Antiques Guide - PINE CHEST OF DRAWERS

Item #578

Antique English pine chest of drawers are a staple in our shop. We always have a few on hand as they provide great functionality, character and style at a great price. The pine chest of drawers in our house has been moved room to room over the years- nursery, family room, living room, and now back to the kid’s room. Always a place for a good pine chest of drawers.

Antique pine furniture in England typically began life in country homes, servant quarters or in kitchens of estate. “In the second half of the 19th century, in the huge Victorian mansions staffed by dozens of live-in servants, pine was used extensively for an increasing range of simple furniture, mainly chests of drawers, cupboards, washstands and strictly functional tables with turned legs. … pine was also used in rural dwellings for bookshelves, corner cupboards, hanging cupboards, spice racks, spice cupboards, knife boxes and a range of storage chests previously made in oak.” (Feild, p. 36)

Depending on the fashion of the day, the taste of the owners or just damage that needed repair, a pine chest of drawers probably has seen many alterations over it’s life. Simple turned wooden knobs were standard. However, later the knobs may have been replaced with glass or porcelain handles. In the picture of the waxed pine chest you can see a ring from larger knobs that were used at one time.

Painted or waxed
Originally many pine chest of drawers were painted. This was either to help protect the wood or to give the appearance of a more important piece. Even in the comparatively short time we have been buying antiques (18 years) the fashion has changed. On our first trips to England antique dealers would take pine chest of drawers in their original paint and strip the paint to the raw wood and wax them. Now they are taking the waxed chest of drawers and painting them to look like the old original paint. In our shop now we have examples of waxed pine, newly painted and even a chest in the original paint.

Determining Age & Quality
Pull out the drawer and do some investigating. How is it constructed? The drawer should have hand-cut dovetails. On hand-cut dovetails the scribing-line should be visible. Also on hand-cut dovetails the prongs are much smaller than the insets. Finer, thinner dovetails indicates a higher quality piece. (In the second picture notice the scribing line and how thin & fine the dovetails are.) Machine cut dovetails were prevalent from the early 1900’s. A sign of machine cut dovetails are the prongs and insets being the same size.

Which direction is the grain of the drawer bottoms running? “Grain of linings run front to back until about 1770; thereafter side to side. (NB This is not a golden rule and should not be used as conclusive evidence of age.) (Philp & Walking, p. 93). In the second picture notice that the grain runs, front to back.

Dust liners are a nice feature for a pine chest of drawers – a good indication that it is well made.

Sources:
Buying Antique Furniture, Rachael Feild
Field Guide to Antique Furniture, Peter Philp & Gillian Walking
Miller’s Collecting Furniture, Christopher Payne