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Treen, literally "of a tree" is a generic name for small handmade functional household objects made of wood. Treen is distinct from furniture, such as chairs, and cabinetry, as well as clocks and cupboards. Before the late 17th-century, when silver, pewter, and ceramics were introduced for tableware, most small household items, boxes and tableware were carved from wood. Today, treen is highly collectable for its beautiful patina and tactile appeal.
Anything from wooden plates and bowls, snuff boxes and needle cases, spoons and stay busks to shoehorns and chopping boards can be classed as treen. Domestic and agricultural wooden tools are also usually classed with treen.
Before the advent of cheap metal wares in industrialized societies, and later plastic, wood played a much greater part as the raw material for common objects. Turning and carving were the key manufacturing techniques. The selection of wood species was important, and close-grained native hardwoods such as box, beech and sycamore were particularly favoured, with occasional use of exotics, such as lignum vitae for mallet heads.
Wooden objects have survived relatively less well than those of metal or stone, and their study by archaeologists and historians has been somewhat neglected until recently. Their strongly functional and undecorated forms have, however, been highly regarded by designers and collectors.
The scholarly study of treen was greatly advanced by Edward Pinto (1901–1972), who started collecting in his childhood and wrote a definitive book on the subject. In 1965, when Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery purchased his collection, it contained over 7,000 items.
- Pinto, Edward (1949). Treen or small Woodware.
- Pinto, Edward (1961). Wooden Bygones Of Smoking And Snuff Taking.
- Pinto, Edward (1962). The Craftsman in Wood.
- Pinto, Edward (1970). Tunbridge and Scottish Souvenir Woodware.
- Levi, Jonathan; Young, Robert (1998). Treen for the Table. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1-85149-284-4.
- Burrroughs, Katrina. Treen, Homes and Antiques, http://www.homesandantiques.com/feature/treen
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