A Jersey chest

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A Jersey chest


A reconstruction of how the chest probably looked when originally made

This article by Richard Stevens was first published in the 1990 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The chest with its cut down stand

At the sale of the effects of Miss Florence Luce, of Oakland, Saint John, in the 1960s, there were several pieces of furniture of interest, including an 18th-century rush-seated ladder-backed chair with arms, from Normandy, a Jersey gate-legged table of about 1700, and an oak chest-on-stand of about the same period.

Miss Luce was descended from Perrin Luce of Saint Lawrence, who was born in about 1480, and her forebears lived in that parish until Edouard, who died in 1766, moved to Saint Mary. Her father, Philippe, (1842-1914) was Constable of Saint Mary, and lived at Appledale. In addition to the three pieces mentioned, two fine early 18th-century presses with four doors and two drawers of local make are known to have belonged to members of this family. One came from this Miss Luce, and another belonged to her near relation, Miss Evie Luce, of Les Potirons, Saint Mary.

Chest on stand

This chest-on-stand, as in the case of the desk from Avranches Manor, was made locally in solid oak to an English design, and is the only example of its type so far identified. The English piece which it imitated would have been faced with decorative veneers, and made in the 1690s. There are various points of interest about this chest. In the first place it is clear that the original, brass, tear-drop handles proved insufficient for the weight of the oak drawers, and were replaced by Victorian knobs. The escutcheons of the top two drawers were placed for decorative purposes, as they have never had locks.

Whereas an English example of this design would have flush sides, this chest is of a framed panel construction in the sides and back, showing that it was made by a joiner, or a joiner working for a cabinet-maker. Although joined chests were still being made in England in the 1740s, the trade of cabinet-maker had been growing in importance since the late 1600s. One is tempted to think that if a sketch had been supplied to the maker, it was of the front only, and that he made the sides and back in his accustomed way. However, this framed construction gives us an indication of the form which Jersey seats, cupboards, and chests would have taken prior to 1700.

Cut down

Finally, English versions of this design have a much higher stand, with curved crossrails, and frequently six legs, of which four are across the front. The ball feet of this stand are not added on, as they are turned as part of the four legs which remain; there are also rough saw-cuts at the base of them and the remains of the two intermediary legs. If, therefore, this stand has been cut down owing to decay or for other reasons, the whole piece would originally have been an impressive 5 feet 9 inches high, rather than its present 4 feet 6 inches.

The drawing shows what the missing part of the stand may have looked like, as well as showing the correct handles. The drawers, which are on bottom runners, are nailed together roughly, rather than dove-tailed, but the rest of the piece, with its panelling and turning, is well done in a joiner's manner. The ogee arches of the apron are edged with a steamed fillet, which adds a certain refinement. As in the case of the Avranches desk, this piece is made in inches, but no writing has yet been found in it apart from some numbered joints in red chalk inside the back panel.

This would be considered a humble piece in many an auction, but it shows us the kind of furniture which was made for an established farming family in Jersey in about 1695, and points to a short interval when cabinet-makers' designs were made by joiners.

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