Display Cabinets

Display cabinets make a fantastic addition to a home and can be used for a variety of purposes. They come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used to display collectables, ornaments and trinkets. However, it is advised that buyers first familiarise themselves with the styles of antique display cabinets on offer before purchasing. From age of the cabinet to materials used, and condition to authenticity – there are many factors that should be considered. This guide offers consumers information about antique display cabinets that will allow them to make an informed purchase when selecting a piece that suits their home and requirements.

History of Antique Display Cabinets

Typically, a display cabinet is a cupboard with glazed panels used to display trinkets, ornaments and cherished belongings. Throughout the eighteenth century, these styles were designed as bookcases, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century the displaying of one’s objects became very fashionable, and so craftsman began to design furniture with the sole purpose of displaying ornaments. Earlier specimens, such as those from the Georgian era, were usually crafted from walnut, whereas those from the Victorian period were often constructed from mahogany. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, finely made display cabinets became so popular that almost every home had one. These examples copied earlier designs from the likes of Thomas Sheraton, and would sometimes feature mirrored backs to reflect light into a room and make the objects within them stand out.

Discover Antique Display Cabinets

Antique display cabinets come in a variety of styles and sizes and their appearance depends largely on their purpose. Breakfronts, curio cabinets, corner cabinets and end-table cabinets are a few popular styles that are commonly found, and were typically used to display items such as porcelain figurines, cut crystal and china. Also on the market are specialist cabinets, such as, trophy cabinets, gun cabinets and even sword cabinets. Antique display cabinets are primarily composed of glass and wood, and are designed to draw attention to the contents inside as opposed to the case itself. Some examples feature interior lighting and mirrored backs to highlight the objects stored within.
Materials of Antique Display Cabinets

The main material of any antique cabinet is wood. Below are some of the types of wood that are commonly used:

Mahogany: Varies in colour from deep brown to red, and sometimes has a mottled effect.

Beech: Usually an attractive shade of pale brown with a lightly dappled grain.

Oak: Oak starts with a muted colour but tends to darken with age to a deep brown.

Rosewood: Popular in the nineteenth century, rosewood is known for its distinctive grain.

Elm: A pale brown wood with a characteristic dark grain.

Kingswood: Dark brown in colour and speckled with black. Often used for parquetry.

Yew: Commonly used in the 1500’s and onwards and is reddish brown in colour.

Maple: Maple is typically light and freckled with distinctive markings. Bird’s-Eye Maple is also popular.

Walnut: Typically a lighter shade of golden brown, often with a unique grain.

Sycamore: A pale coloured wood with a very subtle grain.

Satinwood: Satinwood is a lightwood often with a yellow tinge.

Types of Antique Display Cabinets

There are a number of different styles of antique display cabinets available. Some examples include:

Traditional Cabinet: A cabinet usually found with glass-fronted, mirrored or solid doors, boasting shelves and drawers inside for storage. Useful for those wishing to display large collections of China. Can be very large.

Corner Cabinet: Designed to sit in the corner of a room and showcase trinkets and decorative ornaments. Corner cabinets can be good space-savers. Often smaller and narrower than other types of cabinet.

Hanging Wall Cabinet: Hanging wall cabinets are fixed to a wall to allow storage. They also serve as a decorative feature. Handy in rooms where limited space is available. Must be fixed to a wall. 

Breakfront: A large and practical style of cabinet with the top half comprising of glass doors and the bottom half of solid doors for storage. Often used in kitchens and dining rooms. Useful when additional storage space is required. Usually only used in kitchens and dining rooms.

Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Display Cabinet

    Authenticity – Prior to buying any antique furnishings, it is important to be certain of the piece’s authenticity. A trained-eye will be able to spot a fake or reproduction, but for those who are unfamiliar with antiques, it is advised that they take other precautions to ascertain whether an item is genuine or not. Always check for any signs of repair, remodelling or changes that may suggest that the item is not authentic. Ask the seller whether or not they know if the item has ever been refinished. It is also important to look for a signature or initials of the cabinetmaker on the piece. These markings will give a good indication as to the time period that the piece comes from and who its craftsman was.

Appearance and Style – Before buying, it is recommended that consumers explore the market and familiarise themselves with the styles and materials on offer. It is also important to take into account how the piece will blend with other furnishings in the home. For example: an elaborate Queen Anne breakfront may not look right beside an Arts and Crafts style hanging wall cabinet, examples of which tend to be very rustic. It is also worthwhile researching wood types before making a decision so the item will be consistent with others in their home.
Condition – Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing an item of antique furniture is its condition. Before purchasing, assess the display cabinet for any signs of disrepair or damage, such as chips, scratches, dents, missing handles and loose drawers. Most products listed on Jas Boutique will detail the item’s condition and will include images of any areas of damage or restoration. However, even if an item does have minor scuffs and scratches, these may not necessarily affect its value.

How to Care for Antique Display Cabinets

Display cabinets make a wonderful addition to any home, but it is important to know how to care for them. The first step is regular cleaning; it is advised that owners frequently clean the item rather than wait for signs of dirt and aging to appear. This will ensure that your display cabinet stays clean and in the best condition possible. When cleaning, it is important to use a lint-free or cotton cloth; this avoids any unwanted smears spreading on the glass or woodwork. For everyday dusting, the cloth alone will suffice without the use of any other cleaning products, and household window cleaners can be used for the glass.
Popular Antique Display Cabinet Manufacturers

George Hepplewhite
Thomas Chippendale
William Kent
Howard & Sons
John McLean
Gillows of Lancaster & London
Parker & Perry
Edwards & Roberts
Thomas Hope
Thomas Sheraton

Useful Accessories for Antique Display Cabinets

After reading the ‘How to Care for Antique Display Cabinets’ section above, buyers will now be aware of how best to perform everyday cleaning on their cabinet. However, to ensure the piece stays in pristine condition, it is useful to also have some of the following items to hand:

    Beeswax – Once or twice a year, it is recommended that owners apply a thin layer of beeswax to their cabinet and leave it on overnight before rubbing off the next day. This protects the woodwork from the effects of dust and moisture.
    Gloves – Gloves should always be worn when applying beeswax to antique timber.
    Lint-free cloth – It is useful to have several cloths available for cleaning and dusting.
    Dehumidifier – Humidity can have an adverse effect on the condition of antique furniture, and so for the long-term, it may be a worthwhile consideration to purchase a dehumidifier for the room.

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