Common French Antiques Terms or Phrases


My breadbox sized 1878 Webster's Dictionary Unabridged is not for sale. It's useful for tracking down archaic expressions when only they will suffice.  How many times do you find yourself reaching for that perfect word or phrase without quite recalling it-not to mention spelling? That's why we keep dictionaries and thesauruses near our desk.  However, what if you are looking for a French utterance, and not an everyday one like hors d'oeuvre or bonjour?  Depending upon the word, you likely have a problem.  That in mind, here are a few antique related "expressions françaises" used recurrently here in the states, but not so frequently that they're around when needed.  I've added a few booby traps in the list for fun.  Every 7th expression is a barb: A snappy turn of phrase erudite Parisian dealers dream of drawing on when ambushed by American bargain hunters. Antique tourists wearing $10 Hawaiian shirts who think France is just another variety of Disneyland with the Eiffel Tower, berets and croissants thrown in for atmosphere.

1. Commode: stylish horizontally framed chest of drawers usually lifted from the floor on graceful legs & feet.

2. Armoire: a large tall decorative cupboard or wardrobe often fitted with ornately hinged façade doors.

3. Bombe': bulging-usually referring to elaborate furniture designed to swell out in the middle.

4. Boulle: (Andre Charles 1642-1732) a Baroque era French master cabinetmaker famous for his elaborate marquetry, tortoiseshell and metallic inlay.

5. Fleur-de-lis: triple petal design representing a lily

6. Étagère: open display cabinet with multiple shelves

7. Vous êtes touriste, non? (You're a tourist aren't you?): Parisian response to "Where can I find a Burger King?"

8. Fauteuil: open-sided armchair

9. Bergere: close-sided armchair or easy chair

10. Chiffonier: tall, usually narrow chest of drawers,

11. Gueridon: small, usually round table for supporting lamps or lighting

12. Marquetry: general term for introducing wood veneer and sometimes other materials into the surface of a furniture carcass creating pictorial decoration

13. Parquetry: geometric cube inlay

14. "Puisque monsieur, it vaut son pesant de cacahuètes!" (Because sir, it is worth its weight in peanuts!): French flea market vendor's response to "How do I know this painting is an authentic Monet?"

15. Frieze: in furniture, the surrounding case section below the top, usually supporting a drawer(s)

16. Poincons: punched silver hallmarks

17. Bureau-plat: flat top writing table usually fitted with a drawer(s) in frieze

18 Objets de vertu: Small decorative objects displaying superior craftsmanship and materials

19. Bebe: child doll

20. Poupee: female doll

21. Gangly: French assessment of most American antiques

22. Roundel: a circular ornament

23. Faience: tin glazed earthenware

24. Famille-rose: the pink family palette of Chinese porcelain

25. Famille-verte: the green family

26. Trefoil: decorative motif in the shape of three symmetrical leaves

27. Eglomise: reverse decoration on mirror or glass

28.Vichyssoisse: In Champagne, another name for American sparkling wine.

29. Trompe l'oeil: fool the eye, highly realistic art

30. Secretaire a Abattant: fall front cabinet with writing desk

31.Menuisier: cabinetmaker

32a. Ebeniste: cabinetmaker working with veneer.

32. Duchesse or Recamier: daybed.

33. En Carbriote: rounded or curved cresting on a chair back.

34. A la reine: flat or rectilinear shaping on a chair back.

35. L'Océan Atlantique: To a Frenchman, only connection between traditional French furniture and American furniture made in the French tradition.

36. Canapé: sofa-spelled like the appetizer

37. Repousee: pushed back. In metalwork, high style patterns made in relief by applying pressure from the inside out

38. Guilloche: ribbon-like ornamentation incised, embossed or carved in a series of interlocking circles.

39. Bureau: desk, usually slant front.

40. Provincial: from the provinces or countryside

41. Maitre: master craftsman or artisan

42. Jerry Lewis: the only American artisan ever recognized universally by French citizens as a true Maitre.


Wayne Mattox Antiques | 82 Main Street North | Woodbury, CT 06798 | 203-263-2899 |
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