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Antiques Considered - April 25, 2012

A Northern Neck family has owned this four-drawer chest of drawers for a number of generations.  The primary wood is walnut and the secondary is poplar.  The hardware is not original, and the holes for the original knobs have been filled.  It has four well-turned feet, and solid ends.

This chest dates from the first American Empire Period of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, in this instance 1830.  As readers know, I usually consider a piece having solid, rather than paneled, ends to

constitute half of its value.  The legs on this piece are quite good, and the burl veneer on the draw fronts is well laid out.

The graduated drawers also show sophisticated craftsmanship, as does the vertical veneering on the front and sides of the top.  The unfortunate replacement of the hardware is a serious detriment to the overall value of the chest.  It is compounded by the presence of Chippendale-style hardware on an American Empire piece of furniture.

Originally it would have had round brass knobs, possibly with glass inserts, or simply pressed glass knobs with iron rods bolting them to the drawers.  Often such knobs broke from stress or because the brass was not sufficiently sturdy.  At that point in this case similar pulls should have been installed, rather than drilling the wood to replace them with an inappropriate style that is in conflict with the design of the piece.

To ameliorate the situation I suggest ordering oval brass pulls from a good supplier, such as Horton Brass or Ball and Ball, that would fit the width of the present Chippendale pulls.  They would not be such obvious replacements, and would enhance the overall appearance of the chest.  As is, the chest is worth $650.

The late M. J. Supinger, one of Virginia’s master cabinetmakers and restorers from up in Front Royal, used to say that American Empire was the best quality American furniture because of the heavy dovetailing of the structure.  He claimed that the dovetailing kept an Empire piece tightly together, thereby facilitating the surface work of restoration.  This chest illustrates his point.

Happy Antiquing!

Lisa and Henry Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont Hwy., 22570 (P. O. Box 35). Wicomico Church, Va. 22570.

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