prominent.

Chest: A large storage box with lid, designed to stand on the floor. The earliest form of storage, common from the seventeenth century onwards. (See also Coffer.)

Chest on Chest: A two-part case piece with both parts containing three or four layers of drawers and standing on low feet or base.

Chest of Drawers (wrongly called Dresser): A chest fitted with drawers.

Chest on Stand: A two-part case piece consisting of a chest of drawers on a separate stand that may have one drawer in it, or raised on short legs (see Highboy).

Chippendale: English furniture designer and maker whose book The Director, published in 1754, dramatically influenced the direction of English (and American) style and taste.

Coffer: A chest, originally for storing valuables, but now used to refer to one made in the seventeenth century. More information about early Tudor coffers.

Corkscrew: The earliest ones, usually of steel, were made around 1600, and are now very rare. Much more common are silver handled ones, produced in Birmingham, England, from about 1775, and imported in large quantities for the rapidly growing American middle class. Many were fitted with a brush for cleaning the labels in the dusty cellar. The nineteenth century saw a huge proliferation of corkscrews whose handles were made in almost every metal in forms that ranged from the beautiful through the curious to the obscene.

Corner Chair: A chair with a semi-circular back around two sides. In the period, often called desk chair or smoking chair, and rarely set in a corner. An eighteenth-century form.

Corner Washstand: A triangular washstand designed to stand in the corner of a bedroom. (See Washstand.)

Court Cupboard: A sixteenth- and seventeenth-century storage and display piece that may be open or enclosed, usually heavily carved.

Credence Table: A seventeenth-century side table with folding top, often semi-circular or hexagonal in form.

Cromwellian: The style period of Puritan rule from 1640-1660. Characterized by a severity and absence of unnecessary decoration.

Desert Spoon: A mid-sized spoon made from about 1750 onwards, usually in sets.

Dining Chairs: A set of chairs comprising sides and two arms designed to go around a dining table.

Dining Table: A table designed exclusively for eating, usually large, often made in sections or to fold so that it could be made smaller when not in use.

Dog Nose (or Wavy End) Spoon: A rat tail spoon, whose finial is like that of a trefid with the notches eliminated, shaped like a dog's head when viewed from above. Dog nose spoons were made from c 1690-1710 in silver and pewter.

Dresser (often Welsh Dresser): A two-part country piece. The top consisting of shelves for storage and display of plates and other dishes; the lower part with drawers and sometimes doors. Besides being used for storage, was used to "dress" food just before it was served. See also Low Dresser.

Drum Table (also called Library Table or Rent Table): A circular table with drawers around its rim on a central pedestal.

Early Georgian (George I and II): The style period from 1715-1760. Characterized by the increasing use of mahogany and the introduction of Chippendale style.

Farm Table: A country table with a solid top and no drop leaves, usually rectangular in shape.

Federal: The style period from 1790-1830. Specific to American furniture and architecture. Derived from Hepplewhite and Sheraton and, towards the end of the period, from French empire.

Fish Slice: An assymetrical serving utensil with a wide, flat blade, usually pierced and decorated, using for serving fish at the table.

Flow Blue (originally called "flowing blue"): Transferware produced in numerous patterns in which the cobalt blue ink flowed, or smeared, during firing. The resulting out-of-focus look was colorful and popular, and flow blue was widely produced in England and the Netherlands from 1830 to 1900. Its popularity was welcomed by the manufacturers, because the flowing disguised the smudges that were made if the transfer was moved slightly as it was laid on the item: this enabled them to deskill the decorating process even more, and thus to pay even lower wages to the women and girls who did the job.

Four-poster: A bed with four tall corner posts, that may, or may not, support a tester.

Gateleg Table: A table with two drop leaves that are supported on swinging "gates," which pivot from the frame and stretchers (top and bottom) of the table.

George III: The style period from 1760-1820. The rise of the wealthy middle class resulted in a huge increase the furniture industry; thus, more examples of late Georgian furniture survive than from any prior period. Styles from this period include Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Regency, and Adam (see definitions).

Handkerchief Table: A triangular table with a triangular drop leaf that becomes square when the leaf is raised.

Harvest Table: A long narrow table with two narrow drop leaves supported on pull-out lopers.

Hepplewhite: The style period from 1780-1795. His Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's Guide, published in 1788, was widely influential.

Highboy (also called Tallboy in England): A two-part case piece. The upper consisting of three or four layers drawers, the lower of one or two layers of drawers raised on legs.

Hired man's bed: A narrow slatted bed, often spool turned, produced in quantity by factories in the Midwest and New England between about 1840 and 1890. Despite its name, it was designed as cottage furniture, not for servants.

Historical Blue: A blue-and-white china made in Staffordshire for the American market from about 1820 to 1840. The pattern shows American scenes or historical events surrounded by a flowered border. Each factory had its own border, but the same scenes were copied by many factories. English scenes were also produced, but it is the American ones that are most eagerly collected. "Second period" historical blue was popular from about 1850 to 1920. It showed a greater number of scenes, many of which were specially printed as souveniers for the growing tourist trade. It is often printed in a lighter blue than the deep cobalt of the first period, is easier to find, cheaper, and widely collected.

Jacobean: Loosely used to refer to the seventeenth century (1600-1699), but literally the style period from 1600-1650. Furniture of this period was characterized by vivacious carving on solid forms.

Joint Stool: A stool made with mortise-and-tenon joints (as opposed to a boarded-and-nailed stool). The most common piece of furniture in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses.

Linen Press: A two-part case piece for the storage of linen. The upper part with doors enclosing shelves or sliding trays; the lower with drawers. An eighteenth- and nineteenth-century form.

Lolling Chair (also called Library Chair or Martha Washington Chair): A chair with upholstered back and seat and open arms. An eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century form.

Low Dresser: A dresser made without a plate rack.

Marrow Scoop (or Spoon): A utensil with a long narrow scoop at both ends. Used for extracting marrow from bones.

Monteith: A bowl used to cool drinking glasses in iced water. Its rim had notches into which stemmed glasses were slotted. Named after the seventeenth century Earl of Monteith, a court fop noted for the elaborately scalloped hems on his cloaks which the rim of the monteith resembled, the first British examples date to around 1680, while the first American one was made about 1700 by the Boston silversmith John Coney. Later monteiths were also made of porcelain and glass, sometimes with a removeable silver rim, in which case the bowl doubled as a punch bowl.

Mule Chest: A chest with lifting top and drawers below. A hybrid between a chest and chest of drawers, hence the name "mule." An English term.

Mote Spoon (or Skimmer): A spoon whose bowl is decoratively pierced. Used to skim off tea leafs. The handle is thin and tapers to a point, which was used to unclog the spout of a teapot.

One-Drawer Stand: A small four-legged table with a drawer. A late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century form.

Pembroke Table: A small table with two drop leaves on its long side and a drawer. Named for the Countess of Pembroke who ordered the first one made.

Period: Refers to a piece made at the time when its style first originated.

Press Cupboard: A fully enclosed cupboard used for domestic storage from the 16th century onwards.

Queen Anne: The style period from 1700-1730. Characterized by the introduction of the cabriole leg and sinuous curves. The English Queen Anne period was earlier and shorter than the American period of the same name.

Rat Tail (Spoon): A tapering ridge found on a spoon, running from the base of the handle to the midpoint on the back of the bowl. Serves as reinforcement and decoration. Spoons featured rat tails from c 1670-1720 and were made in silver and pewter.

Refectory Table: A long narrow table made in the seventeenth century. The earliest form of dining table.

Regency: The style period from 1810-1825. The last of the Georgian styles.

Salt Spoon: A small (2-3") spoon, usually with a round, ladle-shaped bowl, used with a salt cellar.

Sauce Ladle: A small version of a soup ladle (about 7" long), using for serving sauce at the table.

Serving Spoon: A long spoon (approx. 9" long) used for serving food at the table.

Serving Table (also called Server): A narrow table used in the dining room for the service of food.

Settee (also called Sofa): A seat for two or more people with upholstered back and seat.

Settle: A bench seat with a tall, solid back used from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries to ward off drafts. Often used by a hearth.

Sewing Table (also called Work Table): A small table, usually of high quality. Fitted with drawers and/or a sliding bag to hold material and needlework tools.

Sheraton: The style period from 1790-1805. His book The Cabinetmaker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, published in four parts from 1791-94, established the style that came to be known as Federal in America.

Side Chair: A dining chair without arms.

Sideboard: A dining room piece designed to store linens and equipment and for the service of food. Originated in the late eighteenth century.

Sleigh Bed: Bed with curved head- and foot-boards resembling a sleigh. An Empire period design, showing the French influence whose popularity at the time reflected the belief that the French Revolution and the American Revolution were twins.

Snuff Spoon: The smallest spoon of all (2" long), with a narrow bowl, used for extracting snuff from bottles.

Sofa Table: A long narrow table with small drop leaves on the short ends designed to stand in front of a sofa but now usually put behind one.

Soup Ladle: A long-handled, large-bowled utensil with an arched handle. Used to serve soup at the table. About 12" long.

Strainer Spoon: A large spoon with a vertical strainer in the middle of the bowl, used for serving soups or stews.

Stuffing (or Basting) Spoon: A long-handled spoon (12" or more).

Style: Usually refers to a piece made in the manner of a previous period.

Style Period: Refers to the forms fashionable in a particular period, usually identified by the monarch (e.g., Georgian) or designer (e.g., Chippendale).

Swing Leg Table: A drop leaf table without stretchers whose leaves are supported by legs that swing out from the frame only.

Tester: The canopy over a four-poster bed, originally of wood, but, by the 18th century, of fabric.

Toddy Ladle: A small ladle, sometimes with a long handle, sometimes with a pouring lip, used for serving hot toddy. Sometimes from shells, sometimes with a coin set into the bottom of the bowl, sometimes with turned wooden handles or baleen (whalebone).

Tall Chest: A one-part case piece with five, six or seven layers of drawers.

Tantalus: A lockable liquor rack, usually holding three cut-glass decanters, that allowed the liquor to be seen but not drunk. A Victorian invention designed to ensure that the master of the house controlled its alcohol.

Taster: A small bowl, with one or two handles, made of silver or pewter, and used for tasting wine, beer, or other whiskey. They were sometimes hung on a cord round the neck of the cellar master as he moved round the cellar sampling his maturing stock. What a job!

Tavern Table (also called Tap Table): A small general purpose country table often found in a tavern.

Tea Table: A small table from which to serve tea. Often circular with a tilting top on tripod base but earlier ones were rectangular with four legs.

Teaspoon: A small spoon used for stirring tea. Usually made in sets of six or more. The earliest teaspoons were made c 1700 and are rare; Georgian and Victorian ones are readily available.

Toddy table: An eighteenth century name, now fallen into disuse, for a side table for holding drinks. Its alliterative aptness makes it a term worth reviving. The interior design guru David Hicks advises readers of Antique Interiors International that drinks should always be served on a marble- or stone-topped table and never from a cocktail cabinet, which he disdains as suitable only for the outer reaches of suburbia.

Transfer printing: Before the development of transfer printing in the 1750s, all china was decorated by hand. Transfer printing enabled decoration to be industrialized, though semi-skilled handwork was still involved. A copper engraving was inked with metallic inks, and the design transferred to the piece by a sheet of tissue paper. Firing fixed the design to the chinaware and simultaneously burned off the paper.  Transfer printing was an easy process on flatware, such as plates and chargers, but on hollowware it was impossible to fit the transfers exactly, and the edges of the sheets can always be seen.

Trefid (or Trifid) Spoon:A spoon with a flat stem that widens at the top and has two notches on the finial that make it a three-lobed shape. The bowl is oval with a rattail. Trefid spoons were made from c 1670-1700 of silver and pewter.

Trundle Bed (or Truckle Bed): A low bed on wheels that was kept under a large bed and trundled out at night for use, probably by a child.

Tudor: The style period from 1485-1600 in England. A small number of chests, cupboards, and chairs are all that have survived from this era. King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I are the best-known Tudor monarchs.

Urn Stand: A small stand designed to hold a hot water urn for brewing tea, usually with splayed legs for stability.

Wainscot Chair: An impressive armchair, usually profusely carved with crest and ears, named after wainscot oak, which was often imported from Denmark for paneling. A sixteenth- and seventeenth-century form revived in the nineteenth century.

Washstand: A small stand designed to hold a wash basin, a pitcher or bottle of water, and beakers.

William & Mary: The style period at the end of the seventeenth century (1680-1700) referring to the reign of William of Orange and Queen Mary, who brought Dutch and Continental tastes to England.

Windsor Chair: A chair with a solid seat into which the legs and members of the back (spindles) are wedged. An eighteenth- and nineteenth-century form.

Wine Coaster: Originally, in the eighteenth century, a small wagon on wheels used for circulating wine around a large dining table. Often a coaster would be fitted with decanters for port, claret, and madeira. Coasters were made of silver or mahogany and later were made to slide on baize rather than roll on wheels. It is this form that evolved into the modern coaster.

Wine Cooler (also called Cistern): A floor-standing box lined with lead in which to keep white wine in ice water.

Wine Funnel: A small funnel made from silver or plate used for decanting wine. It had a filter at the top to catch any lees, and its spout was angled at the bottom to send the wine down the glass side of the decanter so that its color could be checked.

Wine Labels (also called Spirit Labels):Small shield-shaped labels hung on fine silver chains around the necks of decanters to identify their contents. Common from about 1775 until the end of the Victorian period and still reproduced, the labels most frequently found are Port, Madeira, Sherry, Whiskey, Gin, and Rum.

Wine Stand: A small, low stand, usually on a tripod base.