Treasure Salvage: On The Way To The Dump

This is just a small part of the treasure you can salvage from old furniture.

In today’s market, it’s not unusual to read about an auction in which jewelry is sold for the scrap value of the gold or silver. Aluminum and many other metals are recycled to save money on mining and processing, and entire cars are scrapped for “salvage” value. “Recycling” is a good “green” word in today’s market.

Can the same thing be done with furniture? Why not? In some cases with a piece of furniture, especially some older pieces that are not actually antique, it seems that the last possible repair has been made just before depositing it in the dumpster or hauling it to the trash pile.

But wait. There may actually be some “scrap value” in the components of that old dresser or chest of drawers, especially if you like to fool with furniture or know someone who does.

OK, let’s survey the piece and see what we can salvage. The metal drawer pulls are the most obvious. You can never have too many drawer pulls. Even wooden drawer pulls are worth saving if you can. And jealously guard the screws that hold that hardware in place. When you really need one, they can be elusive. Then follow with the casters into the bucket with the other several dozen items accumulated so far. Is that it? Not by a long shot.

If the piece has a mirror, the glass can certainly be removed and stored, as can the clear glass from any china or curio cabinet. If it had mirror, the mirror was probably held in place by a stanchion on each side. The hardware holding the mirror to the stanchion is called a “toilet pin” for some reason, and they are expensive to replace. The toilet pin fits into the mirror frame in a threaded metal socket called a “rosen.” Don’t let that one get away, either.

If the piece had drawers, it had drawer stops of some sort. In the first half of the 20th century, one of the favorite drawer stops used by manufacturers was a metal clip implanted into the rail below the drawer. This clip was designed to hit the inside of the drawer front to stop it from going too far into the cabinet. These little clips were simply hammered into the rail where needed. They are called “pinch dogs,” and with their two slanted, pointed legs they can also be used to temporarily hold two pieces of lumber together for cutting or shaping. Don’t let those dogs escape.

And if it had drawers, it probably also had drawer runners inside. Some even had metal runners that can be saved, and if they had wooden runners, sometimes there is a plastic looking device on the rear of the drawer to hold it onto the runner. That is called a “back bearing” and can be used over and over again.

What about a table? Many dining tables have metal locking devices resembling window sash locks to hold the two halves together when the leaves are out. Others have a spring operated holding device operated by a handle under one end of the table. Grab that operator! Then look at the rest of the table. If it opened and had leaves, it had table slides of some sort, metal or wood. The most valuable slides are those that have a gear and teeth inside. They are called “equalizer” slides and allow a single person to open an extension table without assistance. Then look for any metal brackets or lag screws used to secure table legs to the frame.

Was the table a drop-leaf table? If so it may have the spring loaded leaf supports found in many 20th-century tables. In any event if it was a drop-leaf, it had hinges in the leaves. Grab ‘em. And that goes for anything that has hinges. China cabinets have hinges on the doors as door buffets and servers. Take the hinges off and replace the screws of the hinge into the same hole in the hinge face from which they came, secured by masking tape. That way you will always have the right screws and the right number of screws for the right hinge.

And desks are a treasure trove of creative hinges and miscellaneous hardware, especially the “loper operators” of 20th-century drop-front desks. They are the thin metal devices that make the drop-front supports (the lopers) open out when the front is opened. Then there are the knobs on the ends of manually operated lopers from older desks. For hinges, you will have the main ones on the drop front itself. Then there will be small hinges on the inside door in the cubbyholes (the “prospect” door) and the hinges on the glazed upper doors if it is a bookcase secretary. And if those doors are present, you may have the opportunity to score an “elbow” catch—the spring operated catch that engages another striker on a shelf or deck to hold the door shut. You may even find a “flush” bolt that secures a door to a deck.

And finally there are the locks and strike plates. Almost every desk has at least one lock and strike plate, and many chests of drawers have multiple locks, not to mention key surrounds and escutcheons.

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

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

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