Treen is not a word heard much these days but it means small wooden items, and such pieces give us a glimpse into past lives, pastimes and livelihoods from around the world.
In today’s world of plastics, metals and electronics it’s easy to forget how big a part wooden items played in peoples lives even in to the 20th century. The ship’s carpenter would make items for use on the ship, the estate carpenter could create furniture and utensils to be used in the house or on the land, and lovers would make things like love spoons, love tokens and corset stays for their sweethearts. Long evenings without television could be filled by carving or making items for daily use. Timber with all its mutiplicity of attributes provided a readily available supply of the raw material for everyday items. It didn’t really matter how skilled you were, or how sophisticated the design, so long as the piece was fit for purpose.
This hand painted billet doux was essentially a fancy envelope that lovers used to write to each other in the late 1700’s in France.
Moulds were carved to press shortbread into before baking, likewise butter moulds and sugar moulds would provide decoration for the table. Many items used by ladies of all stratas of society were made of wood. Darning mushrooms, needle and thimble holders, cotton reel stands, knitting sheaths, spindles and distaffs are just some of the items connected with textile work.
Souvenirs such as this glass case and pill box would be reminders of holidays spent, when such holidays were rare, unlike today.
Waxing, usage and handling have left many of these items with a lovely rich patina which just adds to their appeal. Whether the item was made by an amateur or a professional, they do have a charm that endears them to the collector. And their smaller size means that they don’t take up too much room, whilst being very decorative. The items shown here are but a drop in the ocean of lovely treen items that are out there.
References- Treen and Other Wooden Bygones by Edward H Pinto. Wooden Bygones of Smoking and Snuff taking by the same author. Mauchline Ware A Collectors Guide by David Trachtenberg & Thomas Keith. Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies and Society by Antigone Clarke & Joseph O’Kelly. Antique Boxes Inside and Out by Genevive Cummins. These are a few of the books on this subject.