Aumbry Déjà Vu: The “Mad Owl” Sussex Maker

While reading Fred Roe’s “Ancient Coffers and Cupboards” I came across a drawing of a late Gothic almery owned by Morgan Williams (owner of St. Donat’s Castle until 1909). What caught my eye was the “mad owl” tracery on the door.

“Mad Owl” from Aumbry de Christopher.

The almery was very similar to the one Chris Schwarz built in 2014 and included in the Boarded Furniture section of “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” Was this almery the “mother ship”?

I sent Roe’s sketch off to Chris and he agreed it was a little weird.  Putting aside the chance that a cupboard could be rebuilt, doors reversed or lost, there are differences in the tracery on the side panels. Roe’s almery was not the “mother ship” – we were looking at two different aumbries. In Fred Roe’s second book “Old Oak Furniture” we have our answer:

Chris sent me the auction photo of the original piece on which he based his aumbry and I looked for more almeries/aumbries that might be by the same Sussex maker.

If these four pieces are indeed by the same maker one of his signatures seems to be a “mad owl” and a four-point star tracery on the door.

Chris has said aumbries are “dang fun” to build. Finding a few more pieces from the “mad owl” Sussex maker has also been “dang fun.”

Suzanne Elllison

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4 Responses to Aumbry Déjà Vu: The “Mad Owl” Sussex Maker

  1. As with Wallace Nutting these authors were lucky to be in a golden age of antiques. A time when dealers and collectors would open there doors because the public wanted to learn about what they both sat at or on.
    Today modern scholars have a tendency to poo poo these books because time has moved on and they are capable of having the timber and finish samples analysed to give us a more accurate date but these books do open door to furniture which is not on public show and we can learn alot from. I recommend they are important enough to have on your book shelves

  2. Paul Murphy says:

    I dislike “me too” postings in general, but I can’t help but chime in here. Furniturerestorer is absolutely correct. The old books offer a wealth of understanding of matters of this type, and many people do not know it. It’s too bad.

  3. bsrlee says:

    They also had access to a lot of material that didn’t survive the two World Wars – a lot of chateaus and churches were destroyed with their contents because they were easily identified landmarks and possible lookout points.

    Going the other way, dendrochronology can only take you so far, I know a fellow who has a shed full of salvaged building timbers from the 1300’s thru the 1500’s, when he wants to make a chest or other reproduction piece he can use a beam and rip it into planks – in a few years an ‘expert’ would likely not be able to tell if its original and just overly refinished or modern. He’s a traditionally trained woodworker who does odd jobs in his retirement for companies converting old buildings into more modern homes and he grabs the timbers that are going to the firewood pile.

    • Dendrochronology has its limitations.
      Its great for dating building and object that have a document history eg this house is on early maps or in a church etc but it does have a number of problems.
      The can tell you its oak but not which one. The only way is to have DNA taken but that expensive.
      Are problem today is that the skilled knowledge of a craftsmen restorer or old school cabinetmaker not listened too but a person in a lab coat is believed never wrong.
      Sad but ive seen it more the other way around that the bench skills right and the science wrong.
      If he wants to make and use old timber go on do it.

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