‘My passion for treen really came from when I started work here at Christie’s,’ says Nic McElhatton, Chairman of Christie’s South Kensington, discussing his love for these small domestic objects sculpted from wood. ‘The more I learned, the more I got into it — and eventually I started collecting treen myself.’
The term, McElhatton explains, ‘comes from an Old English word which actually means turned’, referring to the rotating lathe which craftsmen used to shape the objects. Surviving pieces, such as the pearwood goblet above, can date from as early as the Elizabethan period; for McElhatton, treen ‘evokes an enormous sense of history’.
Wooden goblets were used in Elizabethan drinking ceremonies. In one such ritual, participants took a wassail bowl, typically containing mulled cider, into an orchard to toast the apple trees — an act intended to ensure a good harvest.
A nest of cedarwood cups, pictured above, shows the skill of some of these early makers, having been turned from the same piece of wood. Other specimens prized by collectors, McElhatton continues, include decorated cups, or standing armorial cups. Often fashioned from fruit woods, such as plum or pear, many of these pieces come with a deep, glossy patina.
Put together over the course of 40 years, the carefully assembled collection offered at Christie’s on 22 November features a fantastic range of treen, some of which is centuries old. ‘If you think about the material it’s made from, it’s incredible that it’s survived for such a long time — in some cases up to four or five hundred years,’ says McElhatton. ‘That’s why it’s very special.’