A brief history of antique dressers
Antique dressers first appeared in the mid-17th century replacing plain storage cupboards and separate plate racks fixed to a wall. The dresser initially was destined for the kitchen and servants area. Later the better examples have been up graded to many a hallway and dining room. Quite apart from being useful, they add much style and period atmosphere to the room.
Wales was the birthplace of antique dressers giving rise to the generic name ‘welsh dresser’. This is universally accepted to cover all types, even though some are recorded as coming from the English provinces.
Dressers were mainly constructed by village and estate joiners. They were fashioned out of domestic oak, elm, walnut, pine and various fruit-woods. In the 17th century most dressers came without racks. These were used as serving tables. Often they were on legs united by stretchers, with cupboard bases, and later with a ‘pot board’.
The 18th and 19th century dressers were mostly fitted with racks. These often incorporated contemporary design features. The racks served as storage for the display of the ironstone dinner service, pewter utensils and delftware. In the 19th century one might find the ubiquitous Staffordshire figure so collected at that time.
The racks were often fitted with iron hooks for beakers, utensils and small copper pans. This is a nice period feature unfortunately now lacking on so many original racks.
Many period kitchens had purpose made pine dressers, the forerunner to the fitted kitchen of today. Pine is an inexpensive and abundant wood suitable for a ‘below stairs’ location.
See the Georgian kitchen at no 1 Royal Crescent, Bath.
Often these antique dressers acquired a wonderful patina thanks to an enthusiastic housekeeper and spillages from the Sunday roast. A word of warning: many antique dressers have been upgraded by the addition of a rack or have lost their rack. Look for tell tale patina or screw holes around where the rack would have sat in its ‘shoe’ on the base.
Some dressers now with cabriole legs have been upgraded from their original plain square or turned legs. Cabriole leg dressers must only have these legs to the front with plain legs to the back.