'Treen' is a flexible term used for a great variety of small, antique, domestic, functional woodware that might be described as 'wooden bygones'. Much of it is turned, though not all. It is often decorated, with turned details or carving, and is handmade. Larger pieces such as furniture are not classed as treen. Nor are non-functional items, so although a turned and carved box would be considered treen, a carved ornament would not be.
Examples include candlesticks, bowls, boxes, snuff boxes, egg cups, goblets, lemon squeezers, spoons, plates, corkscrews, string boxes, darning mushrooms, needle cases and wooden tools. A large collection can be seen at the Birmingham Museum. Until Edward Pinto, a collector, wrote about treen in the 1960s, little regard was paid to these pieces. Now they are very collectible and many fetch good prices.
Before the mass production of metal and plastic ware, most of these items were made of close grained wood, usually sycamore, beech and box, those being the common turners' materials at the time. Most pieces would have been country work, purely functional. But some were finely made and decorated, perhaps being engine-turned, and it is these, being valuable in their own time, that are probably most likely to survive.
The turning and carving were done by skilled craftsmen, and although it is rarely possible to identify particular makers, it is their hand skills and design ability that justify the esteem in which these pieces are now held.
Their origins as everyday household items give insight into past times. The wear and tear, the patina, and sometimes the evidence of old repairs, tell of the worth of the piece and the long use it has had. They may still be used today.
Some of my work could be described as treen and I hope that one day it will find a place in a collection.
Examples of treen, a plate and a pair of coasters