Few examples of this type of veneering can be found today for three main reasons. First, it was a painstaking process, saved for only the finest pieces of furniture for the relatively few members of the wealthy classes. Secondly, fewer still have survived in good condition to this day. Thirdly, there was a short period of time that this type of woodworking enjoyed popularity. It is said that the first piece using this technique, now residing in Windsor Castle, was made for Queen Henrietta Maria in the 1660s. However, by 1710 the technique was already out of fashion.
The process required that skilled furniture makers first take a tree branch and slice it thinly. Earlier pieces were made from laburnum or yew trees. Laburnum trees, known for their graceful appearance with golden “chains” of flowers, had only been recently introduced to England and were thus still not abundantly available. Increasingly, softer, easier-to-work and more commonly available woods were used, such as walnut. Because the sliced circles looked similar to the shape of an oyster. These pieces would then be pieced together to be inlaid into the furniture. The process was popularly called “oyster veneering.”
This period piece served as a lace box when originally created, around 1680. As was the fashion of the time, the ladies would spend many hours making lace for their clothing and fine household textiles. As the lace was fragile, wood boxes such as this would keep it safe from children and pets while it was worked on.
The center oval surround of dark wood on this box is the laburnum oyster veneer. The very center and the four corners were done in fine marquetry from boxwood and other exotic wood. The rest of the box is of walnut. The moldings surrounding the top lid and the bottom were done with pieces of short-grain wood, adding still another decorative effect.
The hinges are from the 19th century, as is the lock. The originals were no doubt of steel and broke from use over the years.
The color of this box is fabulous, exhibiting not only the dark and rich color of the exotic oyster laburnum, but also the warm tone of the walnut. The condition of the box is excellent for its age of over 300 years. I have had it professionally waxed to help protect the wood and bring out its rich hues.
With its William and Mary origin, exotic and rare oyster laburnum veneer, lustrous walnut, fine inlaid marquetry of fancy scrolls and exquisite overall design, this piece is a true collector’s find and deserves an important place in your decorating scheme.
This beautiful box measures 13 inches wide, 9-1/2 inches deep and 3-3/4 inches high.
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