Friday 5 June 2020

French Fossils

What do French fossils have to do with restoring a castle in Scotland? Well let me explain ...

I have been on the hunt for reclaimed antique sets of drawers for a number of years. The intention is that these can be built into bespoke cabinetry at the castle, saving the expense of the fiddly bits as well as achieving a period look. Drawers need to made to high tolerances. Otherwise they stick or drop down when opened.

During those years, I have only ever won a single set of drawers at auction, but thankfully it was a good large set (22 drawers) and when they arrived, they turned out to be quality items with neat dove-tailing; a mahogany front; and an oak carcass.

As we are currently building units in the house-keeper's room and the scullery, the drawers could finally be taken out of storage - hurrah! Enough of the knobs were missing, that it was going to be impossible to have the knobs coordinate between these adjacent rooms. You will probably be aware that I am allergic to removing original knobs. However, if I managed to get a large enough joblot of knobs, I could replace all the drawer knobs and install these knobs on the wall cabinets as well, and so be totally coordinated. Even though the reclaimed wall cabinet doors and these reclaimed drawers are from different sources, putting the same knob on both might fool the eye into believing otherwise. OK, so I am betraying a principle, but for the greater good. :-)

I was just going to install modern brass knobs or modern brass pulls of a simple classic design, but spotted a job lot of more elaborate reclaimed repro knobs on eBay. After lengthy negotiations with the seller, these were mine. Again, I have betrayed a principle by going for repro but the bigger picture is that the quality was still there. These were apparently from a Chelsea appartment via a designer on the Kings Road.

The other principle I have betrayed is the "form and function" one, the knobs have 6 "faux screws" on the backing plate. Yet another design principle betrayed is that these are artificially aged, whereas I prefer the natural patina of brass built-up over time, but hey, I thought the gothic back-to-back fleur-de-lis design was very Balintore.  :-)

Anyhow, replacing the knobs on cabinet 1 (for the housekeeper's room) and cabinet 2 (for the scullery) has, I think, improved the overall look. If I look at the knobs close-up, I can see "repro" so everybody, just please socially distance yourself from my knobs. :-)

Gregor did an excellent job building the 2 plywood cabinets, and constructed each around its own set of drawers to ensure a perfect fit.

I removed the label holders and the old knobs; cleaned the drawer fronts with white spirit to get rid of encrusted varnish, encrusted glue and old paint; then cleaned the drawer fronts with detergent; then varnished; then attached the new knobs and old label holder again. So the whole process was quite labour intensive.

While I was close-up to the drawers, I could infer they they has already had a couple of lives before me. There had been a different label holder on all the drawers before the brass one, in fact one drawer still had the original wooden label holder. The drawer fronts has been varnished with the brass label holders on, which is a clear sign that this was not the original coat of varnish, and that my make-over is not the first.

One paper label reads "Colline de la Goupillerie, Day 6" and before removing this, I felt I should photograph and try to work out the provenance. The mixture of French and English is perplexing. It turns out that Colline de la Goupillerie is a geological site near Le Mans, with many interesting fossils from the Carboniferous period.

The conclusion is that the drawers held fossils, and "Day 6" would be day 6 of the sale at which they were auctioned off. The drawers are graduated in size, with differences in height of 5mm. Given the drawers are old and metrication only reached the UK in 1970, I conclude that the drawers are French and the collection was held for at least some time in France. At some stage in the history of the drawers, they were moved to the UK. The photographs of this label and the others are in high definition below, so any extra detective work you can do would be much appreciated. Sherlock Holmes, where are you?

cabinet 1 before make-over
cabinet 1 after make-over

cabinet 2 before make-over
cabinet 2 after make-over


  1. Nice result, David & Gregor!

  2. Gorgeous result and wonderful drawers ( never thought that I would say that to a man ! ) They look great quality and you are right it's really hard to find good solidly made ones. I took two years to strip many many layers of paint of my grandmothers chest of drawers then lent it to my daughter who painted it in oil based gloss white, looks Ikea ! You are right to go for sturdy as there is Nothing more offputting than floppy sticky drawers, again that sounded odd !! xoxoxo

    1. Glad you approve. The drawers are running very well, and I even rubbed their bottoms with a wax candle as is the folklore - this actually works. Much sympathy on your grandmother's chest of drawers. Hopefully, at some stage in the future these will be sympathetically restored. When I am working on an old item, I always ask myself if the next generation will think I have done bad or done good.

  3. I believe the "CARR" on some of the labels might be the abbreviation of the french word "carrière", which is a quarry. And an excellent spot to find fossils :-)

  4. Thanks Karel for deciphering the label with your multi-lingual skills. What a Sherlock Holmes you are! :-)