Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Featured Artifact: Secret Compartments

Hollywood spins enticing tales of family secrets and hidden treasures, but what if your heirlooms really do have a story to tell? Several pieces in our eighteenth-century furniture collection are not what they seem.  In fact, these desks and cabinets cleverly disguise hidden compartments. Today we will take a look at three different examples, demonstrating various degrees of craftsmanship.

example 1

Pictured here is the upper half of a flat-top highboy. It appears to house six drawers, but only the bottom two drawers function. The remaining four are false fronts which decorate an upper storage "trunk."

The hinged molding opens to reveal a large storage area. The upper portion featured here would rest atop a lower cabinet of similar height, so accessing the upper compartment would likely require a stool of some sort.

example 2

As the previous example, pictured here is the upper half of a flat-top highboy. This Queen-Anne style piece is far more ornate, featuring brass pulls and locks on each drawer.  The hidden compartment is also more clever than the first.

A entire drawer is concealed behind the cornice molding. This would have made an ideal hiding place for important documents.

example 3

This final piece might be compared to an antique safe deposit box. Not only does this drop-front desk feature a locking front panel, it includes two layers of secure compartments.

Even decorative elements slide out to reveal hiding spots.

The most intriguing feature, however, is the "secret passageway" that opens to a set of interior drawers. Like an intricate puzzle, the entire center structure may be carefully lifted out to reveal additional storage compartments. The skilled craftsman that assembled this piece was careful to create the illusion that the center drawers were permanently fixed and were as deep as those that flanked either side--preventing the untrained eye from the suspicion that the center unit might be acting as a false front.

Unfortunately our investigation did not reveal any treasures, but perhaps we still have pieces in our collection that are keeping secrets!

This blog post by Sarah Minegar.

1 comment:

  1. I watched a video about this! This is really taking keeping secrets to another level! All those secret cubby holes must have a million stories to tell…