Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Miniature Furniture

You are in an antique store and you run across a lovely chest of drawers, beautifully proportioned, but only 15" x 16". Why did somebody go through the effort to create a miniature replica?

Miniature furniture was fabricated for a variety of reasons:
  • Doll or toy furniture: Typically hastily constructed, often with glue and nails. Scale 1:12 to 1:18.
  • Apprentice pieces of furniture were created, often using scraps, by cabinet makers in training to improve and display their skill and keep them out of trouble without much cost to the shop owner.  All of the joinery details that would eventually be seen in a standard sized piece, with proper proportions to the full scale, were often included on these Lilliputian creations. The quality of these pieces varied depending on the skill of the apprentice and the materials used.  These pieces are quite rare to find and some believe that many, if not all, of these were created as elaborate childrens furniture.
  • Master craftsmen made miniature furniture pieces as a way to demonstrate their capabilities while away from the shop or to be displayed in shop windows. Traveling salesman could show off the creator's skill, giving the buyer more confidence in the cabinetmaker's skills than by showing a drawing.
  • Initial small scale model for a larger production piece.
  • Amateur woodworkers lacking time, space, financial commitment and larger tools for the standard size. 
  • Miniature furniture pieces were occasionally commissioned for jewelry or valuables.Scale 1:3 to 1:8.
Apprentice, salesman samples and scale models typically were constructed with dovetails, decorative inlay, mortise and tenon joints, etc., while toy furniture often was constructed with glue and nails for joinery.  The highly crafted apprentice piece was usually a true replica in miniature (i.e. a slant front desk would contain the standard four drawers in proper proportion instead of three as seen in children's furniture or a valuables case).   In the common vernacular, all miniature furniture with quality craftsmanship is often lumped together and called apprentice furniture, since some of the higher end apprentice made furniture could be as well made as that of a master craftsman and would be difficult to differentiate the two in a photograph without a juxtaposed object to give it a sense of scale. Almost any type of furniture has been created as an apprentice or salesman piece: chest of drawers, bureau, sideboard, chair, desk. The peak production years of these pieces was during the 18th and 19th centuries. Because of the unusual size, the hardware was custom made. A perfectly proportioned antique "apprentice piece" is a rare find and often fetches more than it's more common standard-sized counterpart.

Lakeland Ledger, Aug 1973

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