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Signed Furniture

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013


Rare in the world of antique furniture–with the exception of pre-revolutionary formal French, mainly Parisian, furniture–is the signed piece.  In England and America such pieces may constitute less than one percent of all that was created until the 20th century when labeling became the norm.  So it is exciting to have three pieces of signed furniture at one time–and pieces that display the three dominant forms of marking in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In France the method was to use a steel stamp and drive the maker’s name deep into the wood, usually in a discrete spot such as the vertical stile under the marble of a commode, on the bottom rail of a chair, into a drawer edge or apron bottom for a table.  In the 18th and 19th centuries in England and America paper labels were popular and in the 19th century inked stamps became popular as well.  The three pieces we currently have on offer each employ a different one of these methods, so it seems interesting to create a small article about these pieces and their stamps.  It is also instructive as the labels could be so easily overlooked.

This charming marquetry (floral inlay) and parquetry (geometric inlay) veneered table banded in brass with brass sabots (cuffs) was made by Escalier de Cristal, Paris.  The stamp is concealed on the bottom of the apron on the left side of the table and here follow both the table and its mark.

The Escalier de Cristal was founded in Paris in 1840 and continued successfully until 1923, this table dating from the Pannier Brothers period of ownership, 1880-1923.  Winning awards at every major international exhibition, this luxury business was world famous, selling to the Royal families of England and Europe as well as the business tycoons of America.  Typical of the firm is the perfection of design and selection of marble harmonious with the purplewood and other inlays.

Indicative of the luxury of the two signed English pieces, both dating to c. 1835, is the use of rosewood in each and the use of mahogany as the secondary wood in each.  Each maker clearly took pride in his product and hoped that marking his pieces would secure future business.

The first is the William IV serving cabinet of inset breakfront form (and discussed in an earlier blog which you may also wish to read).  Here the cabinetmaker, Thomas Treherne, 39 Oxford St., London, was in business from 1835-39 and he is listed in the great Beard and Gilbert compendium of furniture makers on page 903.  The inked circular stamp is in the right hand drawer and was not seen by the dealer from whom we acquired this piece in the southeast of England.  You can see how difficult it is to discern–it took several days of eyestrain and every trick to be able to read enough to research the maker!  Worth the effort–Christie’s sold a fine stool with the same mark on 3/17/2011 at their London King Street house for $16,852 including the premium!  In pristine condition we feel our price of $7,500.00 constitutes the value for which our firm is known.  Here are the photos of the piece and the mark.

It reads:   From,  T. Treherne,   Cabinetmaker,   & Upholsterer,   39 Oxford St.,   London

Funny how obvious the mark seems once one knows what it says!

The final example–with a paper label of John Kendall and Company, Leeds–is a very early example of the revival of the designs of Thomas Chippendale which began in c. 1835 and raged on forever!  It is a single drawer writing table again in rosewood with a finely cast gallery and fully developed with a full drawer and an opposing faux drawer.  The understated rosewood pulls are an interesting homage to the newest design twist of the era–limited, understated or no hardware so that the wood and design made all of the visual statement.  Chippendale would absolutely have used gilt brass pulls. Once I show you the photo of it and the label, I want to also draw your attention to the pair of chairs beside it which speak to a very different revival.

This company was important in Leeds from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century.  Intriguingly in 1833 or 1834 Kendall began to label every piece his company produced!  We do not know why.  Was it due to fierce competition with the Gillows firm, so pervasive.  Did he loose a commission based on some other cabinetmaker either claiming his work or copying his work?  Did one of his masters set up in competition?  We may never know but for whatever reason it is clear he labeled his production.

This gorgeous piece exemplifies–unusually–a hallmark of the original rococo period rather than what we commonly find in rococo revival–the stretcher incorporates asymmetry!  Astonishing!

In the next photo we are currently displaying the writing table juxtaposed with a pair of American Colonial Revival Chippendale Style arm chairs dating after 1885–in our friend and well know paintings dealer John Dennison’s booth.  Unlike England where all sorts of revivals of 18th century styles became the rage from 1835 or so onward, America had zero, zippo interest in old styles.  Only with the Centennial did collecting of old stuff become popular–and it took another 10 years for the rage for making revival styles to sweep through America’s furniture making factories.  The Colonial Revival in America is basically at its peak from 1885 to the beginning of World War II (see my book on the subject available at our show booths, at the shop and on Amazon, etc.)

This is an interesting juxtaposition as the English writing table is essentially a handmade piece with fine hand dovetailing, mortise and tenons, etc. whereas the American chairs are primarily the result of all of the finest and most expensive machinery augmented by some hand work.  From steam driven saws and planers to doweled joinery, these chairs are only a reflection of the great Philadelphia chairs of the mid-18th century upon which they are based.  The carving lacks depth, the shoe for the backsplat is integral, there is no silhouetting to allow the cut-away design of the back to have grace and seem to be made of the thinnest wood possible.  All good chair makers carefully cut away wood on an angle on the backside of each chair splat–called silhouetting–so that the open areas of the design being thinned at the back did not obstruct the view through the design when seen from an angled sight-line.   These are very good factory work but a poor imitation of either benchmade (frequently silhouetted) copies or of the authentic antiques. It makes a wonderful historical study.  And of course the chairs are $750.00 the pair when the 18th century ones would almost certainly top $50,000 even in today’s depressed market!


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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

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A Reference Book worth owning–for a pittance!

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Adrien von Ferscht has just released the first major–and vastly augmented–study of Chinese Export Silver (and to a lesser extent Straits Silver) since the seminal book by Forbes some 20 years ago.  It costs a mere 7.5 BPS and downloads instantaneously to your desktop–quite miraculous as well to the computer illiterate like myself!  I have spent some delightful time scanning my new research tool, will print it out as well and bind it for ease of access when a computer is not at hand, and am in general simply delighted to tell you about it!  View all information and by all means order it at: