Henry VIII oak joined chest

Circa 1540
England, probably Home Counties

W 45.5" × H 31" × D 21.5"

Stock # Marh185


More information

Mid-Tudor oak joined chest of exceptional quality, with flush-paneled interior and secret lock mechanism. Despite its apparently simple appearance, this chest represented a concentrated display of material wealth to its original owner. It communicates extravagance not through elaborate ornament but through subtle, technical details. The structure of the chest reflects the highest level of joinery practice in sixteenth-century England. Most joiners were extremely conservative with their labor and material resources. English joined furniture reflects this: surfaces relatively unseen by the client received only minimal attention and as little timber as possible was used. This chest, however, is overbuilt in every respect. All of its surfaces are finished to mirror smoothness, inside and out and top and bottom. The scale of the framing members is surprisingly massive relative to the modest overall dimensions of the case. For example, the top rails exceed two inches in thickness – other components are equally robust. Beneath a heavy mitered molding, the lid is composed of four boards of remarkably uniform thickness. This was probably done to prevent the warping which would have occurred had wider boards been used and to maintain uniform quality of timber. This may be the only known instance of a pre-1600 English chest lock with a working secret mechanism. Yet another intriguing feature is that the keyhole is located beneath the hasp when it is closed. As a result, the key is inserted through an aperture in the hasp. * A closely related chest with a similar dropped central panel is in the St. Fagans Museum, South Glamorgan illustrated in Richard Bebb, Welsh Furniture, 1250-1950, vol. 1: p. 297, fig. 508 * A second related chest is illustrated in Chinnery, Oak Furniture, The British Tradition, p. 362, fig. 3:372