A to Z

De-mystifying the terms used by antique dealers, auctioneers and specialists.
There are 244 entries in this glossary.
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Zitan is  a tropical hardwood ranging in colour from dark-purplish brown to reddish brown, and considered, together with huanghuali, the most precious and luxurious material used in Chinese furniture.

Element of atomic number 30, symbol Zn, atomic weight 65.37, mp 419.58ºC, specific gravity 7.13. Zinc ores were used for making brass by cementation long before the metal was used in its pure form. The limit of zinc that can enter into solid solution in copper by this process is 28%. The Romans made extensive use of brass and, in India, zinc was being made by distillation in retorts during the 1200's A.D. The metal was not known in Europe until rediscovered in 1746. Zinc is a bluish-white, lustrous metal, brittle at ordinary temperatures but malleable at 100-150ºC. 

Zig-Zag Spring

A sinuous or S shaped upholstery spring used in chair, ottoman and sofa seats and backrests.


Zebrawood is a wood with unusual stripes in the grain.

Yellow Metal
A brass with 60 to 62% of copper, 40 to 38% zinc used for casting and hot working.
Yellow Brass

American term for 67/33 or 65/35 brass.

Wrought Iron
The term ‘wrought iron’ tends to be used for all ancient iron. However, before the introduction of the indirect process, such use is a tautology in that all iron was wrought (wrought means forged). Also the mechanical properties of bloomery iron and wrought iron are different in that bloomery iron tends to contain variable but higher amounts of carbon than refined cast iron. Whereas, wrought iron tends to have a much higher volume of slag inclusions. Therefore, the term wrought iron should be restricted to forged refined cast iron. 
A problematic term. Before the introduction of cast steel and iron, all iron alloys had to be forged into shape, therefore the use of the term is tautological when applied to the products of the direct or bloomery process. The term only came into use with the development of the finery and the related succeeding methods of refining cast iron, therefore, it would be best if the use of term was confined to post-medieval refined cast iron.
Wrought iron has been used since the Middle Ages, and has a lower carbon content than pig iron, which makes it more malleable. It was popular with late 1800's and early 1900's designers. It is easily forged and welded, so perfect for large scale items. Because it rusts slowly, it is suitable for outdoors use.
Characteristics - puddled wrought iron - high slag content, low carbon content, fibrous nature due to rolling.
Simply meaning forged - shaped by hammering, or more recently, by pressing or stamping.
Wired Glass
Flat rolled glass reinforced with wire mesh and used especially for glass doors and roofing to prevent objects from smashing through the glass and also to hold pieces of broken glass together. By holding the glass together, it can also protect against break-in and the spreading of fire. Wired glass is produced by continuously feeding wire mesh from a roller into the molten glass ribbon just before it undergoes cooling.
White Metal
Can apply to any metal except gold and copper but usually restricted to metals with a relatively low melting temperature.
A stone used for sharpening metal edge-tools. 

Joining components involving fusion of the parent metal and usually the addition of a fillet of molten metal at the joint.

Joining two or more pieces of material by applying heat or pressure, or both, with or without filler metal, to provide a localized union through fusion or recrystallization across the interface. If a filler is used it is of similar metal type as the pieces to be joined with a similar melting point, unlike a solder joint. 
Changes on the surface of glass caused by chemical reaction with the environment. Weathering usually involves the leaching of alkali from the glass by water, leaving behind siliceous weathering products that are often laminar.
The chemical symbol Ag is derived from argentum - the latin for silver
A white-coloured metallic element that is very ductile and malleable. Silver is one of the noble elements as it does not oxidize when heated in air. Silver was usually obtained by cupellation of lead ores, although it may also be extracted directly from silver sulphide deposits. Pure silver is often stated to be 1000 fine and alloys are based on this nomenclature. For example, sterling silver is 925 fine (contains more than 92.5 % by weight silver). The atomic number of silver is 47, and its atomic weight 107.87, with a melting point of 960ºC, and specific gravity 10.50. 
Robert Adam
The Neo-Classical architect and designer Robert Adam created a distinct style which will always be associated with his name. In partnership with his three brothers John, James and William, with whom he developed the Adelphi in London´s Strand district, he produced complete schemes for decorating and furnishing houses, employing many eminent cabinet and chair makers. He often employed painters such as Angelica Kauffmann to provide decorative roundels for both ceilings and furniture.

His Grand Tour (1754-1758) took him to Rome, Venice and the ruins of Diocletian´s Palace at Split in Dalmatia, which he later turned into influential engravings. He returned with a large and sophisticated repertory of classical motifs, which he used with a light touch. He intended to ´transfuse the beautiful spirit of antiquity with novelty and variety´, but the results occasionally justify Horace Walpole´s disparaging comment “filigrane and fan painting, gingerbread and snippets of embroidery”.

The significant characteristics of this style are the use of classical figures, mainly maidens in togas and carrying stiff leaves or other devices. Borders are commonly swags of laurel leaves tied with ribbons and the Anthmion is a frequent motif. His influence on ceramics was considerable. 

As a designer, Adam had most success with mirrors , wall furniture and decorative pieces, and he appears to have invented the sideboard. He also designed some Gothic revival furniture, carpets and occassional pieces of silver. But some of the best Adam style furniture, made by Chippendale, was not actually designed by him. His influence is also seen in the metalwork of Matthew Boulton. On Wedgwood and Adams (no relation) basaltes and jasper, white relief maidens stand out against the blue or black backgrounds between small leaf borders and in stoneware, large numbers of jugs have moulded neo Classical style reliefs. The general feel of the Adam style is of airiness and with much of the background left blank. In the hands of the unskilled it can be lifeless and boring.

There was a reaction against Adam during the Regency and William lV periodsbut from the 1860´s the Adamesque became acceptable to the Victorians and was ultimately a major component in what became known as Edwardian Reproduction or Chippendale Revival furniture.
Button Hook
A button hook is a tool used to facilitate the closing of buttoned shoes, gloves or other clothing. It consists of a hook fixed to a handle which may be simple or decorative as part of a dresser set or chatelaine. To use, the hook end is inserted through the buttonhole to capture the button by the shank and draw it through the opening.
Butt Joint
A simple but weak joint used to join two boards together at right angles.
Butler's Table
An oval table with four sides hinged upwards that fold out flat when in use.
Platinum alloy electrically-heated boxes with numerous nozzles in their bases used as furnaces for the forming of continuous glass fibre. Glass can be fed into the heated bushing either in its molten state from a forehearth (direct melt) or, alternatively, as marbles to be melted (re-melt process).
Copper bar or section used for carrying heavy currents. Busbars are generally rigid when compared to cables.
To produce a shiny surface on a metal by rubbing the surface with a hard material, typically a stone or polished steel. 
Also hand rubbed polishing to enhance the natural color of the wood. Burnishing adds a beautifully worn look to wooden pieces, and gives depth and warmth.
Used to heat glass in furnaces of all sizes, burners mix air (or oxygen) and gas (natural gas or liquid petroleum gases) for efficient combustion.
Wood from an abnormal or diseased portion of a tree root or trunk (often caused by injury to the bark). Burl wood is highly prized for furniture design because the grain exhibits spectacular mottled or speckled patterns that are used to create the beautiful veneers found in formal and provincial furniture. Although rare, burls are most often found in walnut and elm.
Burl also known as burr is a curly-grained veneered surface cut from irregular growths of the tree, such as the roots or crotches.
Burgundy Mixture
Solution of copper sulphate and sodium carbonate developed in 1885 for the prevention of mildew and other diseases on grape vines.
Bureau plat
A flat writing table or desk, usually having several drawers.
A chest of drawers with a sloping fall-front often used in a bedroom. The flap is hinged above a chest of drawers.
Bunk Bed
A bed consisting of two or more lofted, joined mattresses and bed frames. Bunk beds are typically stacked, have a ladder, and are conjoined.
Bun Foot
A slightly flattened ball foot. Bun feet are found across many styles, from traditional home furnishings to the most contemporary.
Bumpy Bottom
A domed centre to a plate or dish: also referred to as a ‘boss’.
The term is now applied to any bar or ingot of precious metals, and gold in particular. I have seen it suggested that the term was derived from the small buttons of gold or silver formed by the cupellation process. The Oxford Dictionary suggests that it comes from the French to boil, disappearance of the lead in the cupellation process could easily be thought to be because the lead was boiling off. 
The term was also used to describe any small blob or lump of metal. 
Bulletproof Glass
Armour plate glass which is more than 60 mm thick and which resists penetration by bullets.
Bulbous Measure
Sometimes called a bellied measure
A round bodied, mug-like vessel made in abundance during the 1800's and into the 1900's. Used in pubs and inns to provide varying measures of beer, ale, cider, spirits, etc. Usually lidless and in sizes ranging from a gallon down to very small sizes .
Bulb Foot
A bulb is the bulb like part of the turned supports of furniture on tables, chairs etc. they are sometimes carved.
Buffet deux corps
A two-tiered buffet with the top cabinet being shallowing than the bottom cabinet. The doors on the top panel can have wood or glass panels.
Buffet de chasse
A buffet table with a marble top which was typically used to prepare game. The term literally means “hunting table.”
Buffet á glissant
A buffet which has a smaller, recessed compartmented, known as the tabernacle. The defining feature of a buffet á glissant is that the tabernacle has doors that slide out to open, and in to shut. 
A sideboard used in the dining area for serving food or the storage of silverware and dishes.
Gaseous inclusions in the glass melt which are removed by refining (see "fining"). Fining agents are introduced to encourage the formation of larger bubbles which rise more rapidly to the surface of the melt, attracting smaller bubbles on their way.
Larger bubbles which are not removed by fining are known as "blisters", smaller ones as "seeds" and longitudinally stretched bubbles as "air-lines". Bubbles in glass are generally considered as defects but may also be intentionally created and used as a form of decoration (see "air twist").
Brunswick Green
Copper oxychloride
Bronze Powder

Powdered metal used to make paints that look like gold or bronze. Although called powdered bronze, these were in fact, brass. The metal was beaten to leaf and then ground by hand to a powder using an organic medium to prevent the flakes sticking. The industry was based in Germany, especially centred at Nuremberg. In 18th century hand manufacture had started in Birmingham, in the early 19th century developed an fully mechanical method of manufacturing bronze powder, about 1840 Henry Bessemer started marketing his powder, under cutting his competitors prices. This provided the financial basis for his experiments for steel production. 

Bronze d'ore
Gilded metal, especially cast brass or bronze gilded over fire with an amalgam of gold and mercury, used for furniture mounts and ornamental objects.
Copper-tin alloy, term also loosely used for some other copper alloys. Oldest copper alloy, generally used for sculptures but also as the base metal for ormolu and furniture mounts. The addition of tin to copper makes it easier to cast, strengthens and hardens the metal.
In antiquity and historical usage, an alloy of copper and tin. Usually with up to 14% tin, but many examples of ancient alloys are known with higher tin contents. 14% tin is the limit of solid solution of tin in well annealed alpha-bronzes. In modern usage, the term bronze is associated with a number of copper alloys that may contain no tin at all and in which case the composition of the alloy should be specified. 
British Plate
Alternative to Sheffield plate having a core of nickel silver instead of copper. Patented 1836.
Britannia Silver
Silver containing 4.16% of copper compared with 7.5% in Sterling Silver.
Britannia Metal
A trade description for a pewter alloy containing a comparatively high proportion of antimony – typically 92% tin, 6% antimony and 2% copper. This alloy was first introduced by Sheffield manufacturers in the second half of the 1700's and is a product of the industrial revolution. It was also known in its early days as white metal. As an alloy it has characteristics which permit articles to be made by cold-forming the alloy in sheet form (e.g. by spinning or stamping) rather than by casting. N.B. Some earlier books assert, possibly due to ignorance of the contents of the alloy, that Britannia Metal is not pewter!
Britannia metal is an alloy of tin and antimony and objects made of this metal have been looked upon with derision until very recent years. An unprejudiced second look revealed that not all was rotten in the state of Britannia metal. A product of the Industrial Revolution, early Britannia metal has great charm. Most of it was made in Sheffield and the makers stamped their names intaglio into the base of the objects they made. The silver shapes of the day were carefully followed. Makers to look out for are J. Dixon & Son, P. Ashberry, Broadhead & Atkins, James Vickers and James Wolvenholme. Do not confuse pieces marked EPBM (Electro-plated Britannia Metal) with the pieces under discussion here. After 1850 the standard of design falls away disastrously in the words of the 1800´s politician John Bright. Silence is golden, speech in silver, but to say one thing and mean another is Britannia metal.
Bristol Metal
Brass, 75.5% copper, 24.5% zinc.
The Brinell Hardness Scale in which the hardness is measured by the resistance to indentation of a small steel ball. This method is becoming less common, but does allow some comparison with results from the Vickers Scale at low hardnesses. However, as with other systems that use steel indenters it is unreliable with hard materials as the steel indenter deforms. 

Related Terms: Hardness, Vickers Hardness Scale, Rockwell Scale.
Bremen Blue
Basic copper carbonate.
Break Front
A cabinet with the front center section that protrudes forward or outward from the end sections.
Joining metals by filling clean joints with a suitable filler metal by means of a molten alloy of copper and zinc (brass); in modern usage this has been extended to include a wider range of molten metals such as the 'silver solders'. In antiquity, silver-gold, copper-silver and silver-gold-copper alloys were used for brazing (or soldering), especially on precious metals. Brazing temperatures are higher than for soldering and a good flux is usually needed.

Related terms: Solder, Soft Solder, Silver Solder 
Brass Warming Pan
These date from 1400's and the parts were made from Dutch brass. It was once the custom of a servant to be sent to bed in order to warm the master´s sheets, a pastime less dangerous perhaps than using a bed warmer, for it is clear from a study of early household inventories that many beds were destroyed by fire.
Copper warming pans became popular during the 1700's and were manufactured in company with brass pans well into the reign of Queen Victoria. Many of the original turned wood handles became affected bby woodworm, so it is not uncommon today to find an old pan with a replacement handle.
The warming pan is an interesting household article. It dates back to the Middle Ages when the pan was brass or bronze and it had a metal handle. James II son by his second wife Mary of Moderna, was thought by some not be her child but a substitute brought into the royal coninement room in a warming pan. It is unlikely that it would have been a copper pan, however, for these do not appear to have come in until 1700, when they had beech handles well turned and sometimes lacquered in black. Since the advent of the hot water bottle, these pans are no longer functional but they do look attractive hung on a wall, especially if they are kept sparkling clean.
Brass Lump
Miners term for massive iron pyrites (fools’ gold).
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and is yellowish in colour. It used to be made by melting copper in contact with the zinc carbonate, calamine (ZnCO3), under charcoal in a crucible.
Since the Middle Ages, brass has been a popular choice for household wares. Highly durable and resistant to tarnishing, brass is ideal for furniture handles, knobs, hinges, inlay and fasteners; also used to construct headboards and footboards. Small holes are the result of over polishing with polishes containing anhydrous chemicals and these holes will lower the value of the item.
Early brasses contained 70-90% copper and 10-30% zinc. The colour of brass changes with increasing zinc content from a rich copper-red through to pale yellow to white as the zinc increases. Gilding metal containing 10-15% zinc is suitable for cold working. It is used for ornamental work and jewellery. Red brass contains 30% zinc and 70% copper and has good working properties. The common form of brass is 60% copper, 40% zinc and is known as yellow brass or Muntz metal. In Europe from about 1750 it was made by melting the two metals together (Direct process). 
Braiding is a finishing decoration used in upholstery around the edges of chairs.
Bracket Foot
Decorative or plain right angled foot shaped like a bracket placed at each corner of the piece.
A right-angled foot shaped like a bracket with a straight corner edge and curved inner edges. It is used on a chest, chest on chest or a cabinet. 
Box Joint
An interlocking joint commonly used to construct cabinet drawers
Bow Front
A chest with a convex front.
Boulle is decorative type of marquetry which tortoiseshell, brass, copper and tin were used in elaborate floral or curving designs.
Boudin Process
A glass rolling process in which glass flow is controlled by the speed of the machine and fed directly onto the rollers over a refractory sill. As the ribbon of glass passes from the forming rollers, it is supported by an air cushion. The process can be adapted in order to introduce wire mesh into the glass ribbon. (See also "Pilkington double-pass wired glass process" and "wired glass).
A domed centre to a plate or dish: also referred to as a ‘bumpy-bottom’.
Borosilicate Glass
Glass made from silica and boric oxide. Such glass is highly resistant to chemical corrosion and temperature change (thermal shock) and is particularly suitable for laboratory ware (test tubes, etc.), domestic cooking ware (oven dishes, etc.), high-power lamps and other technical glass ware. It is also used when glass has to be bonded to metal and low expansion is a key characteristic.
Copper-iron sulphide ore.
Bordeaux Mixture
Copper sulphate-lime mixture used as an adherent fungicide, especially for grapevines.
Book Matched
A veneering technique where two slices of veneer are glued next to each other so that grain patterns mirror each other.
Booge (or Bouge)
The curved wall between the well and rim of a plate or dish.
Bonheur Du Jour
A Bonheur Du Jour is a small, pretty lady’s writing desk.
Bonded Leather
A composite material made of leather, polyester, cotton, and polyurethane. It contains about 17% genuine leather. Pieces of leather are applied to a polyester/cotton blend material as a backing, and then polyurethane is applied to the top to get the consistent look and feel. You gain the look and feel of leather, along with the easy maintenance, without the cost.
A French term used to describe the convex or bulging outward swelling curve of a piece of furniture.
Bolection Moulding
Bolection moulding is a projecting moulding of ogee shape, raised round a panel.
A French word for panelling, generally highly decorative.
Bobbiere Metal
66/34 brass
Blue Vitriol & Blue Stone
Copper sulphate crystals.
Blue Verditer
Basic copper carbonate.
An iron or steel tube, usually about five feet long, for blowing glass.
Blowpipes have a mouthpiece at one end and are usually fitted at the other end with a metal ring that helps to retain a gather.
Blown Glass
The shaping of glass by blowing air through a hollow rod into the center of a molten glass gather.
Blow & Blow Process
A production process used for glass container manufacturing with forming machines. The elongated gob of molten glass formed by the gob feeder falls into the inverted parison (blank) mould. It is blown down into the mould (settle blow) before being blown from below (counter blow) back up into the now closed mould. The inverted parison is transferred to an upright position in the blow mould where it is reheated before compressed air is introduced into the parison bubble. During blowing, a vacuum is applied through the mould to suck any trapped air or other gases from the bottom of the mould. A takeout mechanism then lifts the container from the mould.
Block Front
A kind of chest divided into three parts in which the middle part is set back from the sides.
Block Foot

This is a simple, basic furniture foot style with a square or cube-like vertical shape at the base of a straight, untapered leg.. Although in existence from roughly 1600 to 1800, it was especially popular in mid-1700's English and American furniture. It was often featured in later Chippendale furniture styles with Neoclassical influence. Block feet are common on sleek, modern pieces and add a clean-lined look to home furnishings and accents.

This is sometimes referenced as a Marlborough foot since it often appears at the end of the straight Marlborough leg.

Bleeding Bowl
A porringer-like vessel for blood letting, often with capacity marks around the inside of the bowl. Usually has straight, rather than curved, sides.
Blanket Chest
Low storage chest with hinged lid often referred to as a hope chest used during Colonial times.
Black Forest
Black forest furniture is highly carved and is known for carved bears and other creatures of the forest, such as deer and birds.
Bisque or biscuit refers to pottery that has been fired once and remains unglazed. 
Chemical symbol Bi, a pinkish white metal sometimes added to pewter in small quantities to improve the casting qualities of the alloy. Historically known as ‘tin glass’.
Biscuit Firing
For twice fired ware the first firing prior to glazing and subsequent firing again.
Bird’s Eye Maple

Birds eye or birds eye maple is a decorative wood from maple and has a striking grain.

Bird's Eye
A decorative feature common to Maple features small concentric circles resembling that of a bird's eye.
Birch is a hardwood with a close grain and is one of the strongest cabinet woods.
Biedermeier encompasses the period between 1815 and 1848 in Central Europe namely Austria, Germany, Sweden and Russia. It was a style of furniture influenced by the Napoleonic styles, Biedermeier furniture was produced in Germany and Austria, with simpler designs that often incorporated local timber, featuring clean, simple lines and detailed veneer work with little ornamentation.
From the French word for library, a bibliotheque is a piece of furniture with glass-fronted doors and several shallow shelves designed to hold books.
The production, by abrasion, of a sloping edge on the glass sheet commonly used on mirror glass.
Beveled Glass
Thick glass with an angled surface cut around the entire periphery. The bevel on a mirror or glass piece adds visual interest, and enhances the formality of mirrored pieces. The bevel is cut into the glass, and is usually showcased by framing.

A bevel or bevelled edge is an edge that has been cut at a slant. often seen on mirrors.

Beta Brass
A brass with very high zinc content may be mostly of beta structure. This is brittle and used only as a brazing filler alloy.
The beta phase of the copper-zinc equilibrium phase diagram is an intermetallic phase and is much harder that alpha but will only withstand a small amount of mechanical deformation at room temperature. However at 470°C the ordered Beta prime phase changes to the disordered beta phase which is easier to work, and by 800°C the beta phase is easier to work than the alpha. 
Beryllium Copper
Heat treatable copper-beryllium alloy of high strength and hardness. Used for making springs and non-sparking tools.
A large, comfortable armchair with upholstered sides and loose cushion seat, popular in France in the Louis XV period and later in Britain in the 1700's , these chairs were known as “burjairs” or “barjairs”.
A wood that has been heated and shaped to become curved.
An extremely plastic clay which can be added in small quantities to short clay to make it more plastic.
Benin Bronze
Cast copper alloy products of great artistry and craftsmanship produced in Benin, Nigeria from the 1200's to 1800's. Composition ranged from high-copper to brasses.
A process used widely in the production of bowls, plates, ashtrays, etc., whereby the shaped glass article (which may be pre-printed) still in sheet form is placed on a stainless steel, sheet steel or cast iron mould coated with talc or powdered chalk. The temperature is increased until the glass sheet sinks into shape in the mould.