Posted by Chris White on 05/05/2023
It’s no secret that if you’re looking for period furniture or antiques – pre-Elizabeth II – then they are often categorised by which English King or Queen held the throne at the time of the item's manufacture.
In this article, we'll be looking at four of the major antique periods: Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian (including Regency) and Carolean - how they developed, what makes them unique, and where you can buy royal antiques online.
It seems like a categorisation schema that has naturally fallen into place in the UK over the past hundred years. The education system in the UK has for many years included a focus on the history of kings and queens, so that would make a lot of sense.
However, antique pieces can also be known by the century of their origin, and terms, such as ‘gothic’, ‘renaissance’, ‘baroque’ and ‘rococo’, so it’s not always clear what the difference is between calling something ‘18th century’, and ‘Georgian’.
The clues, according to experts at Antiques.co.uk, are to be found in the different design principles and styles of each period.
Let’s work backwards to start off with – there’s a lot of ground to cover as we look at where to buy royal antiques online, so we’ll be considering four principle periods: Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian (including Regency), and Carolean.
Pictured: Edwardians developed what we would recognise today as modern sofas.
Spanning the reign of King Edward VII (1901 – 1910), the Edwardian period was named after the leader of a fashionable elite that set a style influenced by the art and fashions of continental Europe. It’s often portrayed as a romantic golden age of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never set on the British Empire.
The upper classes placed a high value on enjoying leisure sports – which is often why they had perfectly manicured lawns – and this enhanced physical activity resulted in rapid developments in fashion, to make clothing more flexible and mobile.
The Edwardian period is often compared to the French Belle Époque, and is characterised by its own unique architectural style, fashion, and lifestyle. Art Nouveau had a strong influence.
Whilst Victorian furniture was usually dark and ornate, the Edwardian period saw much lighter tones due to the use of alternative materials such as bamboo and wicker. Fabrics (especially for clothing) were usually sweet pea shades, and the period saw a shift towards lighter colours, pastels and floral designs.
Homes in the Edwardian period started to shrink in size compared to the larger Victorian abodes, which resulted in furniture becoming more compact, and inlays, carved legs, brass mounts, and satinwood banding all regained fashionable status again.
William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement had a huge influence on Edwardian style, as did Japanese art, resulting in the emergence of delicate florals and birds, feathers, and dragonflies.
These refer to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), although many elements of what is typically known as 'Victorian' did not come into fashion until later in her reign.
Design styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles like Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, English Rococo, Neoclassical and others. Gothic and Rococo were the most common to be re-introduced and modified by Victorian designers.
The Industrial Revolution and development of machinery meant that furniture started to become mass produced in the Victorian era – the increase in demand from the emerging middle classes, who considered it to be a status symbol. It’s characterised by being large, weighty, often ostentatious and dark in colour, frequently using mahogany, rosewood, oak and lacquering.
‘Ordinary comfort’ is a good way of describing the development of Victorian furniture design and manufacture.
‘Knick knacks’ and ornaments are highly common in Victoriana, as a bare room was thought to be poor taste. Every available space was used to display objects that served as an identity palette for its owner. Sideboards were often the star attraction in a Victorian parlour or dining room, and you’ll find that these are often highly decorated.
The interior design of a Victorian home would today be noted for its orderliness and idealism.
In terms of what sort of Victorian antiques you can find, they are plentiful and usually inexpensive – there are well over 2,500 items listed as Victorian here on Antiques.co.uk.
The Georgian era (1714 – 1837) was named after kings George I, George II, George III and George IV – and William IV. The subperiod that is the Regency era is defined by the regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III.
(The term Georgian era is not applied to the time of the two 20th-century British kings of this name, George V and George VI. Those periods are simply referred to as Georgian).
You’ll often see ‘The Grand Tour’ referenced in Georgian history, arts and literature. This custom involved young upper-class Englishmen travelling to Italy for intellectual and cultural ‘improvement’, and subsequently led to the acquisition and spread of art collections back to England as well as fashions and paintings from Italy.
Georgian furniture underwent an important change in the Georgian period, which was the replacement of walnut by mahogany, deemed by furniture makers at the time as much stronger and durable. Designs became ornate and sculpture-like – you will see motifs in Georgian antiques related to the lion (paw foot, lion mask), as well as the satyr or human mask, the acanthus, claw and ball foot and scroll foot.
Whilst the Victorian era saw the boom in middle class wealth, the Georgian period experienced a surge in the lower-upper classes thanks to the expansion of trading and investment around the new trading routes (e.g. the Indies). These nouveau riche wanted the ‘trimmings’ that they could now afford – and this helped propel the careers of designers like Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton.
Thanks to their solid construction and quality materials, there are plenty of Georgian antiques available – over 3,500 listed with us.
Although technically part of the Georgian period, Regency is used to describe a particular style of decoration and furniture design which rather inaccurately extend well beyond the historical Regency period (1811-1820).
In Regency era antiques, you may find actual copies of ancient Greek and Roman furniture, and an increased interest in ancient Egypt. It may display plain, slender and elegant lines, avoiding shapes and curves for surfaces, and less use of marquetry and decoration. Rosewood and zebrawood give veneers more striking colour.
There are many Regency antiques available on the market, again due to fantastic craftmanship and materials.
The reign of Charles I saw the Carolean era (for the purposes of this article, 1625-1688 – ignoring the minor blip of puritanical Cromwellian design in the mid-17th century).
Chests were replaced by more dainty chests of drawers, wing chairs were first designed, and armchairs and the first day beds appeared in homes.
Carolean period furniture started to use less of the traditional oak, developing more floral marquetry and the use of veneers. The plain pieces of the preceding Jacobean and Elizabethan eras were replaced with sumptuous, velvet upholstery and gilded bases on cabinets.
When Charles II was restored to the English throne, the Carolean period continued (sort of), under the guise of the Restoration.
Thanks to the many years spent in exile in the very fashionable centres of France and Holland, Charles II and his court were key in the importation of French and Dutch baroque tastes to London and English design styles.
Elaborate furniture, particularly of the Louis XIV Baroque style, made its way into the homes of wealthy Londoners. These pieces were often veneered, gilded, marquetry-inlaid and lacquered. Unlike today, styles took a long time to travel to the more provincial areas of England, where country furniture continued being made of oak in the semi-Gothic Jacobean styles.
View all ‘Charles’ pieces on Antiques.co.uk
The Coronation of King Charles III is a great time to start collecting royal Coronation collectables - check out our selection of Coronation-related antiques.
If you remember that you've got some bits of furniture sitting around in your garage, or sat in storage, you could be selling them with us. It's easy, there's just a small one off fixed price to list an item. Find out how to start selling in minutes.