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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Regular Maintenance for Antique Furniture – a List of ‘Should Do’s’

Regular Maintenance for Antique Furniture – a List of ‘Should Do’s’
by Fred Taylor (09/22/09).

Over the last 30 years of repairing and restoring antique and collectible furniture, many questions have come from my customers about the little things that should or should not be done on a regular basis to care for their prize possessions. Much of this information is just “common sense,” but many of us are so busy in our everyday lives that we don’t have time to worry about the details. Here’s the first installment (of two) of a short guide to remind you of the “little stuff” that may help prevent your having to spend money on the “big stuff.”

Things you SHOULD do:

Custom made table pads have a heat resistant core, a soft “meet the furniture” side and a waterproof upper crust.
• Wax your furniture. The basic care of furniture in relatively good condition includes cleaning with mineral spirits (paint thinner to remove old dirt, wax and oil—no it won’t hurt the existing finish, different chemistry). After wiping down with spirits allow the piece to dry overnight. Then apply a thin coat of paste wax; BriWax or Howard’s works well. Use tinted wax to enhance the color. After that, dry dust only. Reapply wax once a year. Do not use any other polish and do not use product that contains oil of any sort or silicone—nothing but paste wax. Period. Also remember that the grocery store does not sell any product that has to do with furniture maintenance.
• Rotate your dining room table once a year. Pick a date, like your birthday or a holiday and turn the table around. You can also do this with your breakfast table, kitchen chairs, even the family room coffee table. Remember that furniture exposed to strong light will fade and the finish may even start to disintegrate. Excessive wear from using one spot more than another, on a dining table or coffee table for example, will decrease the life of your furniture and may require you to spend big money to repair the damage. Also consider covering your furniture with sheets or closing curtains or blinds in bright rooms that you are not using, especially when you are going to be away from home for awhile.
• Put felt cloth or discs beneath lamps, vases and other decorative items you set on your furniture. Since the bottoms of brass lamps etc. are rarely silky smooth, the felt may save your furniture from being scratched and the finish damaged. Felt can even be purchased in pre-cut shapes so the whole project may only take a few minutes. This also works to protect hardwood floors from the tips of your furniture.
• Use two people to move the bed. Sometimes beds have to be moved to clean under and around them and at that time they are at risk. Over the years, we have repaired many beds that one person had attempted to move alone. The usual outcome is a broken or severely weakened bed frame. The bedposts usually crack or break where the side rails fit in to the headboard or footboard. Sometimes the rails themselves break or lose the metal fittings embedded in the ends. It is very difficult if not impossible for one person to move a bed without stressing the joints.

A piece of glass almost always has a microscopically thin layer of moisture on the surface. This moisture will “grow” to the finish on furniture sticking the glass to the piece resulting in finish damage when the glass is removed. Allowing air to circulate under the glass using spacers like this clear disc eliminates that problem.
• Purchase glass cut to size for the tops of your night stands, end tables or coffee tables. This is especially important if you tend to set glasses on your furniture or entertain frequently. You can make a pattern or have a glass company come out and make a pattern. This will add years to the life of the furniture. Also, don’t forget to use clear plastic discs (about the size of a nickel and available from the glass company) between the furniture and the glass so that the finish can breathe.
• Invest in proper table pads to cover your dining room table. Put a tablecloth over the pads and THEN you can use placemats or other coverings if you choose. Lots of folks think that putting a table cloth directly on the table is enough protection. Unfortunately the moisture from a glass or the heat from a casserole dish will go right through the tablecloth (or a placemat) and into the finish on the table. Remember that your guests are there to enjoy your company and not to look at the dining table so cover it and protect your investment.
• Purchase a can of silicone lubricant. If possible try to find “food grade” silicone from a fabric or hardware store. (You can find it here.) Use this spray when you have a dresser drawer that is giving you problems each time you open and close it. Pull out the problem drawer and make sure that the wooden runner is not completely worn down or that a part isn’t missing. Then by simply spraying the bottoms of your drawers on the runner and the corresponding case runner(s), you will find the drawer will open and close more easily. Beeswax works as well for this application but once you buy a can of silicone you will find 1,000 other uses for it.
• Take a video or photographic inventory of your household goods. Hire someone to do this for you if you have to. This way you will have a record of your belongings should you have a personal emergency. Keep a copy of the video or photos on a disk in a safe deposit box or family safe. Also consider having any valuable furniture appraised by a certified appraiser. Keep a copy of the appraisal and pictures in a safe place. You may need to consider purchasing additional contents coverage on your homeowner’s policy based on the appraisal results.
• Visit the craftsman. If you are considering having a piece of furniture repaired or restored, go visit the location of the business you are planning to use. Ask to see some of the work in progress and ask for and follow up on references. Always give the shop a match drawer, door or whatever you want your piece to resemble when it is finished. This will help the shop determine the color and sheen for the restored piece.
• Number all the drawers in a chest of drawers, dresser or buffet. That way the next time you move, you won’t have to worry about where each drawer fits. Also remove keys and pack in a safe place.

Most good libraries have an abundance of furniture reference books. Take advantage of them but don’t believe everything you read. Be selective.
• Read all you can to learn more about your furniture. The library is full of books covering periods, styles and ages and learning the history of how, when, where and what materials were used to make a piece of furniture can add to your enjoyment of the piece. A suggested antique furniture reading list is posted on my Web site: How To Be A Furniture Detective. Just scroll down half way.
• Find someone knowledgeable about furniture and let that person be your guide. That person may be a dealer you trust, a craftsman who has done good work for you or just a friend but whoever it is make sure they know more than you do about furniture. That way when you have an important decision to make, you already have a place to seek guidance.
Next time a list of DON’TS.
Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).
Visit Fred’s website at His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.
Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail

Friday, September 18, 2009

Leave your boots at the door, Jack

Leave your boots at the door, Jack
January 14, 2009by Harry A. Zuber

Boot jacks shaped as pistols.
The boot jack is a utilitarian device used to remove boots. The many designs patented during the last half of the 19th century show a pride in how items looked as well as how they worked. Thus we have an American art form that has survived to the present day.

There were 239 boot jacks patented in the United States between 1852 and 1995 to inventors in 37 states, the District of Columbia, Austria, Canada, England, Germany, India and Japan. We find wonderful examples of boot jacks made from cast iron, wood and brass. There are many examples of one-of-a-kind boot jacks as well as those produced in mass quantities. They were especially popular advertising and promotional tools. Examples marked “Phelps Dodge & Palmer Chicago,” “Use Musselmans Boot Jack Plug Tobacco,” and “The Glover Boot and Gaiter Jack Paterson NJ” were given away by various companies. Significant information about boot jacks remains scarce.

The maker often did not mark the item with information on the origin, name or date of manufacture, which makes it difficult to determine the date and place of production. The most common boot jack is the “cricket,” with two antennae coming out from the top of the head to form the place for the heel of the boot. At least two foundries were producing these in the 1860s and 1870s. Harbster Bros. & Co., Reading, Pa., was listed in “The Business Director” of 1869-70 as a producer of sad irons and miscellaneous hardware. It produced a cricket with its name on the underside. One of these was found at an antiques cooperative in London, England, where the dealer had marked it as originating in Reading, England. Daniel Kidder of Rumney, N.H., is best known for building the first engine used on the Mount Washington (N.H.) Cog Railway. His foundry (circa 1860) also produced a cricket boot jack bearing his name on the underside.

Another common form of boot jack is the “Naughty Nellie,” a risqué item in the shape of a woman on her back with her legs up to receive the heel of the boot. It has been produced in many sizes and with varying amounts of anatomical detail.The heart is a shape that has been cherished over the generations and is often found in both cast-iron and wooden boot jacks. A wooden heart-shaped boot jack of Pennsylvania origin can also be found hanging in Andrew Wyeth’s former studio, now a museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. There is a beautiful brass boot jack in the collection of the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Del., that was created by the DuPont family. One interesting boot jack producd in the early 20th century is a depiction of “Foxy Grandpa,” a comic strip character created by C.E. Schultze that first appeared on the front page of the New York Herald Sunday comics section on Jan. 7, 1900, and had disappeared by the Depression.

Also at this time, Colonel George W. Miller owned a very large ranch in northeastern Oklahoma which he named the “101 Ranch” for the highway that ran through it. This was a working ranch but became famous for the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, which gave non-Westerners a hint of the color and romance of the soon-to-disappear frontier. Souvenirs were good money makers and included a boot jack in the shape of a steer head with “101 Ranch” in raised letters on it. These have been reproduced through the years, but the originals are quite valuable today, as are any original items from the 101 Ranch.

Many of the boot jacks patented in the 19th century were never put into production, and some that were had only limited output and remain very rare today. The U.S. Patent Office decided some years ago to dispose of its patent models in an effort to save space. This is unfortunate for Americans with an interest in the history of inventions in this country, for we lost many fine examples of them. It is, however, good news for collectors, as quite a few of these disposed-of items found their way into private hands. All the boot jack patent models that were disposed of by the Patent Office were bought by enterprising individuals. Sadly, a fire at a warehouse where many were stored destroyed many of these boot jack models.

As with so many collectibles, boot jacks are heavily reproduced. Fine castings and carvings are getting more difficult to find and prices have risen steadily for the best examples. There are many of the more common earlier examples still available at reasonable prices. Collectors can find good examples at antiques shows, live auctions and occasionally at Internet auction sites (on any given day eBay has as many as 50-60 different listings). It is clearly desirable to be able to hold one in your hands to determine the quality of the item, however, before the purchase is made since many that are found are lightweight, low-quality reproductions.Click here to discuss this story and more in the message boards.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sheffield and Silver Plate: What to Look For
by priceminer (07/14/09).

The social background for the discovery of the methods of plating on copper used in the Sheffield process is quite interesting. It was a time of rising expectations for an emerging merchant class distinct for the upper class in England. These newly wealthy families wished to live with silver luxuries befitting their new status. Unfortunately for them, solid silver hollowware objects were totally beyond their means. Only the aristocracy could afford sterling silver tureens, vegetable dishes, trays and the like. But that didn’t keep the merchants from wanting these objects. In 1742 a discovery credited to Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield led to the Sheffield plating business.

Elegant Opaline glass & silverplated butter keeper, circa 1870, in Classical Taste by Joseph Rogers of Sheffield, England.

Boulsover discovered that when sterling silver is fused to copper the two metals are identically malleable. One could pound out a piece and have the silver and copper retain the same geometric ratio to one another as the metal was worked. This led rather quickly to the development of a very large industry based on the fusing of ingots of sterling silver to one or both sides of ingots of copper. The new merchant class—and down on their luck members of the aristocracy—could now have terrific pieces of hollowware that appeared to be made from sterling silver but were in fact made of thinly veiled copper!
The keys to identifying Sheffield silver are strictly related to the method of its manufacture and the need to disguise the underlying copper. Because the silver, not the labor, was the expensive part of the process, large pieces of Sheffield silver were tinned rather than silvered, on unseen surfaces.
Areas such as the inside of a meat over or the bottom of a large tray, even the bottom of a large tureen, will often be tinned, not plated. When you find such a tinned area on a piece you know for a fact that it is old Sheffield plate, unless it’s a tinned bottom added to electroplate with rolled edges. Than you have a fake Sheffield!
Another major characteristic of Sheffield plate is that all exposed edges must be covered with a rim of silver, otherwise the copper middle layer would show through, giving away the fact that the piece is not sterling silver. This is referred to as a wrapped edge. Either one of two processes were used: the applied silver decorative motif was bent over the edge; or a thin silver band was wrapped and fused around the edge. In both cases you can get a fingernail virtually under this edge. You will also find a seam where the ends of the strip of silver or applied moldings meet.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, most families purchasing large pieces of hollowware had their family crest engraved on the item. If you were to engrave a piece of Sheffield plate, the copper would show because of the thinness of the silver layer, Engraving shields or plaques were therefore inlaid into the side of the piece in the appropriate spot for engraving, If you blow air either at the engraved area or at the appropriate areas on an un-engraved piece, the engraving shield will “jump out” at you. This is caused by the differing rates of condensation on the solid silver plaque versus the plated areas. Any piece with an engraving plaque will invariably turn out to be Sheffield plate.
On any item formed out of a cylinder of metal, such as candlesticks, pots, vases and so on, the metal was joined together by crimping or dovetailing. This left an obvious seam, often with a little copper showing. Originally this was carefully burnished, but with a couple hundred years of wear and tear, you can often spot such seams. The presence of these seams is a guarantee that the items are old Sheffield.

Pair of late 18th century Sheffield Plate Candlesticks engraved with a shaft of wheat and inscribed with the Latin words, “Sapiens Qui Assiduus,” which means “He who is wise is industrious.”
There were many fascinating processes involved in the making of fused plate, well beyond those mentioned here. They do not, however, leave any telltale marks that specifically identify a piece as Sheffield plate as opposed to solid silver or electroplate. You can learn most readily about those processes by reading the major books that details all of the processes involved in the creation of fused plate.
The value determinants of Sheffield silver are similar to those for all antiques, but with some exceptions. Aesthetic factors are identical to those for similar pieces of sterling silver. Provenance and rarity also have an impact on value. The originality of the pieces making up a multi-part piece, such as covered vegetable or entree dish with a separate water reservoir, is crucial to value on Sheffield pieces, as it is to all sterling or electroplated items.
Anything made in multiples and of more than one part had each separate piece numbered in a series. Thus, you would have cover, dish and under tray number one, number two and so on. Because the pieces were not always perfectly compatible, the numbering system allowed servants to get the correct cover on the correct base. If the pieces no longer are three to three, or one to one, but are cover three with base four, then an incestuous relationship has developed, and the value is no more than 75 percent of a completely original piece. Marriages of work by two makers would have even less value, perhaps only 25 percent of the value of a perfect piece.
Approximately 90 percent of Sheffield silver pieces are completely unmarked. In fact, the lack of marks can often make one first think an item might be a piece of Sheffield plate. In the very early days a few makers put on pseudo-hallmarks to suggest the high quality of their goods. The guilds of silversmiths sent up an immediate howl and Parliament quickly established severe penalties for the hallmarking of plated wares. As the companies making Sheffield plate grew stronger, they began to lobby for some allowable marking systems, and the end result was that either the name or a small symbol could be used as an identification device. Because marked pieces are rare, a premium of 25 percent or more adheres to a marked price over an identical unmarked piece.

Regency period (circa 1810-1820) Old Sheffield Plate tea caddy. This pieces shows quite a lot of bleeding (wear to top of lid) where the copper is showing through.
Finally, and of utmost importance to value, is the level of originality of the actual plating. Old Sheffield silver is often in remarkably good condition with little or no bleeding (copper showing through). This is because it is the unique property of Sheffield plate that it is sterling silver over copper (not pure silver, as is the case with both close plate and electroplate). Remember, sterling is an alloy and the point of making an alloy is that it is hundreds of times more durable than pure silver: Whereas as pure silver wears away quickly with regular polishing, sterling wears away very, very slowly.
Related to this condition problem is the question of electroplating old Sheffield plate. Never do it unless the condition is so bad that the piece has no value as an antique. Electroplating adds a process totally foreign to the early piece, and it covers the mellow sterling with the more harshly colored pure silver.
In approximately 1840, the Elkington Company of Birmingham England, began production of electroplated silver. They had cleverly bought up all patent rights related to the experimentation then taking place throughout England in addition to their own work. This far simpler method—by which a completed base metal object is suspended in a vat, a charge introduced, and pure silver fused onto all surfaces—quickly put the old method out of business.
Electroplated wares are coated with a thin layer of pure silver, which, as noted earlier, wears away far more quickly than an alloy would. The base metal also impact on adherence, the preferable based metals being copper, brass or nickel-brass alloy (commonly called nickel silver). Britannia and other similar white metals are inferior because they lose their shape more readily and because they provide a poor base for the silver to adhere to.

Sheffield plate Corinthian column candlesticks, made by Hawksworth & Eyre, Sheffield, England, circa 1870's. This is an example of electroplate.
Electroplated items lack all of the distinctive aspects discussed in the Sheffield section. They are commonly marked by their makers and usually have marks indicating the quality of the plating and the type of base metal. Marks commonly seen include EP (electroplate), EPNS (electroplated nickel silver), EPBM (electroplated Britannia metal), A-1, quadruple plate, triple plate, and so on. As with all silver, value is influenced by age, rarity, desirability of style and type, provenance, condition, and additionally, by base metal used.
Because they were competing with the old Sheffield platters who had earned wonderful reputations for the fine quality, the electroplating companies have often used the word Sheffield in their company names or as a descriptive adjective for their plating. Thus one sees on objects such words and phrases as “Sheffield, England,” “Sheffield Silver on Copper,” “Sheffield plate,” “Sheffield silver,” and so on. In each and every instance the word “Sheffield” on a piece of silver is your absolute, iron clad guarantee that the piece is electroplate, having nothing in common with the magnificent pieces of genuine old Sheffield plate.
— by David Lindquist
David Lindquist co-owns Whitehall at the Villa Antiques and Fine Arts in Chapel Hill, N.C., and is a nationally recognized lecturer, appraiser, author, editor and broadcaster