Eighteenth century technological efficiency: the reuse of Brazilian sugar chest wood in Portuguese cabinet manufacture

Rocio Astrid Bernal, Adelina Valente, José Pissarra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


We studied decorative Portuguese furniture from the 18th century Clérigos Church in Porto, to identify the woods used, to analyze their possible origin and understand the criteria for wood choice, according to sample location. We identified wood from Acacia sp., Castanea sativa, Couratari sp. and Dalbergia nigra. D. nigra, Acacia sp. and Couratari sp. may have arrived from Brazil, according to their natural distribution and the Portuguese colonial routes; C. sativa was abundant in the North Region of Portugal. In the 18th century, golden metal brass over black furniture was in fashion in Portuguese ecclesiastical cabinet making. Due to its dark colour, Dalbergia nigra was a desirable wood for the exposed structures of ecclesiastical furniture, such as top drawers and top tables. Couratari is a pale wood. Therefore, it was used in the inner structure of the drawers and legs. Acacia wood was also used in internal parts due to its durability. C. sativa was local and extensive; its wood was used in the inner structures, where it could not be seen. Marks were found in the Couratari wood, which indicated that the timber from chest boards employed to carry sugar from Brazil to Portugal was reused. The high silica content of Couratari wood makes it ideal for building "sugar chests".
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-228
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Conservation Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • 18 century furniture
  • Cabinet-making
  • Sugar chests
  • Wood identification


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