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Learn about and understand the items, manufacturers, designers and periods as well as the specialist terms used in describing antiques and collectables. Either click one of the letters below to list the items beginning with that letter, or click on a category on the left side of the screen to list the items under that category.
Native to Europe and England, oak has been used for joinery, furniture and building since the beginning of the medieval civilisation. It is a pale yellow in colour when freshly cut and darkens with age to a mid brown colour.
Oak as a furniture timber was superceded by walnut in the 17th century, and in the 18th century by mahogany,
Semi-fossilised bog oak is black in colour, and is found in peat bogs where the trees have fallen and been preserved from decay by the bog. It is used for jewellery and small carved trinkets.
Pollard oak is taken from an oak that has been regularly pollarded, that is the upper branches have been removed at the top of the trunk, result that new branches would appear, and over time the top would become ball-like. . When harvested and sawn, the timber displays a continuous surface of knotty circles. The timber was scarce and expensive and was used in more expensive pieces of furniture in the Regency and Victorian periods.
Obelisks were first erected in ancient Egypt circa 2100 BC and were the sacred symbol of the sun god of Heliopolis. The shape, a tall four-sided narrowing square section, each side incised with heiroglyphics, and topped with a pyriamid were representitive of a shaft of sunlight. They usually stood in pairs at the entrance to temples.
In the 18th century, oblisks on pedestals appeared as a garden ornament and by the end of the 18th century were also become popular as funerary ornaments in tombs or memorials.
During the Victorian period a pair of miniature obelisks became a favourite souvenir of the Grand Tour. Common sizes varied between 35 cm and 80 cm and they were usually made in various coloured marbles, and more uncommonly in rock crystal, malachite, slate and onyx.
If the description of an obelisk does not include a date, it is likely the item is modern.
Obsidian is an igneous rock, of volcanic origins, created when molten rock cools rapidly forming into a glass-like material. It has been used for thousands of years to make cutting tools.
The side of a coin or medal bearing the head or principal design.
A small portable table, usually with a fixed top, able to be moved easily for the convenience of visitors. The term covers numerous designs, and the top may be rectangular, oval or round, standing on tripod, pedestal or framed legs.
Octagonal leg, also known as a faceted leg, is usually found on chairs and table pedestals made during the first thirty or forty years of the 19th century, though the design appears in some pattern books dating from the late 18th century. They are not uncommon on Australian colonial furniture of the period. The leg is turned, with the main body of the leg planed into a slightly tapering octagon between the upper and lower turnings. The leg was sometimes fluted or carved with foliage, although in colonial furniture it was more often plain. Octagonal legs are often found on elbow or carver chairs of the period, with scrolled arms sometimes known as Trafalgar chairs.
A term that came into use in the early 1900s to describe a chair usually with a curved back supported by spindles, and with a revolving caned, leather or solid wooden seat, that had a screw adjustable height. Some also incorporated a tilt mechanism, but the height and tilt adjustment mechanisms were primitive by today's standard.
A serpentine shape, usually convex at the upper part, concave at the lower. Mostly used to describe the front shapes of parts of carcass furniture, such as cornices, drawer fronts and feet.
Olivewood is a hard, close-grained wood from southern Europe and has a green-to-yellow colour with interesting black-grey marking. It was used in the mid-17th century for marquetry inlay, because its colour provided contrasting decoration to walnut, which is a darkish brown with black veining. Olivewood was also frequently seen as cross-graining on chests of drawers from the mid-17th century onwards.
Onyx is a form of agate. European onyx is generally green, but can be many other colours, and can contain bands of black and/or white.
This multicoloured stone is widely used for table tops, lamp bases and in jewellery. Some types of onyx are also used for cameos of which the upper white layer is cut away to reveal the colour beneath.
Ormolu was popular with French craftsmen in the 18th and 19th century for ornamental fittings for furniture, clocks and other decorative items. True ormolu is gilt bronze, that is bronze that has been coated with gold using a mercury amalgam. Due to the health risks associated with using mercury, this method of creating ormolu was discontinued in France in the 1830s. A substitute was developed consisting of about 75% copper and 25% zinc, however it was inferior to the bronze version. It was often lacquered to prevent it tarnishing.
The term was used during the 18th and early 19th centuries to describe an upholstered deep couch, usually without arms, sometimes with a seat on either side of a central divide. Named after those found in the luxurious palaces of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
It later came to refer specifically to an upholstered day bed containing a deep box base in which linen, clothing and other domestic effects could be stored. Popular until the 1920s.
In the mid 19th century coiled upholstery springs came into use and frame of the chair was used as the upholstery frame, making for a much more comfortable and responsive seat. The springs were held in place by webbing and were covered with horse hair, coconut fibre or seaweed with the edges stiched so they were more defined.
This type of seat was known as an over-upholstered or over-stuffed seat
Prior to this, a drop in (or "drop on") seat was commonly used. This was an unsprung removable seat where the upholstery was attached to a wooden frame, which was held in place by the sides of the chair, and usually a wooden peg at the front of the chair. Because the upholstery frame was not very deep, the seats were relatively uncomfortable.