Last weekend we took a trip to North Shields to see some very close friends. Travel has many benefits, but as I’ve written about previously, staying in holiday cottages often provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with vernacular furniture. This trip was no exception, and I was delighted to find in the lounge of our delightful flat (which was only meters from the beach) an old dovetailed chest. Now, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend some time looking at utility dovetails and this chest was intriguing. It was a touch smaller than my Anarchist’s Tool Chest, but both chests share design DNA. And while the execution was one the utilitarian side, it was clearly built by someone who understood furniture making and woodmovement in particular.
So what caught my eye on this chest? The dovetails are an obvious space to start. They were irregularly spaced, and while some were very gappy, there were also a number of splits radiating from the corners of the chest which suggest that some of the joinery was over tight. Nonetheless, the chest felt very solid, which goes to show that a dovetail does not have to win any beauty contests to be stout. The dovetails were almost certainly cut by hand, as the baseline was still clearly visible on several corners. Whoever built the chest had also used beading to protect the fragile edge below the lid. Tearout and tool marks were also present on the external and internal surfaces.
The lid was comprised of two pieces, which had been joined with tongue and grooves. Opening the lid revealed two rectangular patches on the inside face, where the wood had retained its original colour. Those patches (which crossed the two boards) were pierced at each end with a hole, and this suggests that battens had been screwed or nailed across the lid to prevent warping. The end of one dovetail in the carcase also showed that the sides of the chest had been built out of tongue and grooved boards.
The corners had also been reinforced with metal plating, although some edges of the plates had been folded over, so I am not sure how robust the reinforcement was. Interestingly, some effort had been taken to clock the screws when installing the hardware.
The chest was full of records and casset tapes, and I was interested to find a fixed till at oneend which appeared to be original, and which contained two drawers.
All in all, this was a lovely example of a “user” piece of furniture, and one which has plenty of life left in it.