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.


A Japanese chest, usually on castors used for storing clothing or bed linen.

Nanking Cargo

The Nanking Cargo was named after the type of porcelain in the Dutch East India Company ship "Geldermalsen", which sank near Java in 1751 and was salvaged in 1985.

The cargo was salvaged by a team led by Captain Mike Hatcher and included over 150,000 pieces of blue and white porcelain, 125 rrare Chinese gold ingots and two important cannons.

The cargo was sold by Christie's in Amsterdam, comprising 2,800 lots spread over 5 days in April - May 1986, realising over $US20 million.

Nantgarw Pottery

Based near Cardiff in Wales, the Nantgarw Pottery produced a very fine white and translucent soft paste porcelain, mainly cups and saucers, plates and dishes with floral decoration, between about 1811 and 1822 when it closed.


The narwhal is a medium-sized toothed whale that grows to around 4.5 metres, and lives year-round in the Arctic. Narwhals have two teeth, and in males, the more prominent tooth grows into a swordlike, spiral tusk up to 2.7 metres long. The ivory tusk tooth grows right through the narwhal's upper lip. The tusk was used in the early 1900s to make walking sticks, canes and as part of small accessories. The sale of narwhal tusks is now prhibited under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement.


Navette, the French word for (weaver's) shuttle, means shuttle shaped, and is used to describe shapes in jewellery, ceramics and silver.


A nef is an elaborate table ornament, usually in silver or gold, and usually in the form of a sailing ship, designed to hold condiments, in use in the Middle Ages and Renaisance period.

Neo Classical

The period or style, known as "neo-classical", was based on Greek and Roman designs and motifs, and is usually associated with the influence of the four Adam brothers, but principally Robert Adam, the second oldest of the brothers, who were architects and designers, active in the latter half ot the 18th century (1760s to 1790s).

Born in Scotland in 1728, Robert Adam spent time in Italy studying and his designs are influenced by the finds made during the excavation of Pompei.

When he returned to England he became the Court Architect to George III (1738-1820).

In turn, designs by Adam then influenced Hepplewhite.

Neo-classical ornamentation is characterised by use of classical urns, palmettes, mythical creatures such as the sphinx and griffin, ram's heads, swags, scrolling foliage, and use of the Greek key pattern.

Nest of Tables

A set of three or more small occasional tables of graduated height, each one of which fits comfortably inside the other when not in use. Invented during the 18th century, they remain popular to the present day.

Nests of tables of the Georgian and Victorian period are scarce, and consequently command high prices. But the form became fashionable again after 1900 and up until the present day, and there are multiple designs available. Australian made examples rarely exist prior to 1900.

A nest comprising four tables is called a quartetto.


As the kimono, the traditional form of Japanese dress, had no pockets, the Japanese men suspended small items they needed to take with them, such as tobacco pouches, purses, pipes and writing implements on a silk cord from their sash, and stop the cord slipping, it was fed through a toggle - a netsuke.

Originally the toggle was made from found objects such as roots or shells, which were selected for their aesthetic appeal, but over time the toggle itself developed as an art form. Many fine carvers devoted themselves to netsuke, but the demand was so great, that their manufacture was taken up by other craft persons such as lacquerers, metal artists and potters.

While ivory is the most commonly used material, netsuke were also made from wood, bone, lacquer, metal and other materials.

The custom of wearing netsuke flourished in Japan for more than three centuries - from around 1600 to the mid 19th century, but the golden age of the netsuke is considered to be from 1800 to 1850. The custom developed in the 16th century when tobacco smoking using a pipe was introduced by the Portuguese. This required the smoker to carry his smoking accoutrements and were a major factor in the wide use adaption of the netsuke.

Innumerable designs were produced, with ivory the most-used material, but also in wood, stone, amber, lacquer

During this period, Japan was a closed society with no foreign trade or influence, but this was changed by the visits of Commodore Matthew Perry in the 1850s. With the opening up of Japan to the west, smoking preferences changed from the pipe to the cigarette, and dress habits changed from traditional Japanese garments to western dress, leading the decline in use of the netsuke.

The western world discovered the artistry of the netsuke in the late 19th century and many great collections are formed. As awareness of the netsuke increased, the demand from tourists developed, and to satisfy the market, many netsuke style items were mass produced. They were produced in all types of materials including plastic. If produced by a mould often the mould marks can be seen. More elaborate copies may be hand carved, and with a fake copy of the signature an original master netsuke maker.

Factors that contribute to the value of a netsuke are authenticity, the skill of the artisan, the condition, and if signed, the name of the artist. The most difficult of these to determine is authenticity, as ageing can be faked, and it takes a long period of study of the netsuke to become competent in this area.

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Newlyn Copper

Newlyn is a town in southwest Cornwall, whose principal industry in the Victorian era was its fishing industry. By the 1880s it had also become an important centre for artists.

As employment in the fishing industry was sporadic due seasonal factors and weather an alternative and additonal source of income was sought, and it was decided that the fishermen could be taught to create craft works in copper, and other materials which could then be sold.

The Newlyn Industrial Class, as the workshop was known, was established in 1890, and a number of artists who had settled in the area assisted with the classes.

Copper objects produced in the Arts & Crafts style included trays, frames, chambersticks, plates and chargers, boxes, bowls and coffee pots. The designs on the objects often included nautical themes.

The workshop remained in operation until the outbreak of World War II.

Newton & Son

A terrestrial globe by Newton & Sons, inscribed "Newton's New and Improved Terrestrial Globe Accurately Delineated from the Observations of the most Esteemed Navigators and Travellers to the Present Time..."

The firm Newton & Son began its history in 1780, when founder John Newton published a reissue of a Nathauriel Hill pocket globe.

The firm grew rapidly after Newton's second son William joined forces with his father, and by 1831 Milred Berry became a partner.

By 1841, ownership passed to William's eldest son, William Edward. Such was the success of the firm that it continued in operation by subsequent generations until the early part of the twentieth century.


A compound made up of lead silver copper and sulphur that is black in colour, and applied to the engraved areas of silver items, thus highlighting the engraving by making the black niello detail stand out from the silver background. It was used on edged weapons from the Renaisance onwards, and also by Russian crafstmen of the19th century.


A noggin is a small jug for measuring a gill of liquid (usually alcoholic spirits). In Imperial measures, a gill is equal to 5 fluid onces; in the US to 4 US fluid ounces.

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A form of carved decoration used on 19th century furniture. Found around the bottoms of dining table pedestals, where they join a platform base, and on table edges. In Australia the term is sometimes used to describe the carving on Regency scrolls, especially on sideboard backs or couches made in the Classical Revival style. In section, nulling is convex, similar to reeding, though much wider, and frequently turns outward from a central core.

Nursing Chair

A low upholstered chair without arms, the top of the seat usually only about 30 cm from the floor, compared with about 45 cm for a standard chair. They were intended to be used by mothers or nurses when feeding babies. The term is often applied to any low easy chair of the type, but most commonly used for a low-seated chair made in the late Victorian or Edwardian period.

Nutmeg Grater

With the rise of the British East India Company in the early 1600s spices of all kinds were imported into Britain from the Far East. One of these was nutmeg which as well as being an exotic flavouring for food, was also used for medicinal purposes (it was supposed to cure stomach ailments, headaches and fever), as an incense and as a fumigant.

The Dutch East India company had a monopoly on the import of nutmeg into Europe, and consequently it was a very expensive spice. The monopoly lasted until in 1769, a French horticulturalist smuggled some trees out of the Indonesian Banda islands, and soon after nutmeg trees were growing in Malaysia, Singapore India and the West Indies.

This enabled the monopoly of the Dutch to be broken, and the British East India Trading Company to import nutmeg into Britain. With supplies more plentiful, its use became more popular and from the late 1700s, nutmeg graters were produced for dispensing the nutmeg.

Due to the expense of nutmeg it was only affordable by the very wealthy, and as it had to be freshly ground, they carried a personal supply with them, and from about 1775, a nutmeg grater to dispense it.

The nutmeg had to be freshly grated to be efficacious, hence the development of the pocket sized nutmeg grater, which consisted of a small silver or turned wooden lidded box or cylinder, which, when the lid was opened displayed a grilled surface for grating with storage underneath for the grated nutmeg. It was soon realised that silver was too soft for this purpose, so blued steel grating surfaces were introduced.

Most nutmeg graters are silver, but they are also constructed around found objects such as Cowrie shells. Silver shapes include the acorn, walnut, cylinder and barrel, heart, urn and egg.

Very few nutmeg graters were made after 1850.