Beautiful, Useful Treen
Treen is an old English word meaning “made from the tree”. Used in the context of antiques, treen generally refers to handmade, smaller functional household objects made from wood, pre-20th century. Large items such as chairs, tables and cupboards are not considered treen. But items such as wooden plates and bowls, snuff boxes and needle cases, spoons, shoehorns, chopping boards and egg cups can be classified as treen.
Edward Pinto began collecting wooden items as a child. By the time the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery purchased his collection in 1965, it contained over 7,000 items. He is widely acknowledged for resurrection of the old word “treen" as a convenient description for the wooden objects that he collected so passionately and in such quantity. First published in 1969, Pinto's “Treen and Other Wooden Bygones an Encyclopedia and Social History” contains 450 pages of information on treen items and how they were used. Although now out of print, the four editions of this book are still a highly sought reference for collectors and dealers.
Most treen items are made of wood with straight grain. The strength and durability of the item was highly dependent on the specific wood used; therefore, close-grained native hardwoods such as maple, walnut, oak and apple wood were typical. Burl treen is made from the abnormal growths (or "burls") that appear on and protrude from the trunks and branches of trees. The irregular cell growth within the burl results in twisted and intertwined grain. The grain generally makes the burl wood more durable, attractive, and resistant to splitting than straight- grained trunk wood.
As with many antiques, the condition of the piece, its patina and surface, the quality of workmanship and the provenance all effect the desirability and price of the piece.
Just search for treen on Dig Antiques to see some wonderful examples.
Here are a few references used in creating this article:
- Treen and Other Wooden Bygones, an Encyclopedia and Social History, Edward Pinto, 1979
- Treen for the Table: Wooden Objects Relating to Eating and Drinking, Jonathan Levi and Robert Young, 1998
- The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Google Books excerpt
- North American Burl Treen, Steven S. Powers, 2005
- The Coming of Treen, Mark Rees, article on antiquetools.co.uk
- Treen (wooden), Wikipedia
- North American burl treen, Wikipedia
- About burl, Michael Combs, includes definitions and how treen is made