Summary Of The Correct With Care And Proper Treatment

The old pins are carefully removed and marked, so that they may be returned to their same holes and their same relative positions. An old pin exactly fits its original hole and no other.

The table is taken apart and the tenons of stretchers and skirt are reglued in place, care being taken not to spill sur plus glue on the inside of the table. The old pins are restored to exactly their original positions in frame and top.

The feet are restored with proper turnings of old maple, which are doweled to the legs with strong pins.

The whole table is cleaned with varnish remover, possibly leaving a bit of old paint in the turnings, about pins, or under the top.

The table is given a careful and thorough rubbing with a suitable sandpaper. The top and the flat surfaces of the frame, if badly stained, may need a touch of the scraper, but such scraping will not be deep enough to make the old wood look like new. The table is finally rubbed with steel wool until every surface is smooth and silky.

The restored feet are treated with linseed oil and burnt umber, or other colors, until they harmonize with the old surfaces. The table is given two or three coats of a mixture of thin shellac and alcohol, well brushed in and smoothly applied, each coat being allowed to dry thoroughly. After that follows the process of waxing and rubbing.

The result is a table which still appears old, but is clean and sound, and glows with a subdued and honest finish. Its old pins, being end-grain wood, show darker than the other surfaces. No marks of the sandpaper or scraper appear. Marks of age and use are apparent on the top and on the worn stretchers. We may be proud of a table so treated, and we may know that it will not arouse in the soul of the expert a desire to imbibe a capacious and lethal tankard of the wood alcohol which was used in the work.

Not many years hence there will be little opportunity for us to restore or refinish fine early American furniture. Pieces then will not so often come to us "in the rough" from a minor dealer or ancient attic. They will reach us only through the dispersal of collections large or small, and the individual pieces will require little or no work. But, as things are now, my plea is that, when a fine piece of early furniture comes to us from the rapidly dwindling original supply, we treat it gently and reverently, preserving all its evidences of age and use.


SOME attention has already been given, in Chapter III, to the subject of brasses and handles. Original brasses are most desirable on our furniture, if we are so fortunate as to be able to acquire pieces "thus equipped. It is probable that nearly all those used on the furniture of the American Colonies before the Revolution were produced in England, where the manufacture of such goods had attained a considerable magnitude and a great degree of perfection. At any rate, we find record of a steady flow of furniture brasses from England to the Colonies prior to this time. Genuine old brasses, particularly the sorts used early in the eighteenth century, will nearly always be made of very light-colored brass, which, when freshly polished, shows none of the deep golden color exhibited by the modern brass that contains a large percentage of copper. The amalgam used in early furniture brasses was high in zinc or tin—both light-colored metals—and low in copper. Some tendency toward darker shades of metal may be noticed on the handles made late in the eighteenth century, but these shades are not very dark or "brassy." After 1750 some of the brasses were, by a variety of methods, gilded on their surfaces, closely simulating the deep rich color of fine gold. This gold finish unless of the finest sort was not durable, and, when found on old brasses, is usually worn through and tarnished.

In judging the age of any piece of American furniture by its original brasses, there are a few considerations which should always be borne in mind. Styles changed slowly in the old days, transportation was difficult, and many communities and individuals were somewhat isolated. It is probable that not a few makers of furniture and a few stores no in remote sections had in stock certain types of brasses whose styles had ceased to be in demand in Boston, Salem, Providence, New York and Philadelphia—communities quick to demand the newest fashion. We usually assume that any piece which possesses its original bail handles fastened with cotter pins was constructed not later than 1730. However, it is my opinion that many pieces thus equipped as to handles were turned out in remote sections as late as 1750. And the styles of provincial furniture itself, as well as the mounts, often trailed those of the sea-board cities and towns.

I own a simple cherry desk which, when purchased, had some of its original brasses still in place. These brasses were of the bail handle type, with two round plates held in place by bolts and nuts. Judging by these brasses, this desk should have been made between 1760 and 1775. Such is not the case; for I found written in ink, on the under side of one of the drawers, this notation:

September, 19th day, 1801.

I bote this deske of Lewis Burton of Stratford, Connecticut, for 4:—15.—6-paid all down by me.

Isaac Booth.

Lewis Burton, who was a cabinet-maker of Stratford, Connecticut, had, for some unknown reason, applied to this "deske," brasses which had been rather out of fashion for twenty-five years. We all very naturally desire to date our furniture at the earliest period possible, but if we do so entirely on the evidence of its original brasses, we may sometimes be mistaken.

Much old furniture will be found to have suffered considerable mutilation through the loss of handles and subsequent replacements. Very old pieces may display several varieties of brasses of widely different periods. Sometimes drawer fronts will be riddled with the holes bored for various sorts of handles of different spreads. An old chest of drawers may finally be relegated to the tool-shed, in a state of almost complete ruin, its only pulls being pieces of discarded leather harness applied with nails. It is most interesting to note on some very old drawer fronts the marks of the application of various types of handles. I have seen such drawers, which showed plainly that the original brasses had been of the single drop variety of 1700, applied with a single cotter pin, and the drawer fronts subsequently worn in a semi-circle by the swinging handle. These drop handles may have disappeared by 1730, at which time someone then bored two new holes and installed plates and bail handles held by two cotter pins. These may in turn have gone the way of most brasses by 1790, when new and larger holes were drilled to receive the bolts of the bail handles and the typical stamped oval plates of that late period. When these oval plate handles became broken, about 1840, the wide turned wooden knobs of the Victorian age were perhaps substituted in their place, or, maybe, after such a long career, the piece was counted of little worth, deserving only the application of cast-iron drawer knobs. At any rate, these many changes will often have left clear traces of just what was done; and while we dislike the marks of such changes with their mutilations, we certainly can hardly doubt the authenticity of a piece which shows them.

Plates 21-24 show typical specimens of furniture with their approximate dates below them. Beside each specimen of furniture has been drawn the appropriate style of handle and escutcheon for use in conjunction with it or with pieces of similar period and character.

Plates 25-27 show typical forms of brasses photographed from genuine and original examples, with some comment not only on the brasses but on their appropriate use. All or nearly all of these brasses illustrated, as well as innumerable other patterns, are to be had nowadays in excellent repro-



drop- \nd cottf« r-pi n-br asses and keyhole escutchfons of the period 1690 to 1730

Xil XAjL


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