Glossary

Ball-and-Claw Foot

A furniture foot cut to imitate a talon or claw grasping a ball. Of Chinese origin, the motif was greatly used in English 18th-century furniture.

Baluster

Turned vase-shaped vertical post supporting the rail of a staircase or splat of a chair.

Banding

Strip of veneer used as a border for table tops, drawer fronts, etc.

Baroque

A style of architecture, art and decoration which originated in Italy during the late 16th century and spread throughout Europe. It is characterized by overscaled, bold details and sweeping curves.

Barye, Antoine-Louis

French sculptor and painter of animal subjects, who became a primary figure in the Romantic movement along with his contemporary Eugene Delacroix. Barye received a medal from the Salon in 1831 for Tiger Devouring a Gavial and his talents paved the way for future bronze sculptors, including his student Auguste Rodin. Barye was also an innovative bronze craftsman developing new techniques of casting, chiselling and patination which became the cornerstone of modern bronze work.

Bateman, Hester

(1709-1794) London silversmith who took over the family business after the death of her husband in 1760, transforming the small workshop into a hugely successful enterprise. Possessing exceptional skill and taste, Hester Bateman, along with her sons Peter and John, produced some of the finest domestic and presentation sterling pieces ever created. Highly revered for her restrained decoration, works by this talented smith are highly collectible and exceedingly scarce.

Beauvais

A type of tapestry originally made at Beauvais, France. Subjects depicted are usually flowers, fruit, landscapes, and pastorals.

Beech

A hardwood which lacks a pronounced grain.

Bell turning

A type of turning used for furniture legs and pedestal supports shaped like a conventional bell. Common in the William and Mary style.

Belle Epoque

Curvilinear high style of the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century, combining Victorian electicism and the flowing, sinuous forms of Art Nouveau.

Belleek

A light, fragile feldspathic porcelain cast in moulds finished with a lustrous pearly glaze. Invented c. 1860 by William Goss of Stoke and improved by William Bromley at the Irish factory of David McBirney & Co.in Belleek Co., Fermanaugh. Belleek was also produced at many American factories from 1882-1900 and is known as lotusware by Knowles of East Liverpool.

Belter, John Henry

John Henry Belter stands at the forefront of American cabinetmakers of the Rococo Revival and is widely considered the finest furniture maker of the period. Belter patented an unusual method of cutting through incredibly sturdy laminated wood which allowed him to create extraordinary carvings well-suited to the flamboyant tastes of Victorian America. His work literally defined formal American furnishings of the mid 19th century.

Bergere

Armchair with filled-in sides from French designs of c.1725. Early models were caned, later ones upholstered.

Bevel

The edge of any flat surface that has been cut at a slant to the main area.

Biedermeier

A style of furniture produced in Austria and Germany during the first half of the 19th century. Inspired by French Empire and German painted peasant work. The name was borrowed from an imaginary cartoon character called Papa Biedermeier, an uneducated country gentleman who considered himself a connoisseur of fine and industrial arts. Simple marquestry patterns were used with pressed brass ornaments of Greek inspiration as well as painted motifs of wreaths, urns, and floral, animal and human forms. Woods used were mainly fruitwoods, maple, mahogany and birch.

Birch

A hardwood with a close grain and a deep tan hue. One of the strongest cabinet woods grown in America.

Bird Boxes

Mechanical singing bird boxes initially appeared in the 1780s as toys for royalty and extremely wealthy noblemen. Today, these wonderful boxes continue to delight and are highly sought after by collectors. Know as tabatière in France (from the French word for tobacco, they resemble tobacco or snuff boxes) each box conceals a richly colored, hand-feathered miniature bird. When the lid is opened, the bird appears and sings a lovely tune, while moving his beak and flapping his wings. When the birdsong is complete, the tiny creature simply slips back into the box and the lid automatically closes behind it. Elaborately ornamented, a painstaking and costly process is required to create just one of these treasures, and each piece is wonderfully unique.

bird's eye

A decorative wood feature most common in maple. It is formed by small depressions in the outermost growth ring of the timber, with the later growth following the contours and forms a series of small concentric circles when cut.

bisque (biscuit)

Unglazed porcelain or pottery commonly used for Neo-Classical reliefs and statuettes since the middle of the 18th century.

black basalts

An unglazed line-grained black stoneware perfected by Wedgwood c. 1769. Decorated with relief, gilding or enamelling.

Black Forest

Furniture carved in and around Bern, Switzerland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commonly identified by its use of carved bears and other creatures of the forest, such as deer and birds. Bear furniture originally began as a hobby for the Swiss family of cabinetmakers and wood-carvers named Trauffer. The linden tree was preferred for most furniture as it is easy to carve, but walnut was also widely used.

blackamoors

The first blackamoors were created in Venice in the late 17th century. Later, during the mid 1800s, Venetian artists carved some of the most impressive and graceful examples known, much to the delight of wealthy European families whose demand for fine art and furnishings seemed insatiable. Blackamoor figures ranged from monumental, life-size figures serving as torchieres to diminutive table top figurines used as candleholders.

Blue John

A variety of the mineral fluorspar with distinctive banding of blue, violet, and purple, found at Treak Cliff, near Castleton in Derbyshire, England. Since the Roman era, blue john has been used for the production of decorative wares which were shaped on a lathe.

Boiserie

Richly carved woodwork used as panels, especially in 17th and 18th century French decoration.

Bombe

A French term, literally meaning "blown out", describing a large outward swelling curve on the front of a piece of furniture.

Bonheur-du-jour

A small, light lady's writing desk first made in France in the 1760s. It has a central drawer in front, tiered shelves and cupboards in back, and sometimes a shelf between the legs.

Bonnet top

In cabinet work, a top with a broken pediment or arch, or a curved or scroll top wih a central finial motif in the shape of a flame, urn, etc.

Boulle

Decorative type of marquetry in which tortoiseshell, brass, copper and tin were cut and pierced into elaborate floral or curving designs. Originally a 10th century Italian process, Boulle marquety developed in 17th century France and was perfected by Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732).

Bracket foot

A stunted cabriole form, with a straight corner edge and curved inner edges.

Breakfront

Cabinet piece the front of which has one or more projecting portions.

Britannia silver

A silver alloy introduced after the English Civil War to prevent the melting down of sterling coins to create silver objects. Britannia silver was mandatory in England from 1697 to 1720 and is composed of 958 parts silver in 1000. All Britiannia silver is hallmarked with the figure of Britannia.

Brocade

A jacquard weave fabric, with pattern in low relief, usually on a satin background. It may be in one or more colors and has an embroidered effect.

Bronze dore

Ornamental coating of gold leaf or gold dust. Also known as gliding.

Bun foot

A furniture support that resembles a slightly flattened ball or sphere. Commonly used in William and Mary case furniture.

Bureau

Desk popular in late 17th-century England and France distinguished by its sloping fall-front. The flap is hinged at the base and rests on lopers when open, folding up at an angle when closed. In America, used to described a bedroom chest-of-drawers.

Burl

A curly-grained wood surface or veneer cut from irregular growths of the tree, such as the roots or crotches. Very common in walnut.