A tale of two dressers

Words by:
Luke Handley MRICS MNAVA
Featured in:
October 2011

Leading the furniture section of Golding Young & Thos. Mawers’ September sale was a piece of oak furniture consigned from the well-known spa at Ragdale Hall, Leicestershire.
The piece in question was an eighteenth-century oak cwpwrdd tridarn, a type of Welsh dresser. We have all heard the term dresser many times; the root of the word ‘dresser’ is in the medieval French term ‘dressoir’, or dressing board, which simply means a place to dress the food. In sixteenth-century England, a dresser was a long utilitarian table, perhaps with a set of shelves on the wall above, placed in the kitchen where servants dressed the food before serving it at the dining table in the great hall. In Wales the earliest form of cupboard was called a tridarn, a three-tier cupboard. At this time a large percentage of people were farmers or worked in agriculture. Welsh farmhouses consisted of one room serving as a kitchen/dining room with sleeping above in the loft. As space was at a premium, everything was held by the dressers. They were ideally able to hold food, crockery, furniture, silver and linen and anything of any value. Even late in the twentieth-century, a dresser was an essential part of a young girl’s dowry in Wales. She would put it in the parlour or kitchen, filling the top shelf with glassware, the next shelf with a tea service set backed by large willow ware plates and every hook held as many lustre ware jugs as her budget would allow. The top of the dresser would hold its bits of brass, her favourite Staffordshire figures and all manner of family treasures. It is unusual to see this type of furniture in Lincolnshire particularly with the mid- section cupboard having the central panel carved with an inscription DP27 and date 1737. The two other panels with ebonised and beech harlequin parquetry inset made it even more attractive to the local trade. There was much discussion in the saleroom regarding the authenticity of the upper shelf, which could have been added later. However, this did not deter spirited bidding within the room and it was sold to a local dealer at the sum of £2,550.

Also included in the sale was a traditional late eighteenth-century English low dresser – this type does not have the traditional plate rack which is so synonymous with the term dresser. However, the poor condition of the top, which was in need of some restoration, meant that it was knocked down to a bid of £400. Comparing the results shows that provenance and rarity is all in the saleroom.

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