When we published “The Book of Plates” years ago, we received many questions from customers as to why they should buy a book filled with pictures of dinner plates.
“Plate” is, of course, an old word for “engraving.” And the pictures in the book were not of dinner plates, but of the drawings in A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art de Menuisier.”
But today we’re going to talk about a delftware dinner plate from 1769 that shows an interior of a nice woodworking shop with lots of tools, a workbench and (perhaps) a zombie attack.
The plate appeared on the cover of The Magazine Antiques’ May 1981 issue and was in the collection of James C. Sorber, a well-known Pennsylvania collector. I learned about this plate from Dan, a woodworking comrade in Texas, and so I bought an old back issue to examine it.
Delftware has its origins in the Netherlands, and so it didn’t surprise me to see a Dutch saw hanging on the back wall of the shop. The other tools on the back wall are typical for the time, including the chisels with the fishtail blades, the braces, the nail pincers and the dividers.
The workbench is interesting (of course). It gives me a Dutch vibe as well. It bears some resemblance to the one shown in the altarpiece at St. John’s Church in Gouda (circa 1565). The Gouda bench has six legs, with the front three pierced with many holes for pegs or holdfasts. No vises.
The 1769 bench also features three “legs” pierced with many legs for holdfasts or pegs. No vises. But two of the legs are drawn more like sliding board jacks (aka deadmen). Though a bench with two sliding board jacks is unusual – this is the first one I’ve seen.
I’m not sure what tool the woodworker is using on the bench. It looks like a scorp or travisher to me. But I have chairs on the brain.
Also, we have to keep in mind that the purpose of this plate was not designed to educate, but to immobilize some gravy or restrain some pudding.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the guy to the right. At first I thought he was destroying the picture frames leaning against the wall. Then I looked at his feet, and it appears he is standing on a board. It looks like he’s holding an axe, but it could be an adze. In either case, he really should look where he is cutting, or the artist will have to add some red glaze to the plate.
In fact, I think he looks poised for a 18th-century zombie attack on the workshop. If this plate were indeed made in the Netherlands, then they are probably Spanish zombies.
And now I am going to end this blog entry before it gets too ridiculous.
— Christopher Schwarz