Mud on a Supermodel: The Inappropriate Hardware Detracts from Fine Furniture
This turn-of-the-century Golden Oak server was degraded with porcelain floral pulls.
Putting lipstick on a pig usually doesn’t make much difference in how we view the pig but the opposite application might have a dramatic effect. How about putting barnyard mud on a runway supermodel? Now that is bound to affect our perception of the beauty.
The same thing happens, to a lesser degree of course, when inappropriate hardware—especially drawer pulls—is attached to a nice piece of older or antique furniture. Of course, in today’s world of extremely flexible standards and “anything goes” and “whatever sells” attitudes, it may seem judgmental to prescribe what is appropriate or not in terms of hardware for a given piece but there are historical precedents. If you wish to keep your antique furniture more or less in tune with its contemporaries, it is useful to have some broad guidelines about what goes better on what, historically speaking.
The best way to find the correct hardware is through research in the literature of the subject. Good books like “Field Guide to American Antique Furniture” by Joseph T. Butler and the two-volume set of “The Antique Hunter’s Guide – American Furniture” published by BD&L will give you a good visual take on period hardware.
But there are some general rules that can help you decide if the hardware on a piece you are considering purchasing is correct or in finding the right hardware for a piece you may be restoring. Of course, the catch here is you must know the style and period of the piece first. Refer back to the books I just mentioned for help on that subject too. Here are some general guidelines in chronological order for period hardware but remember there were free form artists two hundred years ago just as there are today and there will always be exceptions to the basic rules.
Queen Anne/Chippendale – These two styles are so similar in appearance and age that hardware is usually interchangeable between the two. Original Queen Anne drawer pulls were usually post and bail with round rosettes. Chippendale usually consists of a solid batwing shaped back plate behind post and bail handles. But it easy to find historical examples of either type hardware on either style. Suit yourself.
This Late Classicism chest, circa 1840, looks way overdressed with Chippendale batwing pulls.
Federal – American furniture of the early 19th century in the Federal period ironically had English style hardware. The most common example was the pressed or incised oval back plate behind a post and bail designed by Englishman George Hepplewhite that bears his name. Other common types of drawer pulls were flush mounted ring pulls recessed in a circular back plate, ring pulls mounted in lion’s mouth back plate and round Regency style brass knobs.
Empire – The emphasis in both the Empire period and the following Late Classicism period was more about bulk and the classics than current style. The most commonly found drawer pull on more exquisite examples was the ring pull mounted in a lion’s mouth. This was followed by round wooden knobs and round or faceted glass pulls.
Rooco Revival – The most commonly seen drawer pull in Rococo case goods was the carved walnut pull with grapes, acorns and leaves carved into the outside shell. But, for the first time since the William and Mary period of the 17th century, the drop pull came into common use. It could either be a small horizontal shaft mounted on a vertical stem that emanated from a round back plate or it could be a tear-drop shaped piece of turned (usually painted) wood attached to the same style back plate. Later high-style examples used round wooden knobs so as not to detract from the other decorations on the piece.
This Eastlake low dresser with marble top has been defaced by 1960s-era modern drawer pulls.
Renaissance Revival – This style heralded the return of architectural elements to furniture styles and was one of the most eclectic styles in terms of drawer hardware. The most commonly seen pull was the simple round knob, usually made of walnut, but the painted tear drop was also a frequent application. In some cases, leftover Rococo carved grape leaf pulls were used and in other cases a Chippendale-style batwing back plate was altered with Oriental inspired shapes and designs behind a post and bail.
Eastlake – Furniture associated with the Eastlake name somewhat followed his precepts of angular simplicity and so did most of the drawer pull hardware The most frequently seen period Eastlake drawer pull is a rectangular back plate decorated with some embossed or incised geometric pattern behind a squared-off post and bail. Other less formal applications included round wooden knobs, porcelain knobs and occasionally lion mounted ring pulls.
This is a fairly nice Eastlake cheval dresser from the late 19th century. It has had barnyard mud put on it by the use of modern “cutesy” hardware.
Golden Oak – Hardware of the Golden Oak period was often pressed or cast pierced brass back plates with brass plated bails or simple brass knobs. Since this is one of the most commonly found styles today, it has suffered the most abuse in hardware selection and there is no telling what you might find on a piece.
Arts & Crafts/Mission – Like the style itself, Mission hardware tends to be severe and simple, consisting of brass or copper hand-hammered pulls and back plates.
Colonial Revival – As in Mission, 20th-century Colonial Revival hardware follows the style of the period. In most cases the actual style is a mish-mash of several pieces of American styles. It is not unusual to see Federal, Queen Anne, Chippendale and William and Mary in one set or even in one piece. In this case, try to pick the base style and go with hardware compatible with that.
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, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.
Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 shipping and handling) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 shipping and handling) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377 (Monday through Friday only, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time), fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail email@example.com. All items are also availabe directly from their website, www.furnituredetective.com.
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