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De-mystifying the terms used by antique dealers, auctioneers and specialists.
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Term Main definition
Against You
This phrase is usually used by the auctioneer to make it plain to a bidder who is unsure where the bidding has got to and whether the bid is with him or not. He may repeat it several times for emphasis and if there is no forthcoming bid will sell to the last bidder.
Aesthetic Movement

This might be called the árty´end of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was a reaction to the flamboyant ornamentations loved by the Victorians. From the 1840´s a new purity of design was championed by Pugin and Owen Jones, and in the 1860´s the ideal of Art for Art´s Sake was taken up by the culturally aware. The Movement drew on diverse sourses, from Japanese and Chinese to Queen Anne and traditional metalwork. Walter Crane summarised it well in 1889, “plain materials and surfaces are infinately preferable to inorganic or inappropriate ornament”.


70% Copper, 29% nickel, 1% tin alloy for resistance to corrosion and heat.

Admiralty Brass

An out-dated term for an alpha brass in which some zinc is replaced by tin; usually only about 1-2% tin is added.

70/30 brass with 1% tin added for extra corrosion resistance.

Adam Style

Neo-classical style, first introduced into the UK by the Scottish architect/designer Robert Adam, typified by classical motifs such as palmettos and festoons

Acorn Cups

Cups made from silver and gold in the form of giant acorns, they were popular in the late 1500´and early 1600´s Britain. They are usually on twiggy stems, and the cover, the acorn itself, may well be engraved with a coat of arms. In the 1700´s and 1800´s the acorn appears in wood as a treen novelty, and sometimes in pottery for pepper and salt pots.

Acid Stamping

The process of acid etching a trademark or signature into glass after it has been annealed, using a device that resembles a rubber stamp.

Acid Polishing

A process used in the production of cut crystal to remove the opacity of etched surfaces where decoration has been applied. Items to be polished are immersed in a mixture of de-mineralized water, sulphuric acid and hydrofluoric acid, and then rinsed. There may be a single short immersion in a stronger solution or, alternatively, a series of immersions in a weaker solution.

Acid Etching

This process for the decoration of glass involves the application of hydrofluoric acid to the glass surface. Hydrofluoric acid vapours or baths of hydrofluoric acid salts may be used to give glass a matt, frosted appearance (similar to that obtained by surface sandblasting), as found in lighting glass. Glass designs can be produced by coating the glass with wax and then inscribing the desired pattern through the wax layer. When applied, the acid will corrode the glass but not attack the wax-covered areas.


Classical ornament in the form of a stylized leaf decoration based on the scalloped leaves of the acanthus plant. It was frequently found on furniture as carved decoration or cast bronze ornament, particularly from the French, Louis XVI period. The acanthus leaf decoration is also found on mahogany furniture from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The acanthus leaf was the most prolific foliage to flourish as a decorative motif on architecture, furniture and works of art of all kinds. Derived from the Mediterranean acanthus spinosus, in the hands of artists it can also resemble thistle, poppy or parsley leaves. It is the basis of the Corinthian and Composite Orders, and easily turned into a scroll. Even Gothic and Romanesque architects and craftsmen employed it, and from the Renaissace to the mid 1800´s it was consistently in favour. Eventually, however, one critic was complaining of “the inevitable acanthus leaf as if in the whole range of vegetable life this was the only kind of foliage worth imitating”, and another that “it requires so little thought”. 

Acajou Moucheté

French term for spotted or fiddle back mahogany. It has a ripple pattern , similar to the veneers used for the backs of the best violins.

Abbotsford Ware

Brilliantly decorated pottery in the Wemyss style, produced by the Fife Pottery's neighbour and rival, the Kirkcaldy Pottery of David Methven & Sons, in the late 1800's and early 1900's. It is most likely the two establishments used the same decorators, all the owners were cousins. However, Abbotsford does not seem to have produced the large pigs which are the best known Wemyss products. The pottery had no connection at all with Walter Scott except to prove how bankable his name still was 70 years after his death.

Abbotsford Furniture

Extravagant neo-Gothic furniture made during the 1820's and 1830's and named after Sir Walter Scott´s Scottish baronial house. It is heavy and spiky, and sometimes crudely made up from genuinely old fragments. The architect A.W.N. Pugin, while admitting he had designed such stuff for Windsor Castle said of it “All the ordinary articles of furniture, which require to be simple and convenient, are made not only expensive, but very uneasy… A man who remains any length of time in a modern Gothic room, and escapes without being wounded by some of its minutiae, may consider himself extremely fortunate.


A term used to describe a drop-down flap often seen in the French style of the secretary desk, secrétaire à abattant, concealing drawers and shelves within.


The precursor of the pocket calculator is still sometimes found built in to playpens. It is a frame with wires across it, each threaded with 10 beads. It is at least as old as the ancient Greeks (the word is Greek for cyphering table, since it can also be used to teach writing), and it was modified by the Chinese. Rather crude examples from British schools and nurseries are common enough, but elaborate ones were made by the 1600's mathematical instrument maker Robert Jole.