The Cottage Orné Quilt

The Cottage Orné Quilt
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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Very special boxes - Coffor bach from Gower

As I write this, on the table beside me, is a wooden box  made for me when I was a child and given to me when I started in big school, to hold pencils, pens, compass, protractor etc.  It still holds those things and has travelled with me wherever I have lived up and down this country and abroad.  It is simple, sturdy and useful and I treasure it, but it is only valuable to me.

Boxes have served this useful purpose to millions of us through the centuries. Sometimes they were the only private space that their owner could claim.  Most are like mine, simple and sturdy and of little value, but others are elaborate, decorative and valuable and they take many forms. 

I want to share with you some special boxes that were made in Wales in the mid 18th Century.

Coffor Bach, is Welsh for "little coffer" (a coffer another name for a storage chest) and it seems to have been a tradition on the Gower peninsular in South Wales to make and decorate small coffers to celebrate a marriage, with the initials of the bride carved upon them.  What a wonderful way to commemorate a wedding?  It's both romantic and practical and would safely hold the most precious things the bride would bring to her new home and was perhaps the only place she would have had of her own.

My friends Christine and Philip Havard own this box, they can claim the "H" but as yet there is no "M".  Oh I do wish the letters were MJ or MW but even if they were, I don't think they would part with it because it is very special.  When Philip spotted it in an auction catalogue, it was listed as "Dutch, made of Walnut"  but actually is is Welsh, made of Oak!

Chris and Philip are antique dealers and their business Havard & Havard have a current exhibition entitled "Chairs, Coffers and Cockerels" and here is similar coffer which is for sale -

I just love this decoration, it is pure folk art and to the uninformed it has tulips, so it must be Dutch, or Pennsylvanian Dutch!  But tulips were a popular decoration in many countries, and why not?  They have a very distinctive form and are also easy to draw, which is an excellent reason to use them to decorate objects, be it china, wood or textiles.

When I look at the urn filled with tulips, paisleys and roses - it could also be a Welsh quilting pattern, with the very same ingredients as the pattern on this Pembrokeshire quilt in the Jen Jones collection!


Sue said...

Lovely coffer's and as I have no knowledge of them would have jumped to the conclusion that they were Dutch .

Jan said...

Being from the US, I can understand the confusion of these coffers being described as PA Dutch. It seems probable that they were heavily influenced by these designs. I really loved seeing these, and the beautifully quilted pot of flowers.

Andrea said...

Mary, thank you for posting these beautiful pictures of the coffers. I am full of admiration and respect for the craftspeople (including quilters!) of former times for their skills and craftmanship to create such beautiful items . They didn't have all the technical support we have today!