Jan & John Maggs

Antiques and Art

Unusual early 18th-century joined oak coffer

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We’ve had scores of early English joined coffers, but this is the first we can remember in which the front panels are tombstone shaped, the work of a skilled joiner. Also noteworthy is the interior of the joined back, where the maker planed a moulded detail into the edges of the stiles on the inside, the surface that would be seen upon lifting the lid. The lid of the till is also hinged to the front and rear posts with a shaped detail we’ve never encountered.

The coffer’s two-board lid plain in comparison with the chest itself. Beyond the panels, embellishments to the face are rather routine: a simple moulded edge around the insides of the panel frames, moulded shapes in the stiles and bottom rail, and rudimentary punch decoration in the horizontal components. Incidentally, the punch decoration on the bottom rail resembles shamrocks, suggesting that this unusual chest may have originated in Ireland. Having enjoyed many conversations with Irish dealers at the major English shows, this scenario is easy to accept.

The carving is, likewise, somewhat rudimentary.  The initials on the left, “I I” are separated by a clumsy figure that resembles a castle tower, and the date numbers are quite plain. The fourth digit, which now appears to be a 6, looks as if it has been altered. We believe that the original symbol was “half-eight”, a circle with two ears above – an evolving “4”. The left ear has been chiseled away, leaving us to surmise that the original date on the coffer was 1714.

The coffer is in exceptionally good condition. We’re not entirely certain about the heavy iron hinges, but there is no evidence of an earlier set, suggesting that these are original. The top is reinforced by two wooden cleats spanning the inside. Beside each is the outline of an earlier pair, which filled the same function. The rear feet have been unabashedly pieced. The crudeness of the work and its effectiveness have encouraged us to leave them alone. They are part of its unique history.

English or Irish, ca. 1714

Dimensions: 47” X 20 ½”; Height: 28”

Price: $ 1,100

Inventory #25726

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