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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mahogany Linen Press (ca. 1800)

The Completed Linen Press
 The linen press, or cabinet on chest, is a furniture form primarily found in England that became popular in the early part of the 18th century and remained in use well into the 19th century. The purpose was the storage of houshold linens like table linens, etc. Most examples will have a chest of drawers on the bottom with a cabinet housing several open drawers on top. I assume that the purpose of the open drawers was to store the table linens and the closed drawers below were for other household items. By open drawer, I mean that the drawer was shallow and more like a tray. The front of the drawer was lower than the sides allowing one to view the contents easily. These drawers would be concealed behind the closed doors, keeping dust out. With the addition of the lock on the door, the contents were also kept safe.

The linen press I recently worked on was a 19th century example, made of mahogany as the primary wood. The secondary woods used in the piece were pine and oak. The finish was in a restorable condition, but the piece needed work like replacement of cockbeading and drawer work. The internal drawers described above that would go in the cabinet were missing and in their place were mahogany shelves that were unfinished and suspended on screws driven into the sides of the case. there were lots of other repairs and the finish was cleaned and restored as well.

 Below are a few photos of some of the work followed by photos of the completed linen press.

The left door on the cabinet had a piece of astragal molding that was attached to the door frame on the side that abutted the right door. This molding's purpose was to cover the gap between the two doors. At some point a large portion of this molding had broken from the door frame. The photo below shows the molding being reattached to the frame. The dusty appearance on the finish of the door is the dried mineral spirits applied to the case at the outset of the work, The purpose of the application of mineral spirits to a finish is to clean old wax and dirt from the finish. Once this is done new finish can be applied to the old without the interference of the dirt and wax, causing a better chemical bond between the two finishes.

This photo shows a wedge inserted in the side of the case. It fills a crack that was caused by shrinkage in the case side.  The wedge was later planed and pared flush to the side.
The upper cabinet case was loose and needed to be tightened. The photos below show a variety of repairs being performed simultaneously. The case is being glued, a long wedge is being attached from below the case and loose dovetail joinery is also being wedged. The traditional hide glue used in these repairs takes a long time to completely set up, so rather than attempt the repairs one at a time, as much is done in one session as possible so the case can later be reoriented and other repairs addressed.

This photo shows the two wedges described above.
One of the short drawers had this phrase which looks like "Squilib x.ar.- P.S" written on the bottom of the drawer. This seemed to be written as a signature of some sort, and not some sort of cabinetmaker's note. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but I was unable to figure out what this said. If anyone wants to take a crack at it, the writing can be found in the photos below.

The molding on the top of the lower chest which covers the seam between the chest and the cabinet was loose. The molding was removed and the glue was cleaned. The molding was then attached with new glue. The photo below shows the molding removed from the case.
This fuzzy photo shows the bottom chest upside down and blocking being glued in place. The front transitional molding from the bracket feet to the case was also loose and it is being glued back in place.
These last few photos show the completed linen press with the finish restored and a fresh coat of paste wax applied. One other repair not documented in photos was the finishing of the internal shelves, which were also made to slide in the case like the originals would have (instead of being suspended on screws). The hardware, which is not original to the piece, was also cleaned.


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