The term "Victorian" refers to the reign of the English Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. It was a time of great change and industrialisation. Furniture and other goods were starting to be mass produced, meaning that a greater range of goods were available at better prices than even before. Books in particular were widely available, sparking the need for every home to have its bookcase. The middle class was emerging and beginning to take great pride in their homes. New home and style magazines were being launched, along with mass-produced catalogues to give more choice. Many previous styles such as Gothic and Rococo were revived during this era, along with new styles such as Arts and Crafts.
Victorian Furniture Styles
The typical Victorian home would have incorporated many styles in the same room, sometimes even in the same piece of furniture. The Gothic style was undergoing a revival with heavy dark furniture elaborately carved. The lighter, more feminine rococo style was common in ladies' bedrooms, and the Arts and Crafts or Craftsman style was simpler and used medieval or nature-inspired decoration. The world of travel had opened up, and Japanese- or Chinese-influenced furniture became very fashionable.
Use of Pine in Victorian Furniture
Much Victorian furniture is large, ornate and made of dark wood like mahogany. Such pieces were status symbols as they used expensive materials. However, with the rise of the middle classes and advent of mass production, there was a need for a cheaper alternative. Pine was frequently used as it was widely available, easy to work with and less costly. It was usually stained to look like dark wood or painted to hide the fact that it was pine.
When books were handwritten, they were scarce and precious and were normally kept in locked boxes or cupboards. For a hundred years before the Victorian era, every fine gentleman would keep a library in a purpose-built room as a status symbol, but books were not widely available to the less wealthy. After the invention of the rotary printing press in 1843, books became cheaper and more numerous. Reading also became a less exclusive pastime, with favourite novelists like Charles Dickens appealing to a wide audience. Soon every middle class home had a bookcase and a collection of books, both for enjoyment and to show their social position.
Caring for a Victorian Pine Bookcase
As they were mass produced, many examples of Victorian pine bookcases can still be seen today. Bookcases are among the more common pieces of antique furniture as they can still be used for the original purpose, although Victorian examples tend to be large and unwieldy for modern rooms. Many antique bookcases sold today have been stripped and waxed to the original pine but would originally have been stained or painted. Waxed bookcases should be sponged with a damp cloth squeezed almost dry and waxed with a layer of antique polish to restore the lustre.
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