A Brief History of the Chest Of Drawers
What is the History of the Chest of Drawers?
The story of the Chest of Drawers is a journey through time, commencing in medieval Europe. These storage pieces, initially known as coffers, were cherished by nobles and individuals with disposable income. A coffer was a simple wooden box, designed with basic joinery and a hinged lid. Over time, as people sought additional storage, drawers were introduced beneath the main compartment, giving birth to what we now know as the chest of drawers. In fact, some of the earliest English examples of these units date back to before the Restoration under the reign of Charles I.
The typical chest of drawers consists of horizontally parallel drawers, stacked one above the other. The number of drawers can range from 5 to 7, with the top drawer occasionally divided into two smaller ones. Variations such as the chest-on-chest offer more interior design possibilities.
How to Identify the Antique Chest of Drawers?
Antique chests of drawers are identifiable through certain unique characteristics. Look for dovetail joints, a kind of interlocking joint used to hold the drawer together. Signs of wear, such as scratches, dents, and discoloration, are also evidence of age.
The type of wood used is another giveaway. Antique chests were commonly made from durable woods like oak, mahogany, or cherry. A manufacturer's mark or label could provide information about the age and origin of the piece. Lastly, check for signs of traditional construction methods, such as hand-cut dovetail joints and wooden pegs.
What is the Lifespan of a Chest of Drawers?
The lifespan of a chest of drawers can be influenced by multiple factors. While some antique chests have stood the test of time for centuries, most contemporary pieces typically last between 10-20 years. The quality of the materials and craftsmanship heavily impact the longevity of a chest of drawers.
When to Replace an Old Chest of Drawers?
Some clear signs indicate when it might be time to replace your old chest of drawers. If your unit wobbles or feels unstable, it could suggest that the joints or structure are weakening. Similarly, drawers that are stuck or difficult to open and close could be a sign of deterioration.
Visible damage or excessive wear, such as deep scratches, significant dents, or discolored patches, can also hint at the need for replacement. Age plays a factor, too; if your chest of drawers is over 20 years old, it may be approaching the end of its lifespan. And lastly, the materials and quality of construction can affect durability. If your chest of drawers is made with subpar materials, it may not last as long as a higher-quality piece and may need to be replaced sooner.
Why do Old Chests of Drawers have Locks?
Locks on old chests of drawers were not merely a design feature; they had specific functions that were crucial in the context of their times.
One of the primary reasons old chests of drawers were equipped with locks was for security. These chests were often the storehouses of valuable items such as jewelry, cash, important documents, or any other personal items that the owners wanted to keep safe. By locking the drawers, the owners could have peace of mind knowing that their precious belongings were secure from theft. In a time where home security systems were nonexistent, this lock-and-key mechanism was an essential and practical feature.
In addition to security, locks on chests of drawers also ensured privacy, particularly in shared living spaces such as boarding houses. Locks could prevent roommates or housemates from snooping through one's personal belongings. Even in a family home, locks on drawers could safeguard privacy by keeping certain items away from the curious eyes of children or other family members.
Some chests of drawers had locks incorporated into their design for added functionality. A classic example of this is the Wellington Chest. This particular type of chest of drawers features a swinging locking arm, designed to secure all compartments with just one key. This ingenious design ensured that the drawers remained tightly closed during transport, preventing their contents from spilling out.