Pierced French Stool at V&A
- The visit with the curator of furniture at the V&A turned out better
than I'd hoped. There was no initial awkwardness, because he had
pulled out a fascinating little object for us to look at, and we
immediately became engrossed in discussing it. This was the carved
15th c. French stool that appears in some references (Charles Hayward
has a measured drawing of it in "English Period Furniture Designs,"
even though it isn't English) but has not been on display for a long
time, if ever. I'll post some photos in a new folder in the Photos
The stool is constructed of six pieces: the seat, two end-boards, one
horizontal stretcher with tusk-tenons on each end, and two wedges to
secure the tenons. Square through-tenons join the seat to the ends.
The seat has a round central carving and is pierced to form a handle
in the center. The stretcher is piecred and carved with a repeating
oval quatrefoil design with a simple four-petal rosette at the center
of each oval. The end-pieces terminate in cusped ogee arches, carved
on both sides, and have circular pierced tracery carvings between the
stretcher and the seat.
What a fascinating little stool! It's really quite enigmatic in many
ways. The jury is still out on whether it is in fact authentically
15th c, or a very clever 19th c. fake, or some hybrid. (It wasn't
uncommon for collectors to take a period piece of furniture and modify
it in some way to increase its value.) The museum acquired it from a
French dealer in the 1890s; nothing beyond that is known of its
I'll have to post more photos and write a long essay to really explain
all the details of this object, and why it's so enigmatic. For
1. Although beautifully carved, obviously a high-end object, it is
made from very poor-quality wood: second-growth, with abundant knots
and other defects.
2. Saw-marks are visible on the edges and outer faces of the
end-pieces. Not faint traces of saw marks - big rough lines, as if
someone had started planing but gave up before completing the job.
The saw marks are suspiciously parallel; they look just like bandsaw
marks, in fact. If it was hand-sawn, the guy was damn good.
3. The projecting tenons are hand-sawn (non-parallel marks) and were
never planed or scraped - just left rough.
4. The carving is very well executed, though not quite as "fussy" as
most Victorian Gothic works looks to me. This is quite at odds with
the sloppy surface prep and edge cleanup. The back side of the
circular carvings on the end pieces are deeply hollowed - about half
the thickness of the board.
5. The poor-quality wood has cracked and split in several places, and
the surface is quite rough in several places from pieces having popped
out. A large "scab" of wood has been added to the lower inside of one
end-piece to repair a big split. This scab has about the same tone as
the rest of the wood.
Taken together, the evidence seems to suggest a fake. Yet when you
look at it and handle it, the sense that it is genuine is hard to
shake. It appears to be a completely unique object, which all by
itself is reason to be suspicious.
What do you all think?
- I finally found my class notes on the metal spinning issue, only to find that the reference was not included. Not wishing to disappoint, I searched out the email address of Dave Hout and wrote the following:
I attended the wood turner's seminar in Temple TX this last fall where I enjoyed both of your classes, Vacuum Chucking and Metal Spinning. During your Metal Spinning class you mentioned that metal spinning was the predecessor to wood turning. I was wondering what your source for that information might be?
I belong to a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism, which studies and recreates the Middle Ages. Within this group is a Yahoo chat group called Medieval Sawdust, who's interests are the study of period methods of building in wood. When I mentioned your statement to the group several thought you to be in error. With the name of the reference at hand I will be able to back up your statement to the group and further the knowledge of those involved at the same time.
Thank you for your help with this matter and keep up the great work!
Magic Mouse ProductionsHis response is as follows:
"The info about the history of metal spinning is from the Metal Forming and Spinning Association. They have produced a video and they site pieces found about 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia that were spun over clay forms from a potters wheel. The pieces were made of lead which could be formed using only a stick. I have been told by several wood turners who have researched that turning dates back to about 3500 years and the use of metal edged cutting tools. I do not know their sources.
I hope this helps,
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]On Behalf Of Ralph Lindberg
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 11:50 PM
Subject: [MedievalSawdust] Wood/Metal spinng was Tools (was: Pierced French stool)
--- In medievalsawdust@ yahoogroups. com, kjworz@... wrote:
> Dave Hout is full of hooey, is my guess, suggesting metal spining
predating wood turning.
Chris, I suspect Dave Hout was referring to continuous spin wood
turning. Metal spinning dates back to(at least) Imperial Rome
(Auxiliary helm crowns might be spun using water-wheel power, yes I
have references), while I have never read any reference to that type
of wood turning before circa 1500.
Additionally, Dave Hout is a real world expert, one I have heard in
both my wood turning and metal spinning hobbies. Well enough respected
that both the AAW and ABANA consider him such, a set of credentials I
know I can't match.
> ------------ -- Original message ------------ --------- -
> From: "Tracy Swanson" <tstar2000@. ..>
> > " What kind of tools? I've read that metal-spinning lathes
> > forward turning) were in use in the c16th. But a continuous
> > means either a bandsaw or a circular saw, and I've seen nothing to
> > suggest either that early. "
> > According to Dave Hout (Woodturning TV show on DIY), metal spinning
> > pre-dates wood turning and, in fact, was what lead to wood
turning. In his
> > Metal Spinning lecture at the wood turning seminar in Temple TX
> > fall, metal spinning was at first done with a clay form. It was
> > development of wood turning that wood became the standard form for
> > spinning. I am taking his word for this, for I have found precious
> > written info on metal spinning. Any titles you might know would be
> > helpful!
> > In Magical Service,
> > Malaki