Antique Expert #6 – What is it?

This is the 6th in a series of tips to help you recognize and understand antique pieces that you may come across. So, what are they?

  1. I have seen these pieces of furniture called by various incorrect names. No, they are not low chairs or stools. They are called ‘prie-dieu’ which literally translates from the French into ‘pray-God’. A prie-dieu is a type of ‘prayer desk‘ primarily intended for private devotional use, and was usually found in bedrooms or private chapels. It is a small, ornamental wooden piece of furniture with a thin, sloping shelf for books or hands, and a kneeler. Some examples have an under-shelf for storing a prayer book and, for extra comfort, an upholstered kneeler. Sometimes, instead of the sloping shelf, only a padded arm rest was provided. 
Barley Twist legs

2. The Barley Twist leg is another detail (see Expert Tip #5 about linenfold paneling) that is often found on antique furniture that is associated with early England. Some sources say this style came to England from Portugal in the 1660’s. It was used in furniture design for hundreds of years and can be found in Moorish, Islamic, Byzantine, Baroque, and Romanesque designs. The shaft of the column is turned in a twisting pattern which makes a spiral. Early barley twists would have been carved by hand, but as advances were made, wooden lathes were used to make the process less ornery. 

The barley twist, or barley- sugar column as it was sometimes called, was replicated during the Victorian era in early Arts and Crafts furniture. Most of the furniture pieces that feature the barley twist column today are made of oak and were made before the end of the 1920’s.

Victorian era mother of pearl set of cutlery

This is a handsome set of dinner cutlery with mother of pearl handles. Mother is pearl has a wonderful sheen and smooth texture, vastly different from cutlery with bone or faux ivory (aka French ivory) handles. This material does not discolour as bone or French ivory often does.

You know that it’s a dinner set rather than a fish or dessert set due to the length and the number of tines on the fork, (although this can change from set to set). The knives or the forks do not have the tell – tale indentation that fish sets feature nor do they have the wider but thinner tine on one side of the fork that is seen on pastry or dessert forks.

What makes this set special is its condition and the fact that it is still in its mahogany presentation case – something that can as much as double the value of the cutlery. If you are planning to set a spectacular table and are looking for beautiful cutlery, you can’t go wrong with such a drool – worthy set.

Do you have any antiques you are curious about? Let me know!

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