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.


Veneers are thin sheets of well-figured timber that are glued under pressure to the surface of a cheaper timber for decorative effect, and then used in the making of carcase furniture.

Early veneers were saw-cut so were relatively thick, (up to 2 mm) but is was realised that saw cutting was wasteful, as timber to the equivilent of the thickness of the saw was lot on each cut.

A more efficient method was devised to slice the timber, either horizontally with a knife, or in a rotary lathe.

Flame veneer, commonly found in mahogany or cedar furniture, is cut from the junction of the branches and main trunk. So-called fiddleback veneers, where the grain is crossed by a series of pronounced darker lines, is usually cut from the outer sections of the tree trunk.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, and in much of the walnut marquetry furniture made during the latter part of the 19th century, the veneer was laid in quarters, each of the same grain, so that one half of the surface was the mirror image of the other.

The use of veneer allows many other decorative effects to be employed, including stringing, feather banding, cross banding, and inlaid decorative panels in the piece. The carcase over which veneer is laid is usually of cheaper timber such as pine, oak or, sometimes in Australia during the first half of the 19th century, red cedar.

The important thing to remember about veneers is that prior to about 1850 they were cut by hand, and were consequently quite thick - ranging up to about 2mm deep.

From the mid-19th century veneers were cut by machines and were almost wafer-thin. This is a critical point when trying to judge the approximate age of veneered furniture.


Gold vermeil is sterling silver (.925 silver) plated with gold. The process originated in France around 1750. The technique was called fire gilding. Jewellery makers applied mercury and gold to the silver and exposed the metal to extreme heat. The heat caused the mercury to vaporize and the layer of gold to adhere to the silver. The qualify as vermeil, the gold layer with which the silver is plated must be at least 10-carat gold

The mercury vapours generated by the heat caused many artisans to become blind, and France made this process illegal in the 1800s. Modern gold vermeil is usually created using an electrolytic process, which is much safer than fire gilding yet produces a similar result.

Vermeil is usually found in jewellery and watches, and occasionally in dinnerware.

In the White House, the residence of the President of the United States, there is a Vermeil Room sometimes called the "Gold Room," which houses the collection of vermeil bequeathed to the White House in 1956 by Mrs. Margaret Thompson Biddle. The Vermeil Room serves as a display room and, for formal occasions, as a ladies sitting room.

Vernis Martin

A generic name for a type of lacquer finish applied to furniture and a multitude of small articles, giving a brilliant translucent finish, imitating the Chinese and Japanese lacquer finishes on furniture imported into France during the Louis XV period..

Usually the surface to which the lacquer is applied was embellished with painted decoration of a classical scene.

The name is derived from the inventors, Simon-Etienne Martin and his two brothers, a distinguished family of French artist-artificers of the 18th century, who refined and perfected the technique, and were granted a monopoly in its manufacture in 1730.

Verre Églomisé

Verre églomisé is the process by which the reverse of glass is decorated with gold or silver foil, sometimes with the addition of painted decoration. The technique was popular in the early and mid 19th century, but its use dates back to pre-Roman times.

It was used as a decorative effect on mirrors, table tops and clocks.


Verso is the "back" side of a sheet of paper, art work, coin or medal. The front side is "recto".

Vesta Cases

A Victorian sterling silver rectangular vesta box with an enamelled scene of greyhounds chasing a hare, London 1891 by Sampson Mordan & Co.

In Roman mythology, Vesta was the goddess of hearth, home and family, and her presence was symbolised by the sacred fire that burned at her hearth and temples, inspiring several match companies to name their matches "vestas", the best known around 1900 being the "Swan Vestas" brand.

Vesta cases, also known as match safes were made to safely house a person's supply of matches, required because early matches were prone to combustion, either from the friction of rubbing together or spontaneous ignition.

Vesta cases came into use in the 1830s, but the peak period of their popularity was 1890 to 1920.

Most commonly they are silver, and rectangular in shape, with an end-opening spring-loaded close fitting lid at the top and a ribbed or serrated striking surface on the base.

Collectors seek out novelty shapes that include boots and shoes, bottles, snuff horns, animal heads, hearts, and circles.

However they were also made in gold, and enamel with silver, as well as cheaper materials such as brass and from nuts embellished with silver mounts.

One of the prolific makers of silver vesta cases was the firm Sampson Mordan & Co. which was founded in in 1823 and continued in the family until 1941 when the factory was destroyed by German bombing during the London Blitz.

The smoker's need for vesta cases (and matches) was in gradual decline from after World War I, with the introduction of the Ronson "Banjo" cigarette lighter in 1926, the first automatic lighter, followed by the "Zippo" lighter in 1932.

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Vic. Greenaway

Victor (Vic.) Greenaway was born in 1947 in Sale, Victoria.

He studied ceramics at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

He established his first workshop in Hawthorn in 1968, Victoria, and the following year moved to a pottery in Upper Beaconsfield.

In 1974 he travelled abroad under a Churchill Fellowship and studied in Japan.

In 1976 he received a Mayfair Ceramic Award and in 1981 and 1983 the Stuart Devlin Craftsman Award for ceramics.

His first solo show was in 1973 at The Craft Centre, South Yarra.

He is represented in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Auckland Museum, Australian National Gallery, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, National Gallery of Victoria, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, as well as many provincial galleries.

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Vichi, Ferdinando

Ferdinando Vichi (1875-1945) was a central figure in the production of Florentine sculpture at the end of the 19th century.

He is associated with the sculptors Cesare Lapini, Pietro Bazzanti and Guglielmo Pugi, all of whom executed works at The Galleria Bazzanti.

The gallery, originally Bazzanti's studio, was inaugurated in 1822 and is still open today. His compositions are varied in subject matter, ranging from busts after the Antique to Orientalist themes and Renaissance-inspired models.

Like many other late nineteenth-century sculptors, Vichi often took inspiration from classical antiquity. Historicising romantic subjects were very popular in Italian sculpture of the late 19th century

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A fine sterling silver vinaigrette by Nathaniel Mills, Birmingham 1827, the cover chased and engraved with an imposing manor house.

A vinaigrette is a small tightly-lidded box, usually finely worked in gold, silver or enamel, with an often elaborate pierced grate beneath the outler lid, with the interior holding a sponge soaked in aromatic vinegar, its purpose being to disguise odours caused by poor hygiene and drainage. Vinaigrettes were used from the late 18th century until the late 19th century.

To prevent corrosion by the vinegar, the interior of the vinaigrette was usually gilded. Occasionally the grille is made of gold, a rare and desirable feature although often difficult to distinguish from gilt.

They were usually rectangular in shape, but are found in other shapes iincluding fish, bells, helmets, beehives books and so on. The most common material used was silver, but they were also made in other materials including precious stone, shell, ivory, enamel, agate, pearl and combinations of these.

Among the most collectable are the silver vinaigrettes known as "castle-tops" where the lid has an embossed image of a topographical scene including a recognisable castle, abbey or country house.

One of the most prolific makers of vinaigrettes was Nathaniel Mills & Sons of Birminham, who specialised in all types of boxes including snuff boxes and card cases.

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Vitascope Clocks

A Vitascope automata clock radio, English circa late 1940s, pink acrylic case with a rocking three masted ship and electric clock to front. Height 32 cm

Vitascope clocks were made invented in the Isle of Man in 1941 by J. S Thatcher, improved by Joseph Summerskill between 1944 and 1944, and manufactured from the late 1940s by Vitascope Industries Limited, based in the Isle of Man.

The electrically powered clocks included automata that caused the ship to gently rock in the waves, and the backlighting changes to indicate the changing time of the day, and the sea is lit for both sunset and sunrise.

According to the Isle of Man company records, Vitascope Industries Limited was dissolved in 1968.


A French word for a display cabinet, from the French 'vitre', or glass, and usually applied to a display cabinet of French origin.

They were introduced in a modest way in 18th century France and became popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some vitrines have a mirrored back allowing viewing of both the back and front of the objects displayed.

They are often embellished with ormolu mounts and painted or lacquered panels, and the style was copid in England in the late 19th century when the Louis XV style was in vogue.

Vizagapatam / Sadeli

Vizagapatam, now known as Visakhapatnam is an industrial city that stretches 3 km along the coast between Calcutta and Madras. In British colonial times the city was called Waltair, and part of the city is still known by its colonial British name.

In the mid 18th and 19th century the town became one of the centres in India for the manufacture of small wooden items, especially boxes, and furniture made of local hardwoods such as sandalwood, which has a strong fragrance and elaborately inlaid with ivory and other exotic materials including horn, ivory, porcupine quills and silver.

Another form of decoration used, was with Sadeli mosaics, an ancient craft that is said to have been introduced from Shiraz in Persia (now Iran) to India.

Ivory, silver, pewter, wood and horn were cut into faceted rods which were bound together to form geometric patterns. When the glue was set, the rods were sliced in transverse sections. This gave the maker a number of angled circular pieces in the original pattern. Several variations of patterns could be achieved by combining the materials in different ways. The ivory was sometimes dyed green to give an extra colour.

The technique, required a high degree of skill and patience, and as well, wasted a large amount of the precious materials.

Initially these items were mainly purchased by the Indian ruling classes and officials of the British East India Company, but when India came under British rule in the Victorian era, a wider market opened up.

The boxes were brought back or sent back to England usually by the people who had commissioned them. From the beginning of the nineteenth century they were imported more commercially, although not in any significant numbers until the middle decades.

Export was facilitated by the location of Vizagapatam: it was an important trading port for South East Asia, and a stopping point for vessels en-route from Europe to Canton.

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Discovered around 1839, Vulcanite was patented by Charles Goodyear in 1846. It is essentially a rubber compund that has been hardened by the addition of chemicals and heat.

It is mostly black in colour and was used as a substitute for jet, which is a fossilised wood, black in colour and similar to coal. Vulcanite items can be highly polished when manufactured, but over time they become dull and the black colour fades to a dark brown. The process is accelarated if the Vulcanite is contatnly exposed to strong light.

Vulcanite items will be moulded, whilst jet items are carved, and this difference can be used to distinguish between the two materials.

Because of their colour, both Vulcanite and jet were used for mourning jewellery.

As well as its use in jewellery, Vulcanite was also used for vesta cases, buttons, combs, fountain pens and in the manufacture of cameras.

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Vung Tau Cargo

The Vung Tau wreck, named after the port near which it was discovered, was found by fishermen off the islands of Con Dao in the south of Vietnam, when they retrieved porcelain items that had caught in their nets.

Master mariner, Sverker Hallstrom who had good relations with the Vietnamese government, obtained the license to excavate the wreck after the Vietnam Salvage Corporation had carried out preliminary excavation, and Australian Michael Flecker directed the primary excavation for Hallstrom in 1991.

Experts surmised that the ship was bound from China to Batavia (now Jakarta) circa 1690, where the bulk of the ceramics would have been trans-shipped to a Dutch East India Company vessel for the onward voyage to Holland.

The salvage operation recovered over 48,000 ceramics items, mostly Kangxi blue-and-white porcelain, an impressive collection of white-ware, many pieces of provincial ware, and a wide variety of ship related artefacts.

Christie's auction house selected 28,000 pieces of porcelain for auction in Amsterdam, and the sale raised $US 7.3 million. A full representation of the ceramics and most of the artefacts were put on display in the Vung Tau Museum, whilst the remainder of the ceramics, mostly damaged to some extent, were divided between Hallstrom and the Vietnamese Government.

Vyse, Charles

Charles Vyse (1882-1971) is considered to be one of the key figures in the development of British studio pottery.

He was born in Staffordshire and apprenticed to Royal Doulton as a modeller in 1896 at the age of 14. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1905 where he studied for the next 5 years, and in 1911 was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. In 1912 he studied at the Camberwell School of Art.

In 1919, Vyse set up a studio with his wife Nell, in Cheyne Walk, London and they produced high-fired wares inspired by Chinese and Japanese ceramics, as well as a range of cast pottery figures of local characters. The studio was badly damaged by bombing in 1940 and Vyse became a modelling and pottery instructor at Farnham School of Art, while continuing to produce his own wares.

Since setting up his own studio, Vyse had exhibited annually at Walker's Gallery in Bond Street where many of his pots were sold, and this continued until 1963 when he retired

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