When I design furniture and use photographs of other pieces as a guide, I have to be careful. While photos are great for transmitting form, they often obscure details, texture or even the piece’s true color.
My brain also tends to fill in all these missing details with workmanship that is too perfect, too precious or just wrong. It’s like using a “paint bucket” tool in a drawing program instead of a piece of graphite pencil on paper.
This Campaign-style tea caddy that I studied yesterday at Tucker Payne Antiques in Charleston, S.C., is a good example of this phenomenon. I’ve seen photos of hundreds of caddies, but nothing beats spending time with the real thing.
The outside of the chest is pretty much as-expected. It’s when you lift the lid that the fun begins. The six hinged lids are – for me – what makes this piece special. I like the way the light plays over the frame-and-panel structures. And still after about 150 years of service, the lids fit well and move smoothly.
As you get closer, however, you discover that these lids are not made using frame-and-panel construction. Each lid is one piece of wood and all the details were carved or scratched into the work. This is straightforward work with a chisel and scratch stock – it would be a ridiculous amount of work to make
24 26 tiny mortise-and-tenon joints. And really quite unnecessary, as the smooth action of the lids will attest.
This is the kind of detail that in-person examination reveals and is why I’ll drive many hours to see it.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. I’ve been blogging about some of the other Campaign pieces I’ve encountered during this trip on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine. You can read those entries here.