Glossary of Antique Terms
By John Fiske and Lisa Freeman
The style period from 1765-1790. The Adam brothers introduced the neoclassical
style in furniture and architecture to England.
A spoon with a plain stem and a cast figure of an apostle as its finial.
Usually made of silver from c 1490-1650.
A dining chair with arms (properly called an open armchair). Also,
loosely, any chair with arms.
Literally, a joint stool with a back, the earliest form of side chair.
(or Bed Settle): A wooden bench or settle whose box-like seat opened
out to form a bed.
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.
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.
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.
A long-handled brass or copper pan that held hot coals for warming
the bed. Called a "warming pan" in England.
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.
A fibrous growth on trees, sometimes called Spanish moss, used for
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.
A dessert-sized spoon with fruit embossed on the bowl (many Georgian
spoons have Victorian embossing). Used for eating fruit.
See Mule Chest. An American term for a lift-top chest with drawers
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.
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.
A small movable table with drop leaves or rectangular tilting top on
a tripod base.
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.
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.
A small stand, usually on a tripod base, and easily movable. To hold
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.
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
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).
English furniture designer and maker whose book The Director,
published in 1754, dramatically influenced the direction of English (and American)
style and taste.
A chest, originally for storing valuables, but now used to refer to
one made in the seventeenth century. More
information about early Tudor coffers.
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.
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
A triangular washstand designed to stand in the corner of a bedroom.
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
The style period of Puritan rule from 1640-1660. Characterized by a
severity and absence of unnecessary decoration.
A mid-sized spoon made from about 1750 onwards, usually in sets.
A set of chairs comprising sides and two arms designed to go around
a 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.
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.
(also called Library Table or Rent Table): A circular table with drawers
around its rim on a central pedestal.
(George I and II): The style period from 1715-1760. Characterized
by the increasing use of mahogany and the introduction of Chippendale style.
A country table with a solid top and no drop leaves, usually rectangular
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.
An assymetrical serving utensil with a wide, flat blade, usually pierced
and decorated, using for serving fish at the table.
(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.
A bed with four tall corner posts, that may, or may not, support a
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.
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).
A triangular table with a triangular drop leaf that becomes square
when the leaf is raised.
A long narrow table with two narrow drop leaves supported on pull-out
The style period from 1780-1795. His Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer's
Guide, published in 1788, was widely influential.
(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.
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
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.
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
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.
(also called Library Chair or Martha Washington Chair): A chair with
upholstered back and seat and open arms. An eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century
A dresser made without a plate rack.
(or Spoon): A utensil with a long narrow scoop at both ends. Used for
extracting marrow from bones.
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.
A chest with lifting top and drawers below. A hybrid between a chest
and chest of drawers, hence the name "mule." An English term.
(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.
A small four-legged table with a drawer. A late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
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.
Refers to a piece made at the time when its style first originated.
A fully enclosed cupboard used for domestic storage from the 16th century
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.
(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.
A long narrow table made in the seventeenth century. The earliest form
of dining table.
The style period from 1810-1825. The last of the Georgian styles.
A small (2-3") spoon, usually with a round, ladle-shaped bowl,
used with a salt cellar.
A small version of a soup ladle (about 7" long), using for serving
sauce at the table.
A long spoon (approx. 9" long) used for serving food at the table.
(also called Server): A narrow table used in the dining room for the
service of food.
(also called Sofa): A seat for two or more people with upholstered
back and seat.
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.
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.
A dining chair without arms.
A dining room piece designed to store linens and equipment and for
the service of food. Originated in the late eighteenth century.
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.
The smallest spoon of all (2" long), with a narrow bowl, used
for extracting snuff from bottles.
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.
A long-handled, large-bowled utensil with an arched handle. Used to
serve soup at the table. About 12" long.
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).
Usually refers to a piece made in the manner of a previous 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.
The canopy over a four-poster bed, originally of wood, but, by the
18th century, of fabric.
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
A one-part case piece with five, six or seven layers of drawers.
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.
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!
(also called Tap Table): A small general purpose country table often
found in a tavern.
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.
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.
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.
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
(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.
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.
A small stand designed to hold a hot water urn for brewing tea, usually
with splayed legs for stability.
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.
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.
A chair with a solid seat into which the legs and members of the back
(spindles) are wedged. An eighteenth- and nineteenth-century form.
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.
(also called Cistern): A floor-standing box lined with lead in which to keep
white wine in ice water.
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
(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
A small, low stand, usually on a tripod base.