Line and berry inlay. 7th in a 12 part series on Americana

| December 18, 2011 | 0 Comments

Pennsylvania has a rich history of furniture innovation, line and berry technique of inlay being among them.  Today Andrea Valluzzo explains how this precise inlay was created.

For antique furniture lovers, surface is king. One of the most rare and beautiful types of surface decoration is the line and berry inlay that was popular in the 1740s in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

This type of decoration featured patterns of interconnected arcs of inlay that were laid out with a compass, often ending in round patches of inlay or berries. Other related types of inlay include the popular herring bone pattern.

Pennsylvania Queen Anne line and berry inlay chest

Southeastern Pennsylvania Queen Anne line and berry inlaid walnut chest of drawers, circa 1740, sold at Pook and Pook recently.

A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Lee Ellen Griffith, examined over 100 pieces of furniture with this type of inlay. She analyzed and compared inlay patterns  as well as studying  the design process, the manufacture of inlaid furniture, and the transfer of information between cabinetmakers. The results were published in a 1988 dissertation.

Among the interesting findings is that this line and berry inlay has Welsh origins, a fact discovered by comparing Pennsylvania inlay patterns to pieces found Wales.

The center of its production on this side of the pond was in the southern townships of Chester County.  Production was at an all-time high in the 1740’s,. Most of its original fans were Quakers from the United Kingdom, who likely had been familiar with this type of craftsmanship before emigrating. Non-Welsh furniture buyers quickly recognized the beauty in these pieces and this inlay style became assimilated into the region.

A Maine antiques dealer recently blogged about this furniture recently, saying it very likely represents a unique use of the inlay technique in America. Certainly, line and berry inlay attracts  a passionate group of collectors.

Bible Box

A rare William and Mary bible box with berry and line decoration, dated 1749. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Auctioneers

In fact, scouring the Internet for specific examples of these works to talk about here, I could only find two examples.  I’ve included their pictures here.

If you’re like me and appreciate surface, and are lucky enough to find one of these pieces in your travels, either pull out your checkbook or take the time then and there to study it closely. You likely won’t see one again for a while.

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Category: 12 Days of Americana

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