1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cupboard

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CUPBOARD, a fixed or movable closet usually with shelves. As the name suggests, it is a descendant of the credence or buffet, the characteristic of which was a series of open shelves for the reception of drinking vessels and table requisites. After the word lost its original meaning—and down to the end of the 16th century we still find the expression “on the cupboard”—this piece of furniture was, as it to some extent remains, movable, but it is now most frequently a fixture designed to fill a corner or recess. Throughout the 18th century the cupboard was a distinguished domestic institution, and the housewife found her chief joy in accumulating cupboards full of china, glass and preserves. With the exception of a very few examples of fine ecclesiastical cupboards which partook chiefly of the nature of the armoire in that they were intended for the storage of vestments, the so-called court-cupboard is perhaps the oldest form of the contrivance. The derivation of the expression is somewhat obscure, but it is generally taken to refer to the French word court, short. This particular type was much used from the Elizabethan to the end of the Carolinian period. It was really a sideboard with small square doors below, and a recessed superstructure supported upon balusters. Of these many examples remain. Less frequent is the livery cupboard, the meaning of which may be best explained by the following quotation from Spenser’s Account of the State of Ireland:—“What livery is we by common use in England know well enough, namely, that it is an allowance of horse-meat, as they commonly use the word stabling, as to keep horses at livery; the which word I guess is derived of livering or delivering forth their nightly food; so in great houses the livery is said to be served up for all night—that is, their evening allowance for drink.” The livery cupboard appears usually to have been placed in bedrooms, so that a supply of food and drink was readily available when a very long interval separated the last meal of the evening from the first in the morning. The livery cupboard was often small enough to stand upon a sideboard or cabinet, and had an open front with a series of turned balusters. It was often used in churches to contain the loaves of bread doled out to poor persons under the terms of ancient charities. They were then called dole cupboards; there are two large and excellent examples in St Alban’s Abbey. The butter, or bread and cheese cupboard, was a more ordinary form, with the back and sides bored with holes, sometimes in a geometrical pattern, for the admission of air to the food within. The corner cupboard, which is in many ways the most pleasing and artistic form of this piece of furniture, originated in the 18th century, which as we have seen was the golden age of the cupboard. It was often of oak, but more frequently of mahogany, and had either a solid or a glass front. The older solid-fronted pieces are fixed to the wall half-way up, but those of the somewhat more modern type, in which there is much glass, usually have a wooden base with glazed superstructure. Most corner cupboards are attractive in form and treatment, and many of them, inlaid with satinwood, ebony, holly or box, are extremely elegant.