Coming Too Soon? – 20th Century Antiques
This late 1920s buffet made by Berkey & Gay has just enough presence to fit in almost any décor and can be found at a very reasonable price.
The definition of an antique, like many other definitions we have long been comfortable with, has been under pressure for a number of years. What was once considered “junk” is now highly sought after as “collectibles.” Second-hand or used furniture has become “vintage” and anything older than a black-&-white television set is considered to be “antique” . . . by some. And that “some” has the potential to become a major factor in the older and antique furniture business in the future. It’s just a matter of perspective.
For an old Baby Boomer” like me, antiques were made in the 19th century or before, and the stuff our grandparents had was “really old,” while our parents’ furniture was just plain embarrassing. To our children, whose earliest reference point is Big Bird and the Cookie Monster, the 1950s and 1960s were the dark ages and there was nothing worth mentioning before that. But now, those kids are pretty much grown up. They own houses, make car payments and hopefully by now have enough loose spending money to broaden their horizons by doing a little “antiquing.”
But in many cases, antiquing to them is not the quest of a precious piece of a lost past style or art form. It is the search for something that predates them but also has a functional role to play in their crowded lives. Whatever the object, it must fit into their already crowded lifestyle without too many compromises. In other words, the “antique” chair must still be able to be used as seating and the chest of drawers had better work well on a daily basis.
This is not an antique by any definition but it is a most useful piece for almost anybody, especially if crowded for space. Here is a desk, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers all in one. It is called a chifferobe.
Under those restrictions, almost no piece of 18th-century furniture fit, and very few 19th-century pieces do, either. What really works for them, at least in the beginning, is some piece of 20th-century furniture that has a style and flavor totally at odds with most of the rest of their contemporary possessions but is well-enough made to function in today’s lifestyle. And the price tag is realistic enough to afford on their budget. The average 30-something buyer with some newly discovered disposable income and an emerging interest in older and antique furniture probably is not confident enough (yet) or interested enough to spring for $5,000 for a period highboy. But they will shell out $350 at the local antique mall for a nifty looking 1930s chifforette for the guest room. Don’t know what a chifforette is? Perhaps it’s time to brush up on your 20th-century furniture terminology. Don’t forget the old definitions, like armoire, dry sink, banquet table and davenport desk, but add a few new ones to the inventory, like priscilla, oriental walnut and borax.
In previous columns I have mentioned a number of good reference books on 20th-century forms and styles, including “Furniture of the Depression Era” by Swedberg, Collector Books; “Colonial Revival Furniture” by Lindquist/Warren, Wallace Homestead Books; and “American Manufactured Furniture” by Don Fredgant, Schiffer, among others. But there are several more that would be excellent additions to a furniture library in the area of 20th century furniture.
Traditionally styled dining sets like this one never go out of style and an can be acquired at a very reasonable price in today’s market.
There are two good books out on the Heywood-Wakefield phenomenon of mid century. One is by Steve and Roger Rouland titled “Heywood-Wakefield Modern Furniture – Identification and Value Guide”, Collector Books, and the other is “Heywood-Wakefiled – With Price Guide” by Harris Gertz, Schiffer. Both will go a long way toward sorting out the sometimes confusing array of Heywood-Wakefield modern pieces.
If early century wooden chairs are your flavor, take a look at “American Wooden Chairs 1895-1908” edited by Tina Skinner, Schiffer. This is a reprint of the Phoenix Chair Company 1908 catalog with current prices, original catalog numbers and the wood and finish of each chair. Good background reference material.
An Art Moderne style set like this by the famous maker Karges will hold its value over many generations.
For the arty and crafty folks, there are many good publications on the subject but two that will give you a broad look at the furniture of the period without bogging you down in the philosophy that generated it are “Furniture of the Arts and Crafts Period –With Prices” edited and published by L-W Book Sales. It includes examples by Stickley, Limbert, Roycroft and others. The other is “Stickley Brothers Furniture Identification and Value Guide” by Larry Koon, Collector Books. The color photos, many from David Rago Auctions, and the comprehensive descriptions make identification of Stickley material much easier.
To get a handle on what Larkin actually had in the way of furniture, check out “Larkin Oak” by Walter Ayars, published by Echo publishing in Summerdle, Pa.. It is reprints of the Larkin furniture catalog with original prices from 1901 to 1922. The companion volume of “Larkin China” also by Ayars, traces the development of Buffalo Pottery and the imported china offered by Larkin.
Modern designs from Heywood-Wakefield from the 1930s to the 1950s are always in demand.
Phillip Kennedy has a self-published book about nothing but the 20th century kitchen monster known as the Hoosier cabinet. He traces the evolution of the form and sorts out the variations produced by Hoosier Manufacturing Co., Sellers, Napanee, McDougall, Boone and others. If the kitchen is your territory, this is a must have book.
One final overview of good quality furniture of the period can be found in “Popular Furniture of the 1920s and 1930s – From Modern to Traditional,” published by Schiffer. It is a reproduction of the 1920s and 1930s catalog of the Elgin A. Simonds Company, part of the Dent Furniture Company consortium of the Great Depression era. It includes current prices and contains lots of examples you have probably seen before but couldn’t quite identify.
While you may not find exactly the piece you are looking for in any of the publications, they will give you an idea of what things from the period generally looked like and where they may have originated. It’s a good start.
Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).
Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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