Tool marks on antique furniture: where to find them and why

Close comparison of the spindles of this Empire/transitional chair reveals the variations produced by handwork in ‘identical’ turnings. Since we expect them to be identical they appear to be until inspected and measured.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – When field cut lumber, recently converted from timber, finally reached the 18th century cabinetmaker’s shop, his main tasks were to cut and shape the wood to his own design and to smooth the surface. He and his journeymen and apprentices accomplished these tasks with an amazingly small array of hand tools, some of which would be familiar to us today and some that many of us would have no idea how to employ.

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Sorting furniture styles: pigeonhole with caution

Is this a Phyfe chair and a Hepplewhite chair? Or is it a pair of Federal chairs? Or is it two antique chairs? Or is it just two old chairs?

Is this a Phyfe chair and a Hepplewhite chair? Or is it a pair of Federal chairs? Or is it two antique chairs? Or is it just two old chairs?

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – One of my jobs as a reporter when I cover an antiques show or sale naturally is to ask exhibitors for details of their merchandise, take photos and record comments. But I also sometimes have the opportunity to pester attendees who don’t know me and to whom I do not introduce myself.

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Give it a rest: American furniture design

This Mission style settle shows the economy of decoration of the style, relying on the look of strength and clean lines for its attractive look.

This Mission style settle shows the economy of decoration of the style, relying on the look of strength and clean lines for its attractive look.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – In classical music one of the most important notations in the score is the symbol for “rest.” It denotes the pause that refreshes, the golden silence. It tells the musician to take a break, catch a breath, skip a beat, just stop. It may be for just one beat or it may be for a few measures or for an entire passage. The composer uses the rest for many reasons, but primarily to emphasize a point or provide a space for a seamless transition of direction or tempo.

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19th century furniture bent on revivals

How old is this Chippendale chair? (Answer: circa 1900).

How old is this Chippendale chair? (Answer: circa 1900).

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – Once, as my teenage daughter started to leave the house on a chilly evening, I remarked that her attire might leave something to be desired. In fact, I told her she was going to be cold. She calmly looked me in the eye and replied, “You have to sacrifice something for the look.”

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The Golden (Oak) Age of American furniture

In 1885 A. Harry Sherwood of Grand Rapids developed a method of rolling oak looking grain patterns onto cheaper secondary woods to simulate quartersawn oak. Photo courtesy of ‘Grand Rapids Furniture – The Story of America’s Furniture City’ by Christian Carron.

In 1885 A. Harry Sherwood of Grand Rapids, Mich., developed a method of rolling oak looking grain patterns onto cheaper secondary woods to simulate quartersawn oak. Photo courtesy of ‘Grand Rapids Furniture – The Story of America’s Furniture City’ by Christian Carron.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – The American style. Is there such a thing? Is there a style that is both typically American and that can be found primarily only in this country? Of course there are a number of candidates and many of them would nicely fill the requirements of the “American style” at first glance but take a closer look.

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Innovation came slowly to furniture industry

The band saw enabled the production line manufacture of tables like this in the second quarter of the 19th century.

The band saw enabled the production line manufacture of tables like this in the second quarter of the 19th century.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – In today’s environment, both in business and at home, we cannot help but be impressed with the level of technology in our lives. My laptop computer not only allows me to do research and write about it when and where I choose. My cell phone can reach out to almost anyone in the world and my digital phone system at home will flash a message across my television screen identifying who is trying to reach me by telephone.

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All the ingredients of a well-prepared tag

The tag for this piece read ‘mahogany writing desk. Early 20th century. $900.’ A tag that might sell the desk more quickly would read ‘Carlton House desk variation based on Hepplewhite’s 1786 design. Colonial Revival style. Solid mahogany with satinwood inlay. Two lift top compartments, two drawers. Original hardware. Made in New York by George C. Flint, circa 1900. $900.’

The tag for this piece said ‘mahogany writing desk. Early 20th century. $900.’ A tag that might sell the desk more quickly would read ‘Carlton House desk variation based on Hepplewhite’s 1786 design. Colonial Revival style. Solid mahogany with satinwood inlay. Two lift-top compartments, two drawers. Original hardware. Made in New York by George C. Flint, circa 1900. $900.’

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – I have previously written the requirement of knowing something about a craftsman or a company before taking it for granted that a recognizable name was a guarantee of quality goods. Brand name quality in furniture, as in almost everything else, has a tendency to rise and fall over time for a variety of reasons and it is important to know when the name was up and when it was down.

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On the level: shopping for an antique dining table

A good set of table pads, properly deployed when the table is in use will save you lots of worry and possibly from major expense to repair the damaged top of an expensive table.

A good set of table pads, properly deployed when the table is in use will save you lots of worry and possibly from major expense to repair the damaged top of an expensive table.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – If you are shopping for an older or antique dining table there are some things you need to pay attention to that probably would not be relevant to shopping for a new table.

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The nuts and bolts of bedding down through the ages

This turn of the 20th century bed hardware consists of a stamped steel hook imbedded in the side rail and held in place by two steel dowels. The hooks enter a slot in the post and engage two more steel dowels implanted in the post.

This turn of the 20th century bed hardware consists of a stamped steel hook imbedded in the side rail and held in place by two steel dowels. The hooks enter a slot in the post and engage two more steel dowels implanted in the post.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – I was in college when the rack monster got a firm grip on me. In high school, while living at home, I had led a fairly sedate existence, keeping regular hours and getting lots of sleep. Between school, work and a steady girlfriend my life was, well, ordinary. But when the time for college rolled around it was party time. Any time. All the time. Not all the time, of course, because I did actually have to study a little but sleep – “rack time” as we called it – came after whatever was last on the priority list.

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Stickley Brothers – Everyman’s Stickley

Early label – This oval paper label was used by Stickley Brothers in the late 1800s to about 1916.

Early label – This oval paper label was used by Stickley Brothers in the late 1800s to about 1916.

 

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. – The name Stickley is perhaps one the most famous and widely respected family names in the history of American furniture. And the most widely recognized of the five Stickley brothers was the oldest, Gustav. I have postulated that Gustav was ultimately responsible for the “American Look” in 20th century furniture. And while Gustav was famous in the span of his brief career and is even more revered today in auction halls across the country, how many pieces of Gustav’s work have you actually seen with your own eyes? How many have you had the chance to examine and appreciate in person what Gustav was trying to project? Even better yet, how many Gustav pieces do you own, or how many pieces did your parents or grandparents own?

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