A to Z

Glossary 
De-mystifying the terms used by antique dealers, auctioneers and specialists.
 
There are 237 entries in this glossary.
Search for glossary terms (regular expression allowed)
Term Main definition
Britannia Metal
A trade description for a pewter alloy containing a comparatively high proportion of antimony – typically 92% tin, 6% antimony and 2% copper. This alloy was first introduced by Sheffield manufacturers in the second half of the 1700's and is a product of the industrial revolution. It was also known in its early days as white metal. As an alloy it has characteristics which permit articles to be made by cold-forming the alloy in sheet form (e.g. by spinning or stamping) rather than by casting. N.B. Some earlier books assert, possibly due to ignorance of the contents of the alloy, that Britannia Metal is not pewter!
Britannia metal is an alloy of tin and antimony and objects made of this metal have been looked upon with derision until very recent years. An unprejudiced second look revealed that not all was rotten in the state of Britannia metal. A product of the Industrial Revolution, early Britannia metal has great charm. Most of it was made in Sheffield and the makers stamped their names intaglio into the base of the objects they made. The silver shapes of the day were carefully followed. Makers to look out for are J. Dixon & Son, P. Ashberry, Broadhead & Atkins, James Vickers and James Wolvenholme. Do not confuse pieces marked EPBM (Electro-plated Britannia Metal) with the pieces under discussion here. After 1850 the standard of design falls away disastrously in the words of the 1800´s politician John Bright. Silence is golden, speech in silver, but to say one thing and mean another is Britannia metal.
Bristol Metal
Brass, 75.5% copper, 24.5% zinc.
Brinell
The Brinell Hardness Scale in which the hardness is measured by the resistance to indentation of a small steel ball. This method is becoming less common, but does allow some comparison with results from the Vickers Scale at low hardnesses. However, as with other systems that use steel indenters it is unreliable with hard materials as the steel indenter deforms. 

Related Terms: Hardness, Vickers Hardness Scale, Rockwell Scale.
Bremen Blue
Basic copper carbonate.
Break Front
A cabinet with the front center section that protrudes forward or outward from the end sections.
Brazing
Joining metals by filling clean joints with a suitable filler metal by means of a molten alloy of copper and zinc (brass); in modern usage this has been extended to include a wider range of molten metals such as the 'silver solders'. In antiquity, silver-gold, copper-silver and silver-gold-copper alloys were used for brazing (or soldering), especially on precious metals. Brazing temperatures are higher than for soldering and a good flux is usually needed.

Related terms: Solder, Soft Solder, Silver Solder 
Brass Warming Pan
These date from 1400's and the parts were made from Dutch brass. It was once the custom of a servant to be sent to bed in order to warm the master´s sheets, a pastime less dangerous perhaps than using a bed warmer, for it is clear from a study of early household inventories that many beds were destroyed by fire.
 
Copper warming pans became popular during the 1700's and were manufactured in company with brass pans well into the reign of Queen Victoria. Many of the original turned wood handles became affected bby woodworm, so it is not uncommon today to find an old pan with a replacement handle.
 
The warming pan is an interesting household article. It dates back to the Middle Ages when the pan was brass or bronze and it had a metal handle. James II son by his second wife Mary of Moderna, was thought by some not be her child but a substitute brought into the royal coninement room in a warming pan. It is unlikely that it would have been a copper pan, however, for these do not appear to have come in until 1700, when they had beech handles well turned and sometimes lacquered in black. Since the advent of the hot water bottle, these pans are no longer functional but they do look attractive hung on a wall, especially if they are kept sparkling clean.
Brass Lump
Miners term for massive iron pyrites (fools’ gold).
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and is yellowish in colour. It used to be made by melting copper in contact with the zinc carbonate, calamine (ZnCO3), under charcoal in a crucible.
 
Since the Middle Ages, brass has been a popular choice for household wares. Highly durable and resistant to tarnishing, brass is ideal for furniture handles, knobs, hinges, inlay and fasteners; also used to construct headboards and footboards. Small holes are the result of over polishing with polishes containing anhydrous chemicals and these holes will lower the value of the item.
 
Early brasses contained 70-90% copper and 10-30% zinc. The colour of brass changes with increasing zinc content from a rich copper-red through to pale yellow to white as the zinc increases. Gilding metal containing 10-15% zinc is suitable for cold working. It is used for ornamental work and jewellery. Red brass contains 30% zinc and 70% copper and has good working properties. The common form of brass is 60% copper, 40% zinc and is known as yellow brass or Muntz metal. In Europe from about 1750 it was made by melting the two metals together (Direct process). 
Braiding
Braiding is a finishing decoration used in upholstery around the edges of chairs.
Bracket Foot
Decorative or plain right angled foot shaped like a bracket placed at each corner of the piece.
 
A right-angled foot shaped like a bracket with a straight corner edge and curved inner edges. It is used on a chest, chest on chest or a cabinet. 
Box Joint
An interlocking joint commonly used to construct cabinet drawers
Bow Front
A chest with a convex front.
Boulle
Boulle is decorative type of marquetry which tortoiseshell, brass, copper and tin were used in elaborate floral or curving designs.
Boudin Process
A glass rolling process in which glass flow is controlled by the speed of the machine and fed directly onto the rollers over a refractory sill. As the ribbon of glass passes from the forming rollers, it is supported by an air cushion. The process can be adapted in order to introduce wire mesh into the glass ribbon. (See also "Pilkington double-pass wired glass process" and "wired glass).
Boss
A domed centre to a plate or dish: also referred to as a ‘bumpy-bottom’.
Borosilicate Glass
Glass made from silica and boric oxide. Such glass is highly resistant to chemical corrosion and temperature change (thermal shock) and is particularly suitable for laboratory ware (test tubes, etc.), domestic cooking ware (oven dishes, etc.), high-power lamps and other technical glass ware. It is also used when glass has to be bonded to metal and low expansion is a key characteristic.
Bornite
Copper-iron sulphide ore.
Bordeaux Mixture
Copper sulphate-lime mixture used as an adherent fungicide, especially for grapevines.
Book Matched
A veneering technique where two slices of veneer are glued next to each other so that grain patterns mirror each other.
Booge (or Bouge)
The curved wall between the well and rim of a plate or dish.
Bonheur Du Jour
A Bonheur Du Jour is a small, pretty lady’s writing desk.
Bonded Leather
A composite material made of leather, polyester, cotton, and polyurethane. It contains about 17% genuine leather. Pieces of leather are applied to a polyester/cotton blend material as a backing, and then polyurethane is applied to the top to get the consistent look and feel. You gain the look and feel of leather, along with the easy maintenance, without the cost.
Bombé
A French term used to describe the convex or bulging outward swelling curve of a piece of furniture.
Bolection Moulding
Bolection moulding is a projecting moulding of ogee shape, raised round a panel.
Boiserie
A French word for panelling, generally highly decorative.
Bobbiere Metal
66/34 brass
Blue Vitriol & Blue Stone
Copper sulphate crystals.
Blue Verditer
Basic copper carbonate.
Blowpipe
An iron or steel tube, usually about five feet long, for blowing glass.
 
Blowpipes have a mouthpiece at one end and are usually fitted at the other end with a metal ring that helps to retain a gather.
Blown Glass
The shaping of glass by blowing air through a hollow rod into the center of a molten glass gather.
Blow & Blow Process
A production process used for glass container manufacturing with forming machines. The elongated gob of molten glass formed by the gob feeder falls into the inverted parison (blank) mould. It is blown down into the mould (settle blow) before being blown from below (counter blow) back up into the now closed mould. The inverted parison is transferred to an upright position in the blow mould where it is reheated before compressed air is introduced into the parison bubble. During blowing, a vacuum is applied through the mould to suck any trapped air or other gases from the bottom of the mould. A takeout mechanism then lifts the container from the mould.
Block Front
A kind of chest divided into three parts in which the middle part is set back from the sides.
Block Foot

This is a simple, basic furniture foot style with a square or cube-like vertical shape at the base of a straight, untapered leg.. Although in existence from roughly 1600 to 1800, it was especially popular in mid-1700's English and American furniture. It was often featured in later Chippendale furniture styles with Neoclassical influence. Block feet are common on sleek, modern pieces and add a clean-lined look to home furnishings and accents.

This is sometimes referenced as a Marlborough foot since it often appears at the end of the straight Marlborough leg.

 
Bleeding Bowl
A porringer-like vessel for blood letting, often with capacity marks around the inside of the bowl. Usually has straight, rather than curved, sides.
Blanket Chest
Low storage chest with hinged lid often referred to as a hope chest used during Colonial times.
Black Forest
Black forest furniture is highly carved and is known for carved bears and other creatures of the forest, such as deer and birds.
Bisque
Bisque or biscuit refers to pottery that has been fired once and remains unglazed. 
Bismuth
Chemical symbol Bi, a pinkish white metal sometimes added to pewter in small quantities to improve the casting qualities of the alloy. Historically known as ‘tin glass’.
Bird’s Eye Maple

Birds eye or birds eye maple is a decorative wood from maple and has a striking grain.

Bird's Eye
A decorative feature common to Maple features small concentric circles resembling that of a bird's eye.
Birch
Birch is a hardwood with a close grain and is one of the strongest cabinet woods.
Biedermeier
Biedermeier encompasses the period between 1815 and 1848 in Central Europe namely Austria, Germany, Sweden and Russia. It was a style of furniture influenced by the Napoleonic styles, Biedermeier furniture was produced in Germany and Austria, with simpler designs that often incorporated local timber, featuring clean, simple lines and detailed veneer work with little ornamentation.
Bibliothèque
From the French word for library, a bibliotheque is a piece of furniture with glass-fronted doors and several shallow shelves designed to hold books.
Bevelling
The production, by abrasion, of a sloping edge on the glass sheet commonly used on mirror glass.
Beveled Glass
Thick glass with an angled surface cut around the entire periphery. The bevel on a mirror or glass piece adds visual interest, and enhances the formality of mirrored pieces. The bevel is cut into the glass, and is usually showcased by framing.
Bevel

A bevel or bevelled edge is an edge that has been cut at a slant. often seen on mirrors.

Beta Brass
A brass with very high zinc content may be mostly of beta structure. This is brittle and used only as a brazing filler alloy.
The beta phase of the copper-zinc equilibrium phase diagram is an intermetallic phase and is much harder that alpha but will only withstand a small amount of mechanical deformation at room temperature. However at 470°C the ordered Beta prime phase changes to the disordered beta phase which is easier to work, and by 800°C the beta phase is easier to work than the alpha. 
Beryllium Copper
Heat treatable copper-beryllium alloy of high strength and hardness. Used for making springs and non-sparking tools.
Bergère
A large, comfortable armchair with upholstered sides and loose cushion seat, popular in France in the Louis XV period and later in Britain in the 1700's , these chairs were known as “burjairs” or “barjairs”.
Bentwood
A wood that has been heated and shaped to become curved.
Benin Bronze
Cast copper alloy products of great artistry and craftsmanship produced in Benin, Nigeria from the 1200's to 1800's. Composition ranged from high-copper to brasses.
Bending
A process used widely in the production of bowls, plates, ashtrays, etc., whereby the shaped glass article (which may be pre-printed) still in sheet form is placed on a stainless steel, sheet steel or cast iron mould coated with talc or powdered chalk. The temperature is increased until the glass sheet sinks into shape in the mould.
Bench Seat
A sofa or loveseat that utilizes only one long seat cushion. Bench seating is streamlined, attached cushioning. Sofas and couches, loveseats and other upholstered pieces can feature bench seating.
Benares Ware
Benares, now called Varenisi, is the Hindu Holy City and is sited in the River Ganges in India. It is in Utah Pradesh which has a long history of copper mining. Brassware is decorated with Sanskrit inscriptions and Hindu icons.
Bellied Measure
Sometimes called a bulbous measure.
 
A round bodied, mug-like vessel made in abundance during the 1800's and into the 1900's. Used in pubs and inns to provide varying measures of beer, ale, cider, spirits, etc. Usually lidless and in sizes ranging from a gallon down to very small sizes .
Bell Turning
Bell turning is a type of turning used on furniture legs and pedestal supports shaped like a bell.
Bell Metal
Copper tin alloy with much higher tin content than conventional bronze in order to make it hard and sonorous. It is too brittle to be used for many other applications. The term was also sometimes confusingly used in the 1800's to describe a 60/40 cast brass.
Beggar’s Badge
A badge, usually made of pewter, issued by parishes to ‘licensed’ beggars to be sewn into their clothing. Issued in Britain and Ireland between the 1500's & 1800's. Some mediaeval examples are also known, mainly in continental Europe.
Beech
Beech is a wood with very little grain.
Beaker
A handle-less mug or cup that was most common in Britain in the 1800's.
Beading
Bead or beading is a moulding resembling a string of beads.
Bauhaus
The  Bauhaus   was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar by German architect Walter Gropius. Its core objective was to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. In 1925, the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau, where Gropius designed a new building to house the school. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe succeeded him in 1930 and had to relocate to Berlin where it had to close in 1933.
Batt
Plaster or wooden form used to enable the movement of ware without handling.
 
also
 
A refractory slab used to support ware during firing.
Batch
A term used to refer to the raw materials required to produce the desired type of glass once they have been weighed and mixed, and are ready for melting.
Baseball Stitch
Upholstered furniture containing a triple stitch seam of fabric, with two visible stitches bordering a center stitch between the two pieces of fabric. Inspired by the classic stitching on a baseball, this stitch is a design feature and often contrasts with the upholstery of a sofa, loveseat, or chair.
Bas Relief
A form of carving or moulding in which the design projects out from the flat surface of the background.
Barrel Chair
Semicircular upholstered chair with loose seat cushion. A barrel chair has a round upholstered seat, and arms forming a continuous line with the backrest.  They were originally made from wine barrel halves and are also known as a tub chair.
Baroque
An elaborate ornamented style which was popular in Europe from approximately 1600 to 1750. In furniture, the Baroque style favored flamboyant carving, painting, and gilding. Typical motifs included acanthus, shells, and elaborate scrolls.  A style of architecture, art and decoration which is bold details and sweeping curves usually gilt in decoration.
Barium Crown Glass
Barium crown glasses contain larger proportions of boron oxide and barium oxide with a relatively low SiO2 content. The glass can be stabilised against devitrification and weathering by adding small amounts of substances such as aluminium oxide.
Bar Stool

A high stool used at a bar or high counter.

Banding

Veneer cut into narrow strips of contrasting color for decorative effect, typical of marquetry or inlay. Often used around the edges of furniture, drawers, etc.

Bamboo Turning

Bamboo turning is turned timber made to simulate bamboo, usually painted.

Baluster
Baluster is a turned vase-shaped post supporting the rail of a staircase or splat of a chair.
 
Also a lidded or unlidded measure with a distinctive, slightly bulbous body. When lidded, often classified by the shape of the thumbpiece (e.g. hammerhead, bud, double volute, etc.). Very long history of use. Replaced in the early 1800's by the squatter bulbous measure whose body has a much more pronounced bulge.
Balloon Back Chair
The archetypal Victorian chair, it has a back which is formed like a balloon-shaped oval held in an inverted U, which narrows towards the seat.
 
They can either be very simple or highly decorated and elaborate. Some have heart shaped balloons, rather than ovals, and many are bowed for comfort.
 
The seats may have been upholstered if the chairs were for dining or sitting room use, or made of simple cane in beechwood frames if they were intended for bedrooms.
 
After the 1860's a deep upper rail became a more popular feature. Also, after this time, the balloons themselves were sometimes elaborated.
Ball Mill
A piece of machinery used in the ceramic industry for the grinding of materials. It consists of a lined cylinder rotating about its horizontal axis and charged with flint pebbles or special ceramic grinding media, plus the material to be ground. The mill may be operated dry or wet.
Ball Foot
The ball foot is one of the earliest, most basic types of furniture foot styles. It consists of a simple spherical shape, usually found on case pieces such as chests, secretaries, sideboards, tables, chairs etc.

Dating from the early 1600's, it was especially prominent towards the end of the 1600's in William and Mary style furniture. The popularity of this foot style continued well into the 1800's in American Federal pieces and 'country' styles.

The bun foot, onion foot, and turnip foot, as are all variations of the ball foot.

Ball & Claw Foot
A cast or carved foot consisting of a ball covered by an animal’s claw, in British furniture often that of a lion or a bird. The design is thought to have originated in China, where a dragon’s claw would represent the strong grip of the emperor.
Baker's Rack

Open, slat back shelving unit with or without a cabinet below used for storing goods in the kitchen.

Bakelite
 
An unmeltable, transparent but easily coloured resin, created by the reaction of phenol and formaldehyde with alkaline and acid catalysts. It was first discovered in 1872, and then rediscovered in 1907 by L.H. Baekeland who gave it his name. It is the most universal and long-lasting of early plastics and could be used from anything from jewellery to light-switches, Thermos jugs, tea sets and even furniture. The most popular colours were mottled blue and green, but plain brown and cream that was used to imitate ivory, were common.
 
Although the first commercially successful plastic, Bakelite was not the first. Earlier claims to the name (although there is argument about the exact definition) would be Bois Durci, made from ground ebony and blood, Parkesine (cellulose nitrate), shellac from insect secretions and gutta-percha based on bark. There was also vulcanite or ebonite from rubber, celluloid from camphor and casein from milk.
 
These plastics are now widely collected and the range of articles is seemingly endless: jewellery, book bindings, pseudo-bronze plaques, combs, fountain-pens, photograph frames, shoe horns and salad servers. For identification, wet Bakelite smells of carbolic and celluloid smells of camphor when rubbed with a cloth. 
Baize

A woolen fabric similar to felt, commonly used on gaming and card tables.

Bail

The hanging loop or ring which forms a handle.

Back Splat

The vertical piece of wood running from the frame of a chair to the base of the backrest.

Back Screen
A small screen, oftem made of wicker-work, which could be attached to the back of a dining-room chair to shield the sitter from the full heat of the fire. They are found from the mid 1800´s.
Back Rest

The back of a chair which supports a person's back while seated.

Bachelor's Chest
A small, low chest of drawers which was made from the 1700´s. Either the top is hinged and opens up, supported by slides to be used as a dressing table, or a brushing slide can be pulled out for the same purpose.
Azurite
Copper carbonate ore.
Axminster

The first carpet company at Axminster, Devon, UK was established in 1755. It supplied a Chinoiserie carpet for the Brighton Pavilion and a Turkish one for Sir John Sloane´s House. In 1835 it closed and its equipment was taken over by the Wilton factory. Since then the term Axminster has applied to carpets produced mechanically by Wilton and those from the Kidderminster carpet factory.

Aventurine

A glass made by mixing copper crystals with molten glass. The process was discovered by chance at Murano in the 1500´s. The result is gold-like flecks in the, usually, coloured glass. A similar type was produced in antiquity, and the effect was also used in both Japanese and European lacquer making.

Automata
Animated figures, have been made since well before the time of Christ. In the Middle Ages, moving figures were often associated with clocks and bells in public places, as they still are today.
Autoclave
A strong vessel used for the lamination of glass under hugh pressure and controlled temperature conditions.
Austin
The company which stands out among post-war British pedal car manufacturers is Austin, which from the 1940´s produced small cars as well as large. The J40 Joy Cars were beautifully constructed and finished, and in unworn condition they are now comparatively scarce, and worth two thousand pounds plus. They were based on the design of the full-sized Austin Somerset and Devon, which also has fanatical followers. Still more desireable in the coveted eyes of adults nowadays are pedal racing cars such as the Pathfinder Special of about 1949. Alas those who found memories of them, the tinnier and less robust products of Tri-ang and other competitors have fewer fans these days and fetch much lower prices. 
Auction
Various Roman armies used to divide their loot and slaves by auction. In Britain the first record of auctioneering comes at the end of the 1400´s, with an official of Henry Vll´s court known as the King´s Over-Roper. To ´rope´was to shout out for sale (which might give one a ´ropey´throat) and the word survives in Scotland and Northern England where sales may be called ´roupes´. After the Restoration of Charles ll in 1660, auctions became common in London, with Covent Garden as the centre of the trade. Amongst the oldest Bbritish firms to survive are Sotheby´s, which stems from Baker´s book sales beginning in 1744, and Christie´s, founded in 1766. Dreweatt Neate of Newbury also has its origins in the 1760´s. Bohams, which is still in part a family-run firm, and Phillips, founded by James Christie´s sales clerk,followed at the end of the 1700´s. Other countries may have longer traditions, but today British auctioneers effectively sell up the world.
Attached Back
Attached back pieces feature cushions that are attached, and cannot be removed or flipped. Prevents pillows from being moved out of place. Attached back cushioning maintains the durability of cushioning because the back does not move or wear as it would if it were detached.
Astragal
In classical architecture this is a small semi-circular moulding, generally used with the Ionic Order. To cabinet makers however, an astragal is a glazing bar on the glass-fronted doors of case furniture such as bookcases and escritoires. It is also a small molding used to overlap or seal the joint where a pair of doors meet.
Assay
The testing of a metal or ore to determine its ingredients, purity and quality. The testing and proving of precious metals to verify that they contain only the legal proportion of base metal alloy. The Assay Office strikes the relevant marks as proof that it has been tested.
Ash
A tough light brown figured hardwood having a variety of shades in the grain. When polished up, it can resemble olive. It was used for making country furniture, cabinets and decorative veneers.

As Found or All Faults
A/F on a sale ticket is a warning: the piece is in some way defective, usually chipped, cracked or restored. As Is or As Bought are less common but may indicate that no claim is made as to date or origin.
Arts & Crafts
A 1800's movement, led by William Morris and his artist, and designer companions in UK which sought to challenge increasing industrialisation by re-introducing the medieval concepts of craftsmanship.
Art Nouveau
A new style, short lived and excessive, which thrived between c.1880 and 1914. It first appeared in Britain in the 1880’s and spread throughout Europe, particularly Belgium, France and Germany, in the early 1890s. It survived for 20 years, reflecting a return to nature and to the values of good workmanship. Known in Italy as stile Liberty, in Germany and Scandinavia asJugendstil, and Secession in Austria. The characteristics of Art Nouveau were drawn from nature and featured plants and flowers in sinuous curves and convolutions.