Welsh dressers

PUBLISHED: 14:12 14 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:26 20 February 2013

Welsh dressers

Welsh dressers

Andrew Beeston, senior auctioneer and valuer at Halls' fine art auction house in Shrewsbury, looks at the popular piece of furniture that has stood the test of time.

The Welsh Dresser, with its waxed polished surface and display of pottery or pewter, is a specifically nonmetropolitan piece of furniture. The dressers found in town houses were utilitarian, made from softwood and painted in the colours of the day, kept below stairs and required for function only. By contrast the dressers in farmhouses or cottages were placed in the principal living room on view to all and a source of pride and status.


The dresser we know today did not appear until the late 17th century and then only in better-off manor houses. By the mid 18th century, the popularity of the dresser had grown and they were found in many smaller rural properties. With this growth in popularity came regional styles, especially from North to South Wales. The style in the north was to enclose the base with drawers and cupboards, with versions such as the Anglesey dresser having a T arrangement of drawers and the Denbighshire dresser favouring two drawers over two cabinet doors.


As you travel through Mid Wales, along the border into Montgomeryshire, the enclosed base disappears, to be replaced by an open pot board with a wavy apron above. Further south and west into Cardiganshire down to the coast sees a more open base with plain supports and less of an apron. This pattern of regional design carries on from the mid 18th century through to the mid 19th century, changing little in 100 years. The second half of the 19th century saw the great exhibitions of the Victorian period providing taste in a uniform style, whether it was the Arts and Crafts, Gothic Reform or Aesthetic.


This uniformity of taste saw the end to much of the regional variances in vernacular furniture in favour of the growing popularity for the fashion of the day. In years past, dressers from the early 19th century, which lacked the patina of the 18th century and were lighter in colour, were snubbed by collectors.


However, in the present market, with the vogue for lighter furniture, the honey oak coloured dressers of the 19th century are as popular as the earlier examples that had a deep brown patina. Examples from both periods make well into four figures, with rarer dressers making five figures.


The value of dressers, whether they be 18th or 19th century, is bound to continue upwards, as original country vernacular furniture becomes much rarer. Over the past three decades, many examples have already left these shores for America and Australia. For those who are lucky enough to be custodians of good Welsh dressers, my advice is to always preserve the patina with plenty of wax polish and elbow grease. Also, to eliminate the chance of shrinkage within the timber, dont keep the dresser in too dry an environment or an environment that has a rapid change in temperature.


Today you can still go into many Welsh farmhouses or cottages and see dressers that have been handed down from generation to generation and still stand in the same spot from when they were new some 150-200 years ago.


For a professional furniture valuation or sale advice contact Andrew Beeston at Halls Welsh Bridge saleroom in Shrewsbury, tel; 01743 284777.

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