In October 2021 the RFS Council approved a project whereby the back numbers of the Newsletters (which contain much interesting material by way of research pieces, visit/event reports, book reviews, notices of publication, members’ correspondence and obituaries) should be reviewed, scanned and made available online. I am grateful to John Boram and Diana Halliwell for providing me with a complete collection of all Newsletters since 1985 (including the publications of the Regional Furniture Study Group which pre-dated the setting up of the Society).
The material will in future be published (as is the Society’s practice for the articles in the Journal), following a three year delay after print publication. The back archive between 1985 and Spring 2022 amounts to more than 900 research pieces and visit/event reports, about 100 book reviews and another 50-odd notices of publication and, alas, 43 obituaries. That amounts just under 1100 items, all of which have been indexed and scanned, of which around 920 are published today. The remaining 170-odd from the last 6 issues (Newsletters 71 to 76 inclusive) will be published in due course after the three year delay.
The research pieces and visit/event reports may be found here; the book reviews here; and the obituaries here.
I have prepared hyperlinked Excel spreadsheet indexes for all three categories which may be downloaded from links found on those pages. The Excel spreadsheets may be easier to navigate, particularly for the 900+ research pieces and visit/event reports. I have also prepared an Excel spreadsheet index for all the 320-odd articles which have been published in the Journal which may be found on a link on the Journal back issues page. All of these downloadable spreadsheets have links directly to the website. If you would like all 4 indexes in one spreadsheet, it is here. It is my intention to update these indexes every six months for the Newsletters and each year for the Journal.
My favourite item discovered during the scanning project? A pair of ophthalmic Windsor chairs, from West Suffolk Hospital, into the central sticks of which the patient’s head was wedged whilst the eye examination took place!
Julian Parker, Website Editor, 18 April 2022
P.S. Some of the originals have copy that is slightly smudged. Sometimes the paper is highly reflective. I hope all of the scans are legible but I am aware that some are less than perfect.
An index of almost 7,500 English regional chairmakers created by Bernard and Geraldine Cotton has been added to BIFMO, the British and Irish Furniture Makers Online database. The index was generated over the past 50 years as part of the Cotton’s monumental research into British traditions in regional furniture. Making this resource accessible online opens the way for further discoveries about the makers of the Windsor chairs and turned chairs which were integral to the daily lives of people from Cumbria to Cornwall over the last 300 years.
Dr Bernard Cotton’s seminal publication, The English Regional Chair (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1990, reprinted 1997) stands as the definitive study of the many and varied traditions developed by chairmakers in different parts of the country. The core of it is was to identify the names, dates and locations of makers themselves, the vast majority of whom will for ever remain anonymous. The Cottons formed a card index of some 15,000 names through painstaking research of local trade directories, census returns, newspapers and other documents, at a time when none of these were digitised and computers were hardly known. Data from the manuscript cards was recently scanned and then transcribed into an Excel spreadsheet; after many months of careful work this has now been successfully uploaded onto BIFMO as a major new resource, accessible to all. Funding for this work has been kindly provided by a generous donor and a grant from the Regional Furniture Society. It could not have been achieved without the support of the Furniture History Society, which created and manages the BIFMO site, and the largely voluntary commitment of Laurie Lindey, BIFMO Managing Editor.
Photographs of chairs made by these makers, who identified their work with their branded or stamped initials or name, or with a label, will be added to the entries over the next few weeks. Many will be of chairs in the Cotton Collection of over 200 English regional chairs which they donated to the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in 2002.
In parallel with this chairmaker index, work is progressing to transcribe a further index of English regional cabinet makers, turners and joiners which the Cottons developed as their research progressed. These were the makers of the press cupboards, dressers, chests, tables and beds, salt boxes and candle boxes, and all the many incidental and utilitarian household objects required for everyday use. The index comprises some 25,000 names and will in due course be added to BIFMO, providing a rich seam for ancestry research and local history.
The Cotton Archive of British Regional Furniture containing all of the material studied and collected during a lifetime of research, is now being catalogued prior to its being donated to the Museum of the Home. The first and most significant part of the archive, which covers all of the English regions, with Scotland, Ireland and Wales as well as the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, was transferred in October 2021. Digital recordings and transcripts of 12 interviews with Dr Cotton made as part of the cataloguing project, describing the vernacular furniture traditions of the English regions, are part of this first donation. Further material, including an extensive photographic archive and a series of fieldwork research notebooks will follow next year, as well as research files on Australia, America, Newfoundland and other countries where the British settled and influenced furniture.
In a statement, Dr Bernard (Bill) Cotton writes,
‘My ambition has been to identify the origins of furniture made for the homes of working people, and to record, where possible, the names of makers and the social context in which it was used. The transfer of our regional chairmakers index to BIFMO opens the potential for others to continue the research to which my wife, Geraldine and I have devoted much of our lives. We are grateful to all those who have made this possible and are excited by the prospect of new discoveries being made as a result.’
Liz Hancock, Chairman of the Regional Furniture Society says,
‘The regional chairmaker database is an important addition to BIFMO and represents a major contribution to furniture studies. On behalf of the Regional Furniture Society (RFS) I would like to congratulate all those involved in making this invaluable resource accessible online. Bernard and Geraldine Cotton were founder members of the RFS, established in 1984 with the aim of researching and recording the regional traditions of furniture making throughout Britain and Ireland. This includes the social and cultural context of furniture and its relation to vernacular architecture and interiors. The chairmaker database offers new opportunities in this developing field of research.’
Chairman of the Furniture History Society, Christopher Rowell writes:
‘The Furniture History Society is honoured to have been entrusted by Dr and Mrs Cotton with the fruits of their research which will greatly enrich BIFMO in the field of vernacular furniture studies. The Society is also grateful to the Regional Furniture Society and an anonymous donor for the grants to enable the digitisation of the material.’
And Sonia Solicari, Director, Museum of the Home, said:
“It’s exciting that the index to this incredible archive is being made accessible, enabling many more people to enjoy the rich history of these chairs. Bernard and Geraldine Cotton unearthed so many otherwise forgotten stories in their decades of research and collecting. I hope that the BIFMO database will enable more stories of everyday making and home life to be revealed and shared in the decades to come.”
A yew ‘garlands’ chest front, dated 1664, South-western Brittany Photo credit: CEFA Auctions
For members interested in regional furniture outside the UK, a scanned version of a long out of print booklet on Breton chests and carved panels published in 1976 is now available.
Written by Marguerite Le Roux-Paugam, Les coffres paysans du Leon et de Haute Cornouaille (XVIe et XVIIe siecles) is a study of fifty dated chests from western (or Lower) Brittany. A few of them date from 1550-1600, but the numbers peak in 1630-70 and decline thereafter. She argues that this trend matches the evolution of the area’s prosperity. She shows that there were two sizes of chest; clothes chests of 100-170 cm in width and grain chests of 180-215 cm. Selly Manor Museum, Bournville has an example of each.
These chests have a distinctive style of decoration in that Gothic tracery retained its popularity in Brittany until the 1660s and was combined with renaissance motifs such as interlace. Other motifs include the lively humans and animals also found on carved woodwork in Breton churches. Intact sixteenth and seventeenth century chests are rare but chest fronts and loose panels have made their way to the UK.
The decoration of chests varies within Lower Brittany. The title of the booklet refers to chests in the extreme north-western part of Brittany but the images include chests from south western Brittany, where ‘garlands’ chests are most common. The best collection of Breton chests is at the Departmental museum at Quimper. Enter ‘coffre’
NAMES FOR THINGS
A Description of Household Stuff
Furniture and Interiors
Members will be pleased to hear that the posthumous publication of a glossary of terms, written by Victor Chinnery is still available for order.
The book was published in October 2016 and is an A4 hardback, 324 pages and containing 53 illustrations. The approach taken in the book is both original and creative. It places emphasis on the integrated relationship between furniture and the many artefacts found within the early British home.
In the book, Victor looks, not only at furniture, but also interior decoration, metalwork, pottery, wood types and the use of colour in interiors.
Glossary entries – giving a detailed description of the objects – are backed up by inventory references and other documentary evidence, which aim to explain how the objects would have been used, in a period setting.
It will be an invaluable work of reference for historians, museum curators, dealers and collectors alike.
The book is edited and contains a foreword by Jan Chinnery.
The book retails at £35, plus UK postage of £4 and is available at through all good booksellers (ISBN 9780957599284).
The second print run of Claudia Kinmonth’s book, Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000 (Cork University Press, November 2020) is in the shops. If anyone wants a signed copy, request it directly from Claudia (firstname.lastname@example.org), otherwise request CUP to post out a copy (the business postal rate to the UK is probably cheaper). Copies are €39 or £35 each. For more information about her publications see www.claudiakinmonth.ie Claudia says: Cork University Press confirm that the 20% discount can still apply (off £35) but buyers must quote the code ICF. Buyers can email to email@example.com to have a discounted copy sent out. She may have some signed copies left.
This month sees the publication of Claudia Kinmonth’s keenly awaited Irish Country Furniture and Furnishings 1700-2000 (pp. 550 illus 448., Cork University Press). Following the Society’s Irish tour last year and as a thank you to the RFS for its support for the book Claudia has arranged a special 20% discount from the publisher for RFS members on the RRP €39.00 or £35.00 (plus p&p.), valid until the end of December. The book will also be available from good bookshops by about 20 November 2020, and online, usually free of postage, from Book Depository. To order a signed copy from the publisher, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and quote the code ‘RFS’. Signed copies must be ordered before 31 December 2020. Listen to Claudia’s recent interview on BBC Radio Ulster (at 26 mins 40 seconds into the programme). For more information please check Claudia’s website and her Twitter.
The Cabinetmaker’s Account: John Head’s Record of Craft & Commerce in Colonial Philadelphia, 1718-1753, by Jay Robert Stiefel
Suffolk-born joiner John Head immigrated to Philadelphia in 1717 and became one of its most successful artisans and merchants. However, Head’s prominence had been lost to history until Jay Stiefel’s discovery of his account book at the American Philosophical Society Library. Head’s account book is the earliest and most complete to have survived from any cabinetmaker working in British North America or in Great Britain and offers a 35-year ‘moving picture’ of an 18th century cabinetmaker’s daily life.
Historian, lawyer, and collector Jay Robert Stiefel is an authority on the crafts and commerce of Colonial Philadelphia and the institutions founded by Franklin for the welfare of its tradesmen. He studied history at the University of Pennsylvania and Christ Church, Oxford. Stiefel’s writings and lectures on social history have restored to the historical record many early craftsmen, artists, and merchants whose prominence had been obscured by the passage of time.
Jay introduced his new book at three venues (these lectures have now all taken place):
Tuesday April 30th at 5:00 p.m. Christ Church, Oxford. Free, but booking required via the Christ Church website.
Another wonderful publication was released last year by one of the Society’s members and former Newsletter editor, Noël Riley. The Accomplished Lady – a history of genteel
pursuits c. 1660–1860 is a richly illustrated “study of the skills and pastimes of upper-class women and the works they produced during a 200-year period.”
Noël Riley has written and lectured extensively on the decorative arts and is a
consultant at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. Her previous books include Penwork: A Decorative Art, The Victorian Design Source Book, Gifts for Good Children – the History of Children’s China 1790–1890, and pocket guides to Tea Caddies and Visiting Card Cases. She has written for many art periodicals, both academic and popular, and for many years she contributed to Historic House, the journal of the Historic Houses Association.
The book is, of course, available in all good book shops!