Antique Terminology

The following is an alphabetical list of common terms and styles of antiques used in the antiques world.  Please keep in mind that the terms are sometimes used a bit differently in various areas of the world.


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

 

A

Acanthus: A classical decorative motif based on the leaves of the acanthus plant.

Adam: A classical revival principally inspired by Robert Adam (1728 - 1792).

Anthemion: A formalized decorative motif based on honeysuckle, particularly popular from the late 18th century.

Arabesque: A repetitive, intricate pattern derived from Arab designs based originally on plant and flower motifs.

Armoire: A cupboard of great size, with doors.

Art Nouveau: A design movement from the late 1800's, inspired greatly by the work of Japanese Meiji period artists.

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Bachelor's Chest: A small chest of drawers with a fold-over top supported by slides.

Baroque: A style originating in Italy in the early 17th century. Extravagantly ornate, florid and convoluted in character or style.

Basin Stand: An 18th century term describing a variety of washstands. Basically a tripod stand or small square stand with a molded ring to hold the basin, small drawers below the frieze and a shelf for an ewer beneath.

Basket Stand: Variation on a worktable, usually a tripod stand with two tiers of open gallery-work for holding knick-knacks.

Bergère: An upholstered armchair modeled on a French design, fashionable from 1725. Often with crane work sides, back and seat.

Biedermeier: A style of furnishings common in German-specking areas in the early to middle 19th century, generally a simplification of the FrenchDirectoire and Empire styles,

Blind Fret: Fretted decoration applied to the surface of solid wooden furniture.

BoiserieA French term for carved wooden paneling to rooms, including doors, frames, cupboards and shelves which were part of the paneling.

BoulleA technique developed by Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) of inlaying brass with tortoiseshell and, sometimes, pewter, fashionable and highly prized in France throughout the 18th century. Usually made in Paris, the second commode, table or cabinet was in " contre boulle"; the reverse version with tortoiseshell inlaid with brass. English boulle was first popular during the Regency Period. Rarely of as high a quality as the French, it was increasingly debased as machine techniques enabled a similar effect to be achieved during the Victorian Period.

Buffet: A 16th-century serving or side table, frequently with two or three tiers.  In the late 17th and 18th-centuries there were cupboards beneath the serving surface and an elaborate superstructure above. 

Bureau a CylindreA late 18th-century desk with curved quarter-circle front in solid wood which, when lifted, swung up beneath the underside of the top.

Bureau Plat: A French writing table of substantial proportions with a flat surface.

Butterfly Table: A tavern table made in America in the late 17th and 18th centuries.
The name arises because of the wing-shaped extended fly-brackets that supported the flaps
instead of the more common gate leg. The legs were canted outwards to achieve a more elegant shape.

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Cabochon: Oval convex decorative ornament frequently found on knees of cabriole legs.

Cartouche: Oval, occasionally rectangular decorative tablet. The term is most frequently used for the decorative surround to an armorial bearing.

Caryatid: Correct term for carved female figures or half-figures supporting an entablature instead of columns. See also Atlantes.

Cellaret: A wine cooler with a lockable lid, usually fitted with a bottle rack.

Champlevé: Technique of enameled decoration where the metal base is channeled or cut out to receive the enamel.

Chippendale, Thomas (1718-1779)A furniture designer, cabinet-maker and interior decorator.

Cloisonné: A technique of enameling using fine strips of metal soldered to the base to divide one color of enamel from another.

Credenza: An early Italian serving table or sideboard with canted corners, two or three cupboards in the base and drawers in the frieze. 

Cross banding: A strip or band of veneer laid across the grain.

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DirectoirePertaining to the style of French furnishings and decorations of the mid-1790's, characterized by an increasing use of Greco-Roman forms along with an introduction, toward the end, of Egyptian motifs.

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Ebéniste: In France, a general-term for a cabinet-maker as opposed to makers of seat furniture. The ancient guild of menuisiers-ebénistes protected their members from cheaper work by foreign craftsmen and from 1741 ordered them to sign their work, which was then passed by the Jure des menuisiers-ébénistes, who approved and stamped each piece "JME".

Ebonizing: Close-grained wood, such as beech or birch, stained and polished to resemble ebony, much used in the 18th century, particularly for chairs.

Edwardian: Pertaining to the rein of Edward VII.

Empire: Characteristic of or developed during the first French Empire, 1804 - 1815.

Enamel: See Cloisonné, Champlevé.

EncoignureA French name for a standing corner cupboard, usually made en suite with a commode, with a marble top and ormolu or gilt metal mounts.

Etruscan Style: A style of decoration derived from ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan ornament.

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Fauteuil: A French name for an elegant, comfortable chair with open arms and upholstered back and seat, dating from the mid-18th century and originally covered in silk, satin, velvet or damask, usually replaced in 19th century with tapestry.

Federal: Pertaining to the decorative arts and architecture in the United States circa 1780 - 1830.

Figure: A generic term for the natural patterns revealed by skilful cutting of veneer e.g. flame grain, Cuban curl, fiddle back, oyster, etc.

Flambeau: A torch or flame, sometimes springing from an urn, used as a decorative finial from the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th.

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Gadroon / Gadrooning: A carved decoration to the edges of tables, desks, shelves, etc., widely used from the 16th century onwards. Properly the term applies to silver, and originated in the shape of clenched knuckles.

Georgian: Pertaining to the styles of architecture and furniture current in England from 1714 - 1811.

Gesso: Paste composed of whiting or finely powdered marble dust mixed with glue and water which sets hard and is easy to carve. Used extensively in the 18th century as a base for decorative gilding and embellishment of carved woodwork such as mirror and painting  frames.

Gilding: Methods of gilding wood have remained unchanged. The two main techniques are still in current use: Water Gilding  is the application of gold leaf using water as the agent to cause the gold to 'stick' to the gesso, some of which is then burnished. Oil Gilding is the application of fine sheets of gold leaf on to a surface with an oil size, a more lasting process but less lustrous. Gilt-metal and gilded metal are achieved by fire-gilding (also known as mercury gilding), when an amalgam of mercury is applied to the metal to be gilded, which fuses on being heated.

Girandole: A wall-mounted candelabrum of French inspiration, with one or more candle branches set in a gilt wood or gilt-metal frame surrounding a small asymmetric or convex mirror to reflect the light of the flame.

Gothic: Pertaining to styles of architecture and decoration originating in France in the middle of the 12th century and existing in the western half of Europe through the middle of the 16th century.

Grisaille: Decorative monochrome painting in tones of gray, in oil, gouache or tempera, widely used for decorative panels for 18th-century interiors and occasionally for furniture.

Guéridon: A general term for a lamp stand in France. The "table en guéridon" was a small circular tea table.

Guilloche: A decoration consisting of two bands twisted in a continuous figure of eight.

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Hepplewhite, George: (died 1786) A cabinet-maker and chair-maker, author of the Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, 1789 and 1794.

Highboy: Quite distinct from the English Tallboy, an American term for a chest-on-stand or high chest derived from William and Mary and Queen Anne furniture, but with more elaborate bonnet top or decorative pediment. Highboys continued to be made until the end of the 19th century.

Hutch: From the French huchea chest.  In America the term is sometimes used for open dressers.

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Intaglio: Cutting a figure or design so that it is hollowed out; the opposite of cameo.

Intarsia: Inlaid pictorial decoration loosely described as mosaic in wood. The design is cut out of different colored woods and then inset in panels.

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Jacobean: Pertaining to the style of architecture and furnishings prevailing in England in the first half of the 17th century, continuing the Elizabethan style with a gradual introduction of Italian models in architecture and increased elaboration of forms and motifs in furnishings.

Japanning: In imitation of lacquer work from Japan and the Far East, a technique used in England from the late 17th century, which was at its height in the late 18th century when the term was usually applied to metal coated with layers of varnish, dried and hardened by heat. Confusingly, "japanning" became interchangeable with Lacquer Work when applied to wood coated with a form of gesso and then with layers of varnish.

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Kas: From the Dutch word kasse, a chest. A large two doored cupboard or press made in North America by Dutch settlers in the second half of the 17th century in the old state of the New Netherlands, between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers. Typically the kas has bun feet, two doors, a heavily decorated cornice and grisaille paintings of fruit, flowers, etc. in the panels.

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Lacquer Work: Originating in the Far East, the method consisted of coating wood or paper-mâche with layers of pigmented resin, the surface of which could then be painted. The composition of early European lacquer was different from the Oriental models and the techniques of application and decoration were rarely as fine.

Lazy Susan: A late 18th-century American version of the dumb waiter - a revolving tray sometimes with compartments on a low stand, placed in the center of a dining table.

Library Steps: Made in a variety of forms in the 18th century, some resembling Bed Steps but with fitted compartments for books and papers, some as chairs which, with the seat hinged over, transformed into a set of three or four steps. The most ingenious opened like a fan from a single pole into a miniature ladder of three or four treads.

Line Inlay: An American term for Stringing.

Louis XIII: Pertaining to the styles in France 1610-1643.

Louis XIV: Pertaining to the styles in France 1660-1710.

Louis XV: Pertaining to the styles in France 1715-1774.

Louis XVI: Pertaining to the styles in France 1774-1792.

Lowboy: In America, a term for a dressing table, usually with one long drawer and three short ones, made en suite with a Highboy. The term is also used for English Queen Anne period dressing tables.

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Marquetry: A form of decorative veneering in which exotic and contrasting woods were cut and fitted together like a jigsaw to form intricate patterns which were then applied as panels of veneer. There were basically two types: arabesque or seaweed marquetry using box or holly with walnut, and floral marquetry using fruitwoods, burr-walnut, ivory, ebony, etc.

Marquise Chair: A broad chair to accommodate two people, made in France towards the end of the 17th century.

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Neoclassical: Pertaining to the revival of classical styles characterized by the introduction and widespread use of Greek orders and decorative motifs in the late 17th to the mid-19th centuries.

Night Table / Stool: An 18th-century bedside stool designed to conceal its function, with a tray top and mock drawer supported on two legs which pulled out, accommodating a seat and fitted pan.

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Ogee: A double curved molding, convex above, concave below.

Ormolu: In France, a highly specialized craftsman made gilded metal or "bronze dorée" for which special alloys of bronze and brass were made, for furniture mounts, clocks, girandoles, etc. In England ormolu was never considered a great art, and was commonly plain brass, cast and gilded.

Oyster veneer: Of Dutch origin, introduced into England in the late 17th century, a form of veneering which used the cross-sections of small branches of walnut, olive, laburnum and other woods cut at 45 degrees.

Overstuffed: Chairs and seat furniture with the padding and covering taken over the wooden frame of the seat and seat rails, being more comfortable than padded drop-in seats with the seat frame exposed.

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Palmette: A classical motif similar to a fan or stylized palm leaf, often used in conjunction with a lotus.

Parcel Gilt: Literally partially gilded.

Parquetry: A decorative geometrical inlay using contrasting grain of different woods. Most prevalent in late 17th century and early 18th century walnut veneered furniture.

Pennsylvania Dutch: Plain, sturdy furniture in cherry wood, pine and local woods, often painted with tulips, hearts and birds, made by German and Swiss immigrants to America.

Pietra Dura: An inlay of semi-precious stones such as agate, chalcedony, lapis lazuli, porphyry, sardonyx; the technique was at its height in Italy around 1600, but the result was so expensive that the cheaper Scagliola process came to dominate.

Press: A term used in America to describe a late 16th-century cupboard similar to a Court Cupboard and known in England as a hall cupboard. Also known as a line cupboard.

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Quartering / Quarter Veneer: Veneer cut and laid in four pieces, usually with grain at right angles, most frequently found on early English pieces from the end of the 17th century.

Quatrefoil:   A common design element consisting of four symmetric lobes around a center.

Queen Anne Style: Pertaining to the style of architecture and furnishings prevailing in England in the early 18th century, characterized by simplicity and refinement if forms, with increased attention to French and Italian models.

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Reading Chair: A chair with a saddle-shaped seat and curved back fitted with adjustable book rest on which the occupant sat astride. Made from the early 18th century and sometimes called Library Chairs there were sometimes small candle-trays hinged below the arms or attached to the book rest. A 19th-century version of the reading chair has an adjustable book rest along with a writing surface on one arm.

Récamier: Directoire chaise longue or daybed in the Grecian manner with upward curving ends.

Régence: Pertaining to the style of French furnishings and decorations of 1700-1720, in which a transition occurs from the Baroque Style of Louis XIV to the Rococo Style of Louis XV.

Regency: Pertaining to the style of architecture, furnishings and decoration of the British Regency, somewhat similar to the French Directiore and Empire styles and characterized by close imitation of ancient Greek forms as well as by less frequent and looser adaptations of ancient Roman, Gothic, Chinese, and ancient Egyptian forms.

RocailleA term first used to describe the artificial grottoes of Versailles and believed to be the origin of the word "rococo", it is accurately used to describe the shell and rock motifs in rococo ornament.

Rococo: Pertaining to the style of architecture, furnishings and decoration originating in France about 1720. It evolved from Baroque types and is distinguished by its elegant refinement in using different materials for a delicate overall effect and by its ornament of shell work, foliage, etc. From the French word 'rocaille'.

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Sabot: A French term for the metal foot to which casters were affixed.

Scagliola: Imitation marble composed of plaster-of-Paris, isinglass, chips of marble and coloring, most popular in 17th and 18th centuries for console tables, commode tops and small pieces of furniture. See also Pietra Dura.

Sconce: A wall fitting with candle branches made in a wide variety of materials, shapes and designs, in use from medieval times, frequently with polished metal back plates to reflect the light, and later with panels of mirrored glass. See also Girandole.

Secrétaire a abattantA French fall-front writing desk.

Strapwork: Interlaced geometric and arabesque decoration in low relief, often applied in fretted strips to Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture and made up from patterns in Dutch pattern books.

Stuart: English style from 1600-1650

Stump Work: English relief work embroidery

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TabouretA low upholstered stool, originally used at court during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Tallboy: An English chest-on-chest with two small drawers at the top and six wide ones below. Sometimes incorporated a secrétaire drawer in the top of the base section. In America its equivalent is the Highboy but the terms are not interchangeable.

Tambour: Sliding doors or curving pull-down fronts for desks made from thin reeded convex strips of wood glued to a linen or canvas backing and running in grooves. Used on small night tables, pot cupboards, commodes and later developed into the roll-top for desks.

Tavern Table: An American term for a plain country-made rectangular table with carved support at either end and a stretcher in between, mainly 17th and 18th centuries.

Tête a Tête Seat: Generally describes an S-shaped seat for two people to sit decorously side by side without touching, made in England and America in the 19th century.

Tole / Tole PeinteA decorative applied painted metal panels.

Toleware: An American term for tinplate and tinware.

Tudor: Pertaining to or characteristics of the periods of the reins of the Tudor Sovereigns, 1500-1550.

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Vernis Martin: A brilliant translucent lacquer technique perfected by the French Martin brothers who were granted a monopoly in 1730 and by mid-century ran three lacquering factories. The family, originally coach painters, produced many variations of lacquer work, the most highly prized being a green flecked with gold, used on furniture and small decorative objects.

Verre EglomiseA technique of painting glass on the underside and backing it with silver or gold-colored metallic foil. Jean-Baptiste Glomy, collector and art dealer, revived the technique for framing prints in the second half of the 18th century and gave it his name.

Victorian: Concerning the architecture, furnishings and decorations of English speaking countries between 1840 and 1900. Characterized by rapid changes of style as a consequence of aesthetic and philosophical controversy, technological innovations and changes of fashion, by the frequent presence of ostentatious ornament.

Vitruvian Scroll: Bands of undulating scrolls like waves, also called a wave scroll.

Volute:
The helix-like ornamental scroll terminating Ionic capitals.

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Welsh Dresser: A recent term for a kitchen dresser that has a rack of shelves over a dresser base that may be variously composed of drawers, cupboards and a potboard. They are by no means all of Welsh origin and many regional versions exist.

William and Mary: An American style from 1680-1720.

William IV: Pertaining to the style of furnishings during King William IV reign over Britain and Ireland 1830-1837.

Wine Cistern: A wine cooler, of the open type, to be distinguished from the lockable Cellaret. Also known as a wine cooler.