FANCY TURNED LACE BOBBINS
*A NOTE ON THE USE OF THE WORD “BALUSTER” AS A GENERIC WORD FOR THE DESCRIPTION OF ORNAMENTAL OR FANCY TURNED LACE BOBBINS.
by Brian Lemin
From my now, fairly considerable, research on the historical aspects of bobbins, I have become curious as to the origin of the term “baluster” to describe the turned decoration of lace bobbins. To be quite honest I do not think that we can use this term correctly in describing the decoration of even some bobbins.My original interest was kindled by a letter from one of the “long suffering individuals” Whiteley (1996), that I bombard with questions from time to time. In her letter she said,“The County town of Aylsebury is situated in the center (measured West/East) where there are many stately homes, and where the people worked mainly on growing fruit like cherries in orchards, ( it is the main cherry growing area in the British Isles) and in furniture making. Many of the lighter wood South Bucks Bobbins were made from off cuts of wood after making of items such as chair legs” (1996 )As a starting point for my investigation of this term I looked for a reference by Savage (see below) relating to glass wine stems and chair legs, which I recalled reading some time ago, which in turn led to the following discussion on the use of the term “baluster.”
- I first came upon the term “baluster” in a series of articles by Denys Bellerby (1976). Hellerby describes the baluster as “the generic term for turned shaped bobbins and the choice of shapes and thickness are almost unlimited.” (p 21)
- The next occurrence I found was in Huetson, Lace and Bobbins (1973) where he uses the term in the following context:
- “The beautiful turning, which rivals the baluster stem of an eighteenth century English wine glass, lovely colours and the shades of the many different woods are a never ending source of pleasure.” p107.
- This and Whiteley (1996) who also referred me to the term as being the generic term to describe fancy turned bobbins encouraged me to discover more about just what the term Baluster was meant to convey.
- Knowing we are dealing with an Architectural term, I searched for a dictionary that was nearest to the time that we are dealing with and found “A dictionary of Architecture and Archeology of the Middle Ages.” Britton.(1838) His definition is as follows.
- BALUSTER. Corruptly Bannister. From the Italian Balaustro; Columella, Lat. Ballustre, Fr. Bala-Huotes, Sp. Deeke-zun, Gelender, Ger.
- A small column or pillar used in a balustrade. The lateral part of the volute of the Ionic capital termed by Vitruvius polventa is denominated a bolster.
- The Greeks and the Romans, who invented and some might say worshipped the baluster column, emphasized the importance of form in their architecture, the underlying structural design was more important than the external ornamentation. They looked for symmetry, which is the balancng of parts which is well illustrated by the architecture of the classical temple of the Parthenon.
- If we take this a little further we could speculate that that the pleasure of form described by baluster is that it is beautiful in a somewhat cold, hard, formal way, rather than something that appeals to our emotions.
- The Wordsworth Dictionary of Furniture (Bryce. 1966)defines baluster in two ways:
- 1.Turned or carved upright post or pillar, commonly curved in outline, incorporating a vase or pear shape. It may appear in a chair back below the crest rail or in a column supporting a CORNICE on a cupboard. A group of balusters supporting a rail form a balustrade. The term baluster is also used for a stout turned member of any shape. A split baluster may be used as an applied ornament.
- 2.Turned member incorporating section shaped like a large, widemouthed vase. This section is usually carved after turning, often with GADROONINC along its long axis, giving it an undulating shape. The term BALUSTER also denotes a stout turned member of any shape.
- How do we come to a consensus on what we have heard so far? Baluster is
- an architectural term,
- a small column,
- a vase or pear shaped turning as part of it,
- a stout turned member of any shape,
- a turned vase shape that is often carved after it is turned.
- a generic term for fancy turned bobbins,
- a description of a wine glass stem.
- Perhaps we don’t try at this time to synthesize these into a single whole, but turn our thoughts to the issue of the wine glass stems.
- The form was based to some extent on the architectural baluster, but many such baluster stems, and some of the knopped stems related to them, are distinctly reminiscent of the turned legs popular as support for furniture of the period. After 1720 the baluster stems became progressively lighter and smaller, but they did not disappear entirely until after the mid century. p 106. [my emphisis]
I have no difficulty in accepting the term “baluster” as a generic description of the turned ornamentation of the lace bobbin, provided that we accept it as an overall description of the totality of the of the impression of the design, i.e. that it is all in harmony with the function of the lace bobbin and the character of the material used to make the bobbin. It is just that “artistic judgment” that makes us comment on particular bobbins, each of very different design, “that is a lovely bobbin.”I can not accept the term baluster in its strict technical definition as applying to the ornamentation of bobbins in general, though there may be some exceptions to that statement.Finally I would briefly like to look at another term that we use to describe our bobbins, that is “ornamental.” I am sorry to be such a kill joy, but that term in the circles of wood turning refers to a very special kind of wood turning that requires a special lathe or adaptations that allow for special decoration to be applied to the turned object. I would like to suggest that we use term “fancy turned” bobbins, and then described the decoration or embellishments of the bobbin. In wood turning circles it would be called “spindle turning.”
(Added November 2001) During a recent visit to England I have had the opportunity to both view and handle and large number of lace bobbins in various private collections. Among these bobbins i have observed that there have been some which, in a technical sense do include those shapes that have within wood turning circles been associated with the generic term of a "baluster". Of course one could argue that the case I have presented above is therefore no longer valid but I would still hold to my view.In admitting that there are some bobbins that could in a technical sense be classed as a baluster turned bobbin, does not condone the generic use of the word to describe fancy turned bobbins. I submit also that the person offering the term baluster to describe a bobbin should have the technical knowledge to apply this to the bobbin, which is probably not frequently present in those dealing in, or collecting, lace bobbins.The question that I would like to ask those much more informed (and less isolated from original sources) than myself is, Is there any evidence that bobbin makers got their inspiration from the “baluster “stems of glasses? From the legs or backs of chairs of the period? or were they not influenced by any of these things?Also can anyone give me a reference to the earliest use of the term “baluster” to describe the bobbin decoration please?Your response would be most appreciated.Brian Lemin. -11 / 28 Deaves Road. -Cooranbong,New South Wales, Australia 2265.Correspondence welcomed.
- Bellerby, Denys. (1976) Lace Making Bobbins. Lace. (The Magazine and Newsletter of the Lace Guild. [UK] ) A series of 9 articles commences.
- Charles Boyce. (1966). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Furniture. Wordsworth Editions. Ware. UK.
- Britton. (1838.) A Dictionary of Architecture and Archeology of the Middle Ages. London.
- Honey W.B. English Glass. Collins. London. MCMXLVI.
- Huetson T.L. 1973.. Lace and Lace Bobbins. A History and Collectors Guide. David and Charles. Newton Abbot.
- Savage G. (1965). Glass. Pleasures and Treasures. Weidenfild. London (1970 edition)
- Whiteley Miss L (1996) Personal Communication 4 Jan. 1996.