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History of the Ogee

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  • History of the Ogee

    I've been immersed in the building trades for a little while now (ten years or so) in both builder (first) and designer (now) capacities. I'm studying details like they're going out of style, and there are some differences between contractor terminology and architect terminology. One that I noticed, once I became familiar with the names of profiles, is the term 'ogee' (of which the cyma profile is at least a part). I've never found a solid definition for this word (ogee), but if someone has it at hand, would you please share it? Please also consider submitting it at,33/ which is the GrandTradition Glossary. I suspect that it's a non-english term for something, but we'll see. Thanks for your help!

    Best regards!
    Gregory F. Shue Webmaster
    Free Articles, CAD Files, Forum, & News

  • #2
    Re: History of the Ogee

    I think this is one of those things we need to paraphase Mr. Justice Stewart¹: "I can't define it but I know what it is when I see it" . American Heritage says:

    o·gee (ō'jē')
    n. Architecture.
    A double curve with the shape of an elongated S.
    A molding having the profile of an S-shaped curve.
    An arch formed by two S-shaped curves meeting at a point. Also called ogee arch.
    [Middle English oggifs, ogeus, pl. of ogif, ogive. See ogive.]

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    ¹ In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "
    You will ask what goal the U.S. is pursuing? .... their external debt is huge, and ruining other countries is their customary method. Even ownership of the global 'printing press' is no longer helping. Nor is full control over NATO, None of that if enough for the 21st century colonizers. They don't just need to preserve the dollar as the only global currency but also to get their hands on the economic wealth of other large powers and regions. - Sergei Naryshkin


    • #3
      Re: History of the Ogee

      Some information on the Ogee Arch, according to Wikipedia. The origin of the word is Middle English, from Latin (American Heritage Dictionary).
      Last edited by Joe Bartok; 01-18-2006, 01:56 PM.
      "I cannot teach anyone anything; I can only make them think." - Socrates


      • #4
        Re: History of the Ogee

        But when some one in the field asks for the ogee molding, the molding usually comes with a cavetto or some other smaller molding attached to the bottom. So, does that mean that the ogee, in builder lingo, has been defined by stock millwork suppliers to the extent that it now means the series of profiles (usually- and beginning at the top- a fillet, a cyma recta, a smaller fillet, then finally a small cavetto) that come as a result of a standand knife?
        Gregory F. Shue Webmaster
        Free Articles, CAD Files, Forum, & News


        • #5
          Re: History of the Ogee

          You should track down this book. I'm a bit busy at the moment. Later tonight I'll upload high resolution scans so you can read it.

          btw. The terminology is all jumbled because builders, carpenters and even architects don't bother to do the research neccessary to uncover the truth. We all have the names mixed up, and modern books and publications do little to sort out the mess because they all plagerize and water down the text from other poorly written books. And carpentry itself has been dumbed down to the point where most work is now "buy sticks, cut sticks, shoot sticks to wall, count minutes till happy hour....."

          I know this guy who's daughter in-law graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Yale School of Architecture a few years ago. All those years of classes etc, and they never once had a program, seminar, assignment about mouldings. It's not even studied any more.

          ...which suprises me that you have shown up here Gregory. Typically carpenters do not ask questions, or at least not the right questions, and the few that do rarely follow through with finding the answers. (boy, the truth sounds negative doesn't it?)
          Last edited by Jeff B; 01-18-2006, 05:35 PM.


          • #6
            Re: History of the Ogee

            Last edited by Jeff B; 01-18-2006, 06:08 PM.


            • #7
              Re: History of the Ogee

              Walker, C. Howard - 1857-1936
              Walker's Biography

              (b Boston, MA, 9 Jan 1857; d Boston, MA, 17 April 1936). American architect, teacher and writer. He trained (1874–9) in the office of the Boston firm Sturgis & Brigham before moving to New York City, where he organized a sketch club where he and other young men could draw in congenial surroundings. The membership included Thomas Hastings (1860–1929; later a partner in Carrère & Hastings) and Cass Gilbert, both of whom worked in the office of McKim, Mead & White. Influenced by such European-trained architects as Charles F. McKim, Walker travelled in Europe and Asia Minor (1882–3) before returning to Boston to practice. In 1883 he began lecturing on the philosophy of fine arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for the next 47 years. His buildings were comparatively few, and he was best known as a teacher and writer and also, for a period, as editor of the Architectural Review. As a designer, however, he cooperated with the sculptor Daniel Chester French in making bases for public sculpture and built the Charles Rollins House (1897) at 497 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, and the Carnegie Public Library (1914), Sharon, MA. Walker took an active role in the celebrations following the World’s Columbian Exhibition (1893) in Chicago and was architect-in-chief of the Great Exposition (1898) in Omaha, NE. He also designed the layout of the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition (1904) in St Louis, MO. In his last years he devoted himself to automotive design.

              Sometime around 1899 Walker wrote a series of articles based on his lectures about Moulding Theory for The Architectural Review Magazine. That material was later published in book form. There was apparently only one edition in 1926 and then the publisher let it go out of print.

              Title: The Theory of Mouldings
              Author: Walker, C. Howard
              Place of Publication: Cleveland, Ohio.
              Publisher Name: Jansen.
              Date of Publication: 1926
              144 pages Hardcover

              I just scanned and edited the short chapter which pertains to this discussion. As far as I know, the copywrite on this book was not renewed and is therefore public domain.


              btw, most of the profile illustrations in the book read "right to left", not "left to right", as we read, and how they are normally printed.

              It's very easy to make mistakes while referencing classic architecture because there is so much bad information in circulation. I often find myself referring to a quirk as a fillet even though I know it is wrong. It's stuck in my head that way because that is how I first "learned" it from a poor source.
              Last edited by Jeff B; 01-18-2006, 07:33 PM.


              • #8
                Re: History of the Ogee

                Absolutely fascinating...

                Please consider joining the free membership at and authoring an article on profiles, or even just on the Cyma (Ogee). We need solidly grounded information, the likes of which you are providing, to train ourselves and our descendants how to work intelligently in the realm of tradition; to UNDERSTAND, not just copy. Kudos... well done!

                Bring it on!
                Gregory F. Shue

                Free Articles, CAD Files, Forum, & News


                • #9
                  Re: History of the Ogee


                  I glad you liked the info. I'll do my best to scan the rest of the book and post it online this week because it's such a blockbuster. It took me a long time to track down a copy that I could afford. I already know that you know how to find your own copy. (better act quick if you want one)

                  I have a bunch of online resources that I will post links to later on that you will be interested in for your site. As far as writing articles, well I don't feel that I really know enough to do that. I'm just fooling you with smoke and mirrors. I'm actually that guy who puts crown molding flat on the wall (but not upside down!) And, who said casing can't be used as base anyway? ;)


                  • #10
                    Re: History of the Ogee

                    Got an idea and started looking for the book mentioned earlier in this thread and came across this article:

                    Not sure how accurate it is yet, but thought it might be another source for us to reference. If it's any good, please let me know as I am now more and more interested in gaining the proper education.

                    Thanks guys, great thread!
                    John F. Freund
                    JMR Home Improvement, LLC


                    • #11
                      Re: History of the Ogee

                      I had to get some sleep when I got home, so I only got a few more pages of the books scanned. I expect it to take a while at 4-minutes or so per page for scanning and editing.

                      In the mean time, here is a selection of digitized books and photo archives available for our education. There will be a pop quiz next Friday, so be ready.....

                      History of architecture, from the earliest times; its present condition in Europe and the United ... Tuthill, Louisa C. Lindsay and Blakiston, Philadelphia : 1848, c1847.

                      The architecture of country houses; including designs for cottages, farm houses, and ... Downing, A. J. D. Appleton & Co. ; New York : [1850]

                      City architecture, or, Designs for dwelling houses, stores, hotels, etc.; in 20 plates, with descriptions and an essay on ... Field, M. Putnam, New York : 1853.

                      The dictionary of architecture T. Richards, London : [1853-1892]

                      Holly's country seats; containing lithographic designs for cottages, ... Holly, Henry Hudson. D. Appleton and Co., New York : 1863.

                      Architecture; designs for street fronts, suburban houses, and ... Cummings, M. F. [s.n.], Troy, N.Y. ; 1867.

                      Homes for the people, in suburb and country; the villa, the mansion, and the cottage, adapted ... Wheeler, Gervase. Geo. E. Woodward, New York : [1867]

                      Woodward's national architect; containing 1000 original designs, plans and ... Woodward, George E. Geo. E. Woodward, New York : c1869.

                      Stables, outbuildings and fences Harney, George E. American News Co., New York : [1870]

                      Illustrated homes; a series of papers describing real houses and real... Gardner, E. C. J. R. Osgood & Co., Boston : 1875.

                      Modern dwellings in town and country adapted to American wants and climate; with a treatise on furniture and decoration Holly, Henry Hudson. Harper & Brothers, New York : 1878.

                      Barn plans and outbuildings ... Halsted, Byron David. O. Judd Co., New York : 1886 [c1881]

                      Cottages, or, Hints on economical building, containing twenty-four plates of medium and low cost houses, contributed by different New York architects; together with descriptive letterpress, giving ... Brunner, Arnold W. W.T. Comstock, New York : 1884.

                      Safe building; a treatise giving in the simplest forms possible ... Bergh, Louis De Coppet. Ticknor and Co., Boston : 1889-92.

                      Greek lines and other architectural essays Van Brunt, Henry. Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston : 1893.

                      Homes in city and country Sturgis, Russell. C. Scribner's Sons, New York : 1893.

                      The house that Jill built, after Jack's had proved a failure; a book on home architecture Gardner, E. C. Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, New York : 1896.

                      Cottage designs with constructive details by various architects; a series of 25 designs of cottages, ranging on ... David William co., New York : [c1897]

                      The decoration of houses Wharton, Edith. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York : 1897.

                      How to build a home; being suggestions as to safety from fire, safety ... Moore, Francis C. [s.n.], New York : 1897.

                      How to build, furnish and decorate Co-operative Building Plan Ass'n, New York, N.Y. : c1897.

                      Windows; a book about stained & painted glass Day, Lewis Foreman. B.T. Batsford, London : 1897.

                      Successful houses Coleman, Oliver. H.S. Stone & Co., Chicago : 1903, c1899.

                      Home building and furnishing Doubleday, Page & Co., New York : [1903]

                      The Radford American homes; 100 house plans... Radford Architectural Co., Riverside, Ill. : [1903]

                      American renaissance; a review of domestic architecture illustrated by ... Dow, Joy Wheeler. W.T. Comstock, New York : 1904.

                      The country house; a practical manual of the planning and ... Hooper, Charles Edward. Doubleday, Page & Co., New York : 1905.

                      Rumford fireplaces and how they are made Rumford, Benjamin. W.T. Comstock, New York : 1906.

                      Practical carpentry; being a complete, up-to-date explanation of modern... Radford Architectural Company expressly for Sears Roebuck, Chicago, Ill. : c1907.

                      Sanitation in the modern home; a suggestive guide to the architect and house ... Allen, John Kermott. Domestic engineering, Chicago : 1907.

                      The steel square and its uses; a complete, up-to-date encyclopedia on the ... Radford, William A.. W. A. Radford, Chicago, Ill. : [c1907]

                      House painting, glazing, paper hanging, and white-washing; a book for the householder Sabin, Alvah Horton. J. Wiley & sons, New York: 1908.

                      Safe building construction; a treatise giving in simplest forms possible ... Bergh, Louis de Coppet. Macmillan, New York : 1908.

                      A guide to the country home Parkinson, Edward Kneeland. Outing Pub. Co., New York : 1909.

                      Bungalows; their design, construction, and furnishing, with ... Saylor, Henry H. McBride, Winston, New York : 1911.

                      Distinctive homes of moderate cost; being a collection of country and suburban homes ... Saylor, Henry H. McBride, Winston & Co., New York : 1910.

                      How the world is housed Carpenter, Frank G. American Book Co., New York : [c1911]

                      American homes and their furnishings in colonial times Northend, Mary Harrod. [s.n.], London : c1912.

                      A book of distinctive interiors Vollmer, William Auerbach. McBride, Nast & Co., New York : 1912.

                      Colonial homes and their furnishings Northend, Mary Harrod. Little, Brown, and Co., Boston : 1912.

                      Furnishing the home of good taste; a brief sketch of the period styles in interior ... Throop, Lucy Abbot. McBride, Nast & Co., New York : 1912.

                      Inside finishing King, Charles A. American Book Co., New York : [c1912]

                      Radford's stores and flat buildings, illustrating the latest and most approved ideas in small bank buildings, store buildings, double or twin houses, two, four, six and nine flat buildings Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, Ill. : [c1913]


                      • #12
                        Re: History of the Ogee

                        Part II

                        Architecture and the allied arts; Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic Brooks, Arthur Mansfield. Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis : [c1914]

                        The history of the dwelling-house and its future Thompson, Robert Ellis. J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia ; 1914.

                        The honest house, presenting examples of the usual problems which face the home-builder, together with an exposition of the simple architectural principles which underlie them: arranged especially in reference to small house design Goodnow, Ruby Ross. Century Co., New York : 1914.

                        Remodeled farmhouses Northend, Mary Harrod. Little, Brown, Boston : 1915.

                        The building trades Shaw, Frank L. The Survey Committee of the Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio : 1916.

                        Domestic architecture Robinson, L. Eugene. Macmillan, New York : 1917.

                        Planning church buildings Tralle, Henry E. Judson Press, Philadelphia : [c1921]

                        Sticks and stones, a study of American architecture and civilization Mumford, Lewis. H. Liveright, New York : [1928]

                        Home ownership, income and types of dwellings The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership Washington, D.C. :, [c1932]

                        House design, construction and equipment; reports of the Committees on Design The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932]

                        Housing and the community, home repair and remodeling; reports of the Committees on Housing and the ... The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932]

                        Housing objectives and programs; general sessions of the conference The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932]

                        Negro housing; report of the Committee on Negro Housing The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932]

                        Planning for residential districts; reports... The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932]

                        Slums, large-scale housing and decentralization; reports The President's conference on home building and home ownership, Washington, D.C. : [c1932].

                        General index to the final reports of the President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership The President's Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, Washington, D. C. : [c1933]

                        The Manufacturer and Builder 1869-1894

                        Scientific American 1846-1869

                        The grammar of house planning : hints on arranging and modifying plans of cottages, street-houses, farm-houses, villas, mansions, and out-buildings - Robert Scott Burn 1864

                        An encyclopædia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture and furniture ; containing numerous designs for dwellings (Volume 1) - Loudon, John Claudius - 1839

                        An encyclopædia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture and furniture ; containing numerous designs for dwellings (Volume 2) - Loudon, John Claudius - 1839

                        Story of architecture: outline of the styles in all Countries - Mathews, (C. T.) - 1896

                        Andrew Dickson White Collection of Architectural Photographs
                        You may need to adjust or temporarily disable popup protection in your web browser to view this.

                        Study of Greek Revival Architecture in the Seneca and Cayuga Lake Regions, by Clifford H. Ruffner, Jr., Critic: William McL. Dunbar, was originally created as a Bachelor of Architecture thesis at Cornell University in 1939.

                        The Life of John Ruskin, by W. G. Collingwood - 1911

                        Selections From the Works of John Ruskin (including selections from "The Seven Lamps of Architecture")

                        The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition A Pictorial Survey of the Most Beautiful achitectural Compositions of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition - Mullgardt, Louis Christian - 191

                        Architecture and Democracy - Bragdon, Claude Fayette, 1866-1946

                        The Beautiful Necessity Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture - Bragdon, Claude Fayette, 1866-1946

                        The City of Domes : a walk with an architect about the courts and palaces of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, with a discussion of its architecture, its sculpture, its mural decorations, its coloring and its lighting, preceded by a history of its growth - Barry, John D. (John Daniel), 1866-1942

                        The American Architect and Building News, Vol. 27, No. 733, January 11, 1890

                        The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 01, January 1895
                        The Gothic Palaces of Venice

                        The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 02, February 1895.
                        Byzantine-Romanesque Doorways in Southern Italy

                        The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 07, July, 1895
                        Italian Wrought Iron

                        The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 10, October 1895.
                        French Farmhouses.

                        The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 11, November, 1895
                        The Country Houses of Normandy
                        Last edited by Jeff B; 01-20-2006, 01:09 AM.


                        • #13
                          Re: History of the Ogee

                          ogee is also a very common crossword puzzle answer. :)


                          • #14
                            Re: History of the Ogee

                            My woodworking library is out in the shop, so I am going on memory. But there are still a number of reprints of Carpenters Manuals that were published in the 19th century available. Many of these go through the geometry of how to establish different curves for molding profiles. Books by Ellis, George Collins, Asher Benjamin are still available as reprints. I have a copy of Hatfields Treatise on Carpentry and Joinery that is invaluable for this kind of stuff. One of the more useful explanations is how to distort molding profiles from level to raking (for traditional cornice returns and pediments, etc.)

                            As for the terminology, cyma and cyma reversa seem pretty standard. Did once work with an architect that called cyma reversa - lesbian cyma. Stumped me until I got home to look it up in my books! I will look through my books and try to see when ogee came into common usage.

                            Anyway, the books are useful to people like myself that have had no formal training in classical architecture. If nothing else, they give you a foundation to evaluate what looks right and what doesn't. Once you have a basic knowledge of the orders and so forth it is easy to bring these guidelines to the jobsite. I find I am much more conscience of proportioning correctly.


                            • #15
                              Re: History of the Ogee

                              The number of 18th and 19th century Carpenter's books, which have been reprinted, is actually very small compared to the number that exist. Ogee was in common usage long before Asher Benjamin was writing for American tradesmen, and Ellis and Collings came many decades later. And while Benjamin did include information in his text to allow American Joiners to layout the curves of Greek profiles, it would be wise to take anything he wrote with a grain of salt. His "version" of the Adam brothers' work was adapted for the less skilled American market. In other words, he simplified some things and made up others completely. Studying his texts is one of the keys to understanding Federal period architecture (in America), but we really need to put everything into perspective when referencing historical works and not blindly accept the written word as the Gospel Truth.