Tunbridge Wares

A Tunbridge Ware game box with inlaid flowers, oak leaves, acorns and manor house on lid

p4A ItemID E8934141
English Tunbridge-inlaid mahogany box 19th century, hinged coffer lid and box, opening to small side compartment

p4A ItemID E8892270
Antique English Rosewood and Tunbridge Inlaid Tea Caddy, 19th c., top with crenellated castle

p4A ItemID E8843222
Tunbridge Ware Parquetry Document Box, British, 19th century, rectangular inlaid oak box

p4A ItemID F7965193

Tunbridge Wares

The wood parquetry or marquetry decorated wares bearing this name derive from the small town of Tunbridge Wells in the English shire of Kent where the process was first developed in the late seventeenth century.

A decoration of veneer found on small boxes, gameboards, picture frames and trays, the Tunbridge decoration was created when small sticks or strips of differently colored natural wood of six or so inches long were glued together in such a manner that the end of the resulting block produced the desired design. The block was then sliced tranversely with a saw to produce the thin veneered design to be applied to a box or other surface to be decorated. By using this method up to thirty veneer sheets of the same design could be produced and applied to various items. Because the Tunbridge craftsmen used only natural woods, great skill was required to select woods providing the contrasting colors required by the design. Once in place the veneer was polished to a high gloss.

Tunbridge ware reached its technical perfection early in the nineteenth century and the “English Mosaics”, as they were then called, became very popular with the early Victorians. The wares begin to decline in fashion after the mid-century mark. Some Tunbridge decorative veneers were based on the floral designs of the then popular Berlin woolwork, but the most highly sought designs were geometric patterns and building and landscape scenes from the Kentshire region.

In addition to the small tablewares, desk and giftware usually found, the Tunbridge mosaic veneer was occasionally applied to table tops – especially gaming tables, lap desks and other small articles of furniture.

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