This is a fascinating study of a Mid-Georgian linen press, c. 1765. It is also the story of how this lovely business works, because this handsome piece has come home to us to sell again after 15 years or so in a Raleigh home followed by a few months in storage as it fails to fit the owner’s new home. Here it sits a bit forlorn in a storage unit! Yet nothing is more thrilling than seeing an old friend again, especially of a quality too seldom seen today in the United Kingdom.
This piece exhibits the finest craftsmanship of the period, as you will soon see. It could only have been created in London or Edinburgh (or in America by a London or Edinburgh trained cabinetmaker such as Anthony Hay of Williamsburg, Virginia). The pierced bracket feet are bold and powerful–precisely what such a piece demands. The form of pierced bracket feet is rare in any British furniture, a hallmark of the finest London and Edinburgh workshops. By the way, the feet and sides of the piece are solid timbers–Cuban mahogany of great density.
The crown molding is equally fine, displaying several rows of solid mahogany to create the desired effect of boldness and depth. The Greek Key–known also as the Walls of Troy–is a particularly fine molding accented by the flat molding above and the incurved moldings below, pushing the Greek Key forward visually.
The upper doors open to reveal a well fitted interior with the usual sliding trays greatly enhanced in utility by being adjustable every few inches–again a very costly addition to the normally placed trays which fit one position only (there are three adjustable trays). Additionally, small drawers are included–another expensive add-on to the original purchase price! Antiques were bought like we once bought cars–the basic stripped down model was listed and then every improvement was listed with an additional cost.
One extra beautiful detail is the right door latch. Normally small sliding latches are inset inside the edge of the door with small pins sliding into a hole top and bottom to secure the door, then the left door would close and be latched with a key. This piece has an expansive and fine gilt brass large inset slide on the backside of the top of the door–far more stable and secure.
As fine as the finished, visible parts are, the invisible parts are more interesting and truly indicative of brilliant craftsmanship. Let’s explore some of the fine points beginning at the top!
Gazing down on the top of the upper section, the molding construction is clearly separated from the carcass construction which displays the pine (deal top) of secondary wood united to the side of solid mahogany by unusually fine dovetails. Normally these are wide and somewhat sloppy–after all they are unseen. In this press the dovetails are fine and precise, a demand on both the time and skill of the maker. The lighter colored strip next to the side is the core of the crown molding–always made of a secondary wood such as deal, Scots pine (or in America pine of various types or poplar). The back is nailed to the inset sides and we will explore it momentarily. The outer dark strip is the mahogany on the outside of the crown molding–the part we see. Wood of quality was costly, so the mahogany was only used on the outer part of the molding glued to the triangular inner core, best seen in this next photo:
You will also notice here how the back joins the top and sides–the crown moldings extend like the solid mahogany sides to hide the inset back in this case of paneled construction. These photos show where the panels come together in the center of the back creating a field of four floating panels virtually guaranteed to never shrink enough to leave a gap for dirt to enter the piece. The top edge is also shown on the back panel where you can see the through mortise and tenon construction of this back. The inexpensive way was to simply nail boards closely together on the back or have two panels only on the back of any piece where the back would be seen when the doors were opened. The use of four panels again shows both the finest in construction and the value placed on fine workmanship by the customer–he knew he was purchasing the very finest possible work. Even the bottom of this press has paneled back construction–again a great rarity as no one would see this back. The purpose was a tight seal that would last for generations. And it has! No gaps for dirt from 1765 to 2014! Note also expensive oak has been used for the back, not inexpensive deal )pine)–the oak shrinks far less with no knots to pop out. That too cost the buyer extra.
This superb level of craftsmanship is associated with Anglo-American cabinetmaking, especially work from London and Edinburgh with occasionally similar work in English market towns and cathedral cities. In America we find it in pieces made by immigrants from those centers of great craftsmanship.
Because the sides and drawer fronts are solid timbers, we have attributed this piece to Edinburgh. London preferred veneered drawer fronts and veneered door panels, often on a lower quality mahogany base.