Friday, April 15, 2011

The Carpenters Chest

One of the things I’ve always found most intriguing about older objects is the stories they have and the secrets they hold. When I started working on the carpenters’ chest, I made the mistake of thinking it was a straight forward restoration without any mysteries. When I got it into the shop it was overpainted with a dark green black paint. The project was to remove the majority of the paint and make it more presentable. It was such a uncomplicated and quick task that I didn’t take before photos.

The brass plaque centered on the back edge of the lid reads “Frank Cunningham”. It is placed at the top of a scribed intersecting circle mandela. The lines of the circle pass through the brass plate. My assumption was that this was the original owner.

Crudely carved through the pattern was the name “C.LEFE” and the beginning of what looked like the letter “I”. It seemed a safe bet that a subsequent owner had started to carve his name into the lid and gave up. Why he didn’t remove the brass plaque was a mystery.

When I started removing the paint from the case I noticed what appeared to be another pattern on the front panel. I changed to a less aggressive manner of removal and uncovered block letters across the front.


This lettering was done in a clean and precise manner that was a stark contrast to the amateur attempt at incised carving on the lid. The letters were applied by sealing the raw wood in the shape of the letters and then “reverse” staining the panel to darken the background. This was not a technique that seemed in keeping with the “talents” of the lid carver. The fact that the letters were reverse stained also meant they were most probably done when the wood was new.

So was W.C. Leferber the original owner and Frank Cunningham added the plaque and Mandela over the crudely carved name? Or if Mr. Cunningham was the original owner how did Mr. Leferber get his name on the front panel in such a precise manner under the finish?

I have a felling the possibilities are endless as to how and when all of these things were added to the chest.  You just got to love a mystery.

A note on the age and some woodworking history
In cleaning up the surface the machining tool marks became apparent. This kind regular pattern is caused by the use of a wood planer which was not in use in a major way until the middle of the 19th century,

“The first actual wood planing machine was built by Malcolm Muir of Glasgow, Scotland in 1827. The planer's purpose was specifically for the milling of tongue and groove flooring. State side a similar machine was invented and patented in 1828 by William “Uncle Billy” Woodworth.

These first planing machines did not sit well with the carpenters and consequently 24 hour security was required at the mills to protect the machines.” author Sally Fishburn


The style of the hardware which is original to the case with is egyptian inflenced Victorian design and my best guesstimate would be that the case was made between 1875 and 1890.