The Precious Pear: A History of Pearwood Furniture

Pear Tree

When it comes to antique furniture, the timbers that immediately come to mind may be walnut, mahogany, satinwood, or rosewood.  But there are other timbers that were highly popular in the past that do not get as much attention.  Today, we will look at one of these timbers: pearwood.

Pear trees (Pyrus communis) can be found throughout Europe and part of northern Asia.  In England, pear trees grow in the southern half of the country and typically grows to about 60 feet in height.  Pear trees are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being used for boundary markers.  When a pear tree was grown for its timber, the fruit was often used to create perry, or pear cider.

Pearwood has long been considered a good timber for furniture.  As early as 1613, Gervase Markham suggested, ‘If you would chuse Timber for Joynt-stooles, Chaires, or Chests, you shall then chuse the oldest Peare-tree to be found, for it is both smooth, sweet and delicate.’

A Large 17th Century Dutch Ebonised Cushion Mirror made of Pearwood Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A Large 17th Century Dutch Ebonised Cushion Mirror made of Pearwood Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

From the middle of the 17th century, ebony veneered furniture became popular, but it was incredibly expensive.  As a substitute, cabinet-makers began staining pearwood black to give the ebonised appearance.  Edward Traherne’s workshop inventory of 1674 includes pear tree frames as well as ‘black’ frames, which were almost certainly pearwood frames stained black.

This particular mirror is an example of a piece made in pearwood and subsequently stained black to appear like ebony.  It features attractive ripple moulding and reflects the taste of late 17th century English and Dutch craftsmanship.

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