Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tuesday Ten--Victorian Furniture Facts, Sort of

All right the original post only had 7 of the Tuesday Ten because blogger hates me. But I finally got it to work well enough that I now have 10 bits of information on Victorian Furniture. The majority of this information comes from A Field Guide to American Victorian Furniture. One of my most useful research sources. I strongly recommend it to anyone writing in this era, or people very interested in the era.

1.) There were quite a few subsets of Victorian Furniture. First, Traditional Early Victorian. These are early years in Victorian America, 1840-1850 and are fairly simple in design. The U.S. was yet to come into its own. It reflects, apparently, the American Empire form, with with some of the molding, medallions and details of later Victorian periods starting to show up. I couldn't find any examples of it on the internet. Does anyone have examples they might share?

2.) Gothic: 1840-1865. I used this furniture to delineate one of the villains in Wicked Woman, because the word and its connotations seemed to suit his personality. This furniture came with the Greek Revival fashion in architecture. This style was used in most kinds of furniture, although there aren't a whole lot of tables or sofas. From what I can see it was pretty ornate and had a lot of steeple type things.

3.) Spool turned--1850-1880 : This was the first factory manufactured and mass produced furniture in America. It's characterized by a sort of spool shaped design and was not particularly expensive. I imagine this is the sort of furniture that was most often found in middle-class homes, maybe even the Old West? I'm not sure. Nevertheless, it never caught on in Europe and so is particularly American. For more information on this specific kind of furniture, you can check out this website:


4.) French, Louis XV, 1845-1870. This is my favorite, the most ornate and the sort of furniture we typically think of when we think Victorian. Its typically carved in rosewood, mahogany or black walnut. This is the stuff with the grape leaves and roses carving and C & S shaped scrolling. Belter's furniture, which I did a post on earlier, was made in the Louis XV tradition. This pair is currently on sale at ebay for about $27000. http://cgi.ebay.com/OPULENT-VICTORIAN-J-H-BELTER-PAIR-OF-MERIDIENNES-CHAISE_W0QQitemZ270200281788QQihZ017QQcategoryZ63583QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Some very pretty armchairs here:


5.) Renaissance, 1860-1875. This style was developed in Europe during the middle of the century. This sort of furniture included "tall arched pediments, semicircular arched panels, large carved cartouches, boldly done cornice moldings and cyma-curved or scrolled brackets." (Field Guid to American Victorian Furniture, Thomas H Ormsbee) I have no clue as to what any of that means and honestly, I can't see how it varies from the French Louis XV. Maybe because it looks sort of spiky as opposed to curvy. It is at this point that I am so, so glad I never elected to make a living dealing in antique furniture. I doubt anyone would take me seriously if I started describing furniture as spiky as opposed to curvy.


6.) French, Louis XVI, 1865-1875. Because one Louis is not enough? You got me. There's not a whole lot of description here, and it doesn't seem like it was very popular. This furniture apparently had "turned rosettes" and "fine incised and gilded straight lines or scrolls." Well okay but apparently the other Louis furniture had turned rosettes too. It seems like the only difference were the gilded straight lines? None of my characters will ever be a furniture dealers, although they may very well make fun of the furniture. . . .All right, let me see if I can find an example somewhere on the internet. Ah here's a website that might explain this all much better, and if someone can understand it, would you mind explaining it to me?


7.) There's this Eastlake furniture that I am going to skip over to get to the furniture I wanted to talk about to begin with--Turkish Furniture! 1870-1880. Yup, it was called Turkish and was the predecessor of the overstuffed furniture we use today. It really does look far more comfortable (although maybe not as pretty) as all the rest. I used it in Wild Card for that reason. It was often sort of rectangular with "plain or figured upholstery with corresponding fringe from the seat to floor". It had tassels too! It came in all sorts of material, plus, velour, tapestry and occasionally leather. They appear to be on the lower side of cost. Now let me see if there's an internet picture somewhere. . . . Yes! Here it is, one in leather:


And now for some specific pieces of furniture

8) Spool Turned Bed—Jenny Lind Bed. In use between 1840-1870, this kind of low rise bed is sometimes referred to the Jenny Lind Bed because if was in fashion at the time of her tours. Maybe she slept in them when touring? I don’t know. Seems kind of weird to me because there were a lot of things fashionable (I’m sure) when she touring which were not named after her.

9.) Washstand—although the well-to-do in urban areas had bathrooms in the late 1850’s, they weren’t widespread for many many more years. People used washstands instead (with the pitcher of water and bowl). They were freestanding chests with a back splash and sometimes an attached towel rack. Blogging about this turned out to be very useful to me today in my writing life because I wasn't quite sure where to place the water pitcher and bowl my heroine was using.

There's a really pretty marbled topped one here:

10.) Victorian table—contrary to what I knew when I started writing, coffee tables were not around until the very end of the century, and then probably only in Europe. When people got together for tea or coffee they’d use the typical Victorian table of a height between 27 and 29 inches. This has caused me a great deal of difficulty in writing because I’m used to the coffee table and have a difficult time picturing people drinking tea and coffee without one. I assume they held the tea in their laps, or used side tables. Unless it was a small tea party, where I believe they would gather around the pedestal table?

All right, I got all 10 in there, finally (blogger and my computer are fighting today). I have to say after writing this blog, I'm more confused about Victorian Furniture than I was before it. I really don't see the difference in quite a few of the styles. Which means that you'll probably be seeing more posts on it, because I get awfully irritated when I can't "get" something.

Assuming, of course, blogger and my computer will stop fighting.


Anonymous said...

Spool Turned Bed—Jenny Lind Bed
Have to say, it kind of looks like a torture rack. In fact, I looked at the picture before reading the accompaning bit and thought it was odd that under Victorian furniture you put a Medieval Torture Device.

All in all, an excellent...7.

Susan Macatee said...

Victorian characters making fun of the furniture? That I'd like to see.

I had my modern day time traveller do just that in my story.

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Wow I never realized so many different styles of furniture were popular in the Victorian era! What a wonderful, fact-filled blog, I bookmarked quite a few of these sites, Dee!

Jennifer Linforth said...

Great blog. Now I am wondering if my broad use of the word 'divan' for 1888 France is right...


Georgie Lee said...

Thanks for the great information. It's a handy reference.

Anonymous said...

More research will help you understand the styles that were popular during the Victorian period. It can be confusing - as you indicate and as is obvious by your blog. Victorians would not typically have made fun of the furniture (especially women) because they loved anything new,and knew their "place in the home". There were also regimented codes of behavior that also included prescribed ways to decorate properly and failure to follow these lofty ideals would cause the Victorian woman loss of face(socially).

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