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Online Promises: You Believe Those Internet Articles, Don’t You?

by Fred Taylor (01/04/13).

This table was made by Paine Furniture Co of Boston. Does it look valuable? One website article says yes, indeed. Our authors begs to differ.

If you use the Internet to find information, like I do, you already know it can be a great resource. But as I have found out—and as you probably already know—there is some information that is less than sterling quality. Especially when it comes to furniture.

Online articles about older and antique furniture are a lot like mothers-in-law, almost everyone has one and very few are any good.

It seems that misinformation about furniture falls in two broad categories. The first category is when the author or sponsor is trying to get you to buy something, disguising the sales pitch as facts-based in research and experience. The other category I haven’t figured out yet. It seems like totally inaccurate or misleading information is posted in eZines as “articles” for no apparent reason other than to take up space.

One area that seems particularly rife with misinformation is the care and feeding of antique furniture, since that well has long been poisoned by commercial interests that want to sell you the latest version of (fill in the blank).

One product in particular caught my eye. It seems to feature many of the attributes of “snake oil” sold from the back of a wagon in the late 19th century in that it is a cure-all for whatever ails your furniture. One of the opening statements on the site notes that “the finish on used furniture is in such poor condition that it requires refinishing, but refinishing is expensive and the old finish is much more valuable than a new one. If you spend the money to refinish a piece you will actually reduce the value.” Please note that this is stated as a fact without qualification. Apparently, there is no difference between a true American antique and a 1930s Colonial Revival reproduction. I agree that in many cases the refinishing of a piece of furniture can lower its value but that is not always the case. It depends on what you start with. In some cases, refinishing actually enhances the value.

Another maker of an emulsified polish states that it is best used on glossy finishes. It is made from all-natural ingredients and contains lanolin to moisturize a lackluster finish. Does a finish need moisturizing? I thought a finish was to keep moisture out. Do you know what lanolin is? It is also known as “wool fat” or “wool grease.” It is a greasy yellow substance from wool-bearing animals, such as sheep. It is a mixture of cholesterol, esters and fatty acids found in the hair follicles of the animals. Commercially, it is used as waterproofing and as a lubricant and I personally do not choose to put sheep fat on my furniture. Would bacon fat or butter work just as well?

Then another site says that wax should never be used because regular use produces a wax buildup that attracts dirt and smoke and some waxes may contain abrasives that will scratch the furniture. What to do instead? The site recommends polishes that contain detergents, emulsifiers and oils because the detergents clean the finish, the emulsifiers give it the body to work and the oils are left behind as a barrier to dirt and moisture. Is oil a barrier to dirt or is it an attracter of dirt? Use your own experience for the answer.

Those sites are all trying to sell you a product. Here are a couple of instances of sites that seem to have no reason at all to exist:

According to another online article, this bed made of quarter-sawn oak veneer will increase in value every year, as do all antiques. It would not be hard to find a couple of dealers who would dispute that from personal experience.

One of them touts the prized value of Paine Furniture. According to the site, “Antique Paine furniture is more valuable than a lot of other antique furniture types purely because it is in demand… it actually becomes more and more valuable as the years go on, so a piece in good condition can actually double in price within the space of a few years.” Do I get a money back guarantee with that?

How about a few real facts? Paine was established in Boston in 1835 making styles of the day. In the late 19th century it turned to bench-made Centennial/Colonial Revival forms and, according to David P. Lindquist in “Colonial Revival Furniture,” published by Wallace-Homestead, “Such large companies as Paine Furniture Company of Boston come readily to mind as highly collected makers of fine quality pieces.” OK so far. But later Linquist says, “Soon after the Centennial some inaccurate (read ugly) Colonial designs were also being sold. Paine Furniture of Boston… produced more than a few hideous pieces.” Perhaps the author of the original article left out a few relevant facts.

One more of the fluff pieces talks about quarter-sawn oak furniture in glowing superlative terms. It notes that “Quarter-sawn antique oak furniture increases in value every year, as all antiques naturally do. For every year it has been in existence, the value has never gone down. The age and quality of Quartersawn (sic) antique oak furniture guarantees that. However, the value of these pieces have increased more than any other type in recent years.” Bet I can find a couple of dealers who would dispute that from personal experience. How about you?

Sites like these only contribute to the considerable fog that lingers heavily over the antique furniture business and help confuse “civilians” who are interested in the subject. Always be a skeptic online.

Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).

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Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com.

Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com. 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 info@furnituredetective.com.

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