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The How But Not the Why of Bird's Eye

Posted on 28 July 2017


The Cabinet Makers’ Assistant published by Blackie & Son in 1853 suggests that bird’s eye maple was ‘…one of the most beautiful materials employed in the manufacture of cabinet furniture’ with the best timber being exported from North America in the late 18th century.

It did not however appear on Tunbridge Ware until the 1860’s, when it became one of Hollamby’s favourite veneers. Typically it was used as a background veneer, with the small dots or bird’s eyes enhancing the mosaic of the Tunbridge Ware.

Blackie accurately described how the bird’s eye figuring was produced. It results from internal spines or points in the bark of the maple. Once cut into veneers, these spines strongly resemble the eye of a bird.  Although it had been commonly thought that spines are aborted bud or shoot formations, 20th century writers* now dismisses this theory. Why maple and also some other woods such as horse chestnut develop these internal spines, remains a mystery.

Our Object of the Month for August is a stationery box attributed to Henry Hollamby with a background veneer of bird’s eye maple.


*Record & Hess, Timbers of the New World 1972