Need help identifying antique dining set

mistyk74525November 9, 2010

Note: I've posted about this furniture in so many emails and at so many other forums, I gave up recreating it, and just cut and paste now.


My husband and I stumbled onto a 'backroom' deal at a local furniture store two weekends ago. While looking at new, Chinese knock-off carved dining sets, my husband noted a dining set stuck in the back of the warehouse along with other various antiques that are there on consignment or are owned by the store owner and are for sale. This set included six cane-back chairs with heavily carved front legs, two Parsons style chairs with heavily carved legs (But not belonging to the set - the carvings are a different motif), a table with three leafs and heavily carved edge and legs, two sideboards, also heavily carved on the edges, legs, and the decorative back piece. It appears to be made of walnut.

I will upload pictures tonight, I exhausted my camera battery taking pictures of it yesterday!

These are the characteristics that made us buy the set:

The main sideboard is almost 7 feet long. It and its smaller mate have large, carved wood drawer pulls. These are ALMOST as big as a small doorknob. They have a rich, almost chocolaty walnut color. Each sideboard door has a functioning lock (four total) each lock is keyed different - there is not a master key. If you lose one key, you can't get into the door it goes to! The lock mechanism drives two bars/rods into the top and bottom, not a single tongue to the side, say like a standard door lock. Each side board has two drawers located in the center. Each drawer is dovetailed and they are tightly fitted. These are the drawers with the large, carved knobs. The larger sideboard has a section of four drawers behind a door - One drawer has lined compartments for silverware. Pulls appear to be brass and are a simple rectangle shape with a thin rectangle 'ring' that lays flush with the back of the pull. The top, front, and sides are of a heavily grained veneer that has a gold tone to it. The carvings are solid, probably walnut, and have a warm golden chocolate color. Anywhere the individual edges of the sheets of veneer meet, you see something of a gorgeous Worshack test effect. Two keys have been lost over time so we cannot get into the smaller sideboard. By pulling out the drawers, we believe the right side has simple storage areas, and the left side has another set of drawers like the larger piece. Feet are heavily carved.

The table, as I mentioned, has six cane back chairs. They are caned not only on the part of the back that one puts their own back against, but also on the backside with an approximate 1 inch gap between. A layer of dust sits almost a quarter of an inch thick between on the bottom part of the chair back! The front two legs are carved to echo the carving on the table and the feet of the sideboards. The top edge of the table and sideboards is heavily carved, as are the legs of the table, the runner piece that connects the legs. The legs have something that resembles a carved lotus type top (where the tabletop joins to the legs). I have noticed dowels used as pins underneath. There are no metal parts to the table with the exception of crude appearing screws - flathead pattern. The leafs to the table do not have a metal tab or dowel system for locking them together, but instead have wooden (oak?) tongues (about an inch and half wide, maybe a 1/4 inch thick) that fit into slots carved on the next leaf.

The two parsons chairs have legs that are a more red tone, (Remind me of mahogany) and have an upward facing pine cone rising out of a cluster of leaves type motif at the center of the piece that connects the front and back legs and the piece that then connects those two pieces with one another. Front legs terminate/sit on carved 'curls'. All pieces have been reupholstered at some point in the past, but have been done so by someone that knew what they were doing.

This set has a gorgeous patina, shows signs of wear and use, signs of being left in bright sun light (backs of three chairs, one side of the table top, some of the carving on decorative backer to the main sideboard) Some veneer is lifting, it is fairly thin. Wood underneath is solid - the table top is about an inch thick of solid wood beneath the veneer. Possibly oak. Table top has a small bell with a button in the middle attached to the skirt. It does not work.

All pieces are very, very heavy. All pieces are sturdy and will be used as intended, albeit for formal affairs like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.

I realize this is an exhaustive description, but we are intrigued by this piece. Its former owner sold it as being in his family for several generations, going so far as to claim it "came across with them from England" I have worked for various antique stores in the past, and antiques are a hobby of mine - this is NOTHING like anything I have ever seen, except when touring turn-of-the-century, historic homes, such as the Bishop's Palace or Ashton Villa in Galveston. I will post pictures tonight, if I can get my camera battery recharged quickly enough.

PS My husband and I have crawled all under and around this set and cannot find a makers mark. At least not an obvious one. I will double check tonight. Any hints on where to look would be appreciated. I know there are no identifying marks on or under the table at all, nor the chairs.


Additionally, since purchasing this set and my initial attempts at getting help from other forums, we've had two locksmiths attempt to pick the locks on the sideboards, to no avail. They claim they can't be picked! Also, a local appraiser believes the set may be turn of the century French made, then traveled to England, then eventually made the trip to America. I have a friend in Leicester England who is familiar with antiques and she and her mother have never seen 'anything quite like them'.

Pictures can be found here:

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos

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This is my opinion according to what I see in the photos and might be completly wrong. I would need to look at them in person but:
The chairs and the chest of drawers look pieced together. For instance, the leg on one chair is carved, but not the crest rail or any place else. The design is not continuous. The furniture has a strange look that I would be suspicious of.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 7:20PM
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Finishing my post;
Thin veneer and dowels would indicate recent construction or repair. I would have my doubts about this one.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 7:34PM
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Fori is not pleased

The cane chairs ARE strange! They don't seem grand enough to go with the table--too short. The parson chairs are very cool and will be a joy to dust.

I wouldn't be suspicious...I mean, yeah, you don't know what's inside that thing, but it's probably not dangerous. :)

I have a (maybe) 1910ish armoire with a locking mechanism like you describe. I was told it was French. But it may be pretty common.

I'm not sure why thin veneer indicates recent construction. I guess it just depends on what "recent" means. It's not a new technique! Do older pieces of bookmatched furniture have solid panels? While I admit I'm not all that up on my fine furniture, was there ever a time when you could get furniture like this withOUT veneer? (No, really, I don't know.)

Anyway, I'm gonna venture a guess based on the design in the skirt of 1920s-30s. It looks like it walked out of a silent film star's mansion.

More pictures, please! (And nice garden!)

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 9:35PM
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We have the Nethercutt Museums close by where I live. He owned Merle Norman Cosmetics. Anyway besides the huge antique car collection he has hand painted ceilings & organs & pianos, desks, chairs going back to 1700's. French desks are inlaid with lots of pieces of veneer & are beautiful & smooth as glass the pieces fit so perfectly. Veneer has been around a very long time, I had a discussion with him about it years ago when it 1st opened & we even got to see the 5th floor where things he had bought were waiting to be restored as he really liked any kind of musical instruments. If you go to you can see some of what I am talking about. Don't know if any of veneered stuff is there but since the desks were beautiful I would think so. It's free where most of cars are & free with reservations for the rest of it.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 1:14AM
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I don't think you have a "set"...I think you have several pieces of very different ages put together.
The upholstered chairs are fairly new...maybe 1920's? Maybe newer. The cane chairs are also different...and I may guess the turn of the century.
The table, on the other hand, from your description appears much MUCH older...perhaps even 18th century. What does the underside of those stretchers between the legs look like? How bit will it expand and how many leaves do you have? Will it expand further than you have the leaves for?
The side pieces appear to match each other...and maybe the caned chairs, but they don't go with the table. The side veneer looks maybe to be spalted maple? guessing maybe 1900-ish?
I think they are great pieces....not a set but they work well together.
Linda C

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 8:47AM
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The two 'master' chairs are indeed from a different set. (But I LOVE them. They are sooooo sturdy and comfortable - everyone wants to sit in them! and they have great character) I also think they're made of mahogany, not walnut like the other chairs. But the cane back chairs have carving on the legs that is identical to the feet of the sideboards. All upholstery has been replaced multiple times from looking at the underside of the chairs - I also suspect the caning is not original, but it is doubled and is very heavy grade caning. Sideboards have carved mouldings identical to the mouldings around the edge of the table. *shrugs* Even if the chairs are from a later time, they match well with it.

Don't suppose anyone has any ideas on the actual age and origin of the larger pieces? I've looked all over the internet, and I've had one person from Europe suggest they're from the 1930's, 40's, or 50's and made in America, which I have to disagree with. American pieces made during the great depression era aren't large, they aren't heavy, and typically don't have the nice veneer work on them. People simply couldn't afford that sort of furniture at that time. I have several pieces from that era, they're pretty common in this part of the U.S. 1940's ushered in WWII; the ability to manufacture pretty furniture was eclipsed by building airplanes and war machines. 1950's pieces don't tend to have the thick cuts of wood for a carcass - the table top alone is just over an inch thick, same for the tops of the sideboards. They also didn't typically use mortise and tenon construction for things like mouldings around the edges of furniture. I have yet to see any American furniture from any of those decades that have wooden knobs. They usually have brass or brass plated pulls. European pieces tend to have brass hinges; the sideboards I have do have brass hinges, whereas American furniture has iron or steel.

I guess I'm just going through process of elimination now. LOL The style is so eclectic, yet not as awkward and top-heavy as Victorian pieces, that I'm led to believe it might be late (very late) Edwardian - which would put it being made in the mid to late 1900's, possibly even early 20's.

One other clue to its possible age: It has a servants bell underneath at the area that would be occupied by someone sitting immediately to the left of the head of the table. It was an electric buzzer type thing, with a shred of the original sheathing left around what remains of the cord and it is a woven fabric. Actual copper of the cord looks dangerously thin - as in not up to modern electric standards. The buzzer appeared to be made of Bakelite, but also appears to be added later as I removed it and the wood beneath is lighter, but not by much. It is held on with flat head screws.

It came with three leaves, and it will expand just enough for the three of them. The wood has shrunk so they don't fit tightly against one another, you can see right through to the floor in some places, but the moulding still meets at the edges. It has dowels/pegs on the underside of the frame to 'stop' the table at the correct length. I haven't measured it with all three of the leaves yet, but I do know I'll have to have a table cloth that's 70x120, if not larger. Also! The leaves do not have a metal tab system to lock them into place! Or the dowel and tabs like you see on modern pieces! It has carved wooden, half circle 'tongues' which are about a quarter inch thick. They insert into companion slots carved into the next leaf. They must be inserted in order or they don't fit together at all. Each leaf is marked for order of insertion with a scratched roman numeral: I, II, and III.

I believe the veneer to be of walnut, as does the antiques dealer/appraiser friend of ours that looked it over this last weekend. He has been in the business for 30 years, and he's never seen anything like them himself. All he could do is confirm they're quality pieces and were a good investment. :-)

I have not inspected the underside of the stretcher as it is just too heavy to flip onto its side.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 10:17AM
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Also, yes. Veneer work has been around since the 1700's. It was hand cut at the time. About the late 1880's the industrial revolution changed all that. Veneer could be cut thinly and quickly and so, as with all things innovative, if a little is good, a lot must be better! Veneer work became all the rage as it gave the appearance of much more expensive piece of furniture.

Expansion tables like this one, that slid apart, have been around since who knows when (I thought that would be a smoking gun to indicate modern construction - I was wrong. Victorian expansion tables with leaves are common, so I've learned.

Also, it is NOT dowel construction. It is mortise and tenon. The chairs may be doweled, but I've not pulled the fabric off the bottoms of the chairs to look. The carcass of the sideboards, however, appears to be mortise and tenon.

Drawers are dovetailed, but only with four dovetails per drawer, not five or more like 1940's and 50's pieces. None of the pieces have a high gloss or thick varnish/shellac finish indicative of later pieces.

I also believe that the table does NOT have its original veneer on the top, or has been sanded down and refinished, which if it is a piece possibly as old as the 1880's or early 1900's, that would not be unusual.

PS: All carvings match with the exception of the mahogany parson's chairs.

As for suspicions, we took the Came over from England tale with a grain of salt when we purchased the set, but after comparing it to American styles and American furniture all eras, it just doesn't have the feel of American made pieces. At $1500.00 for ALL of it, taxes and all, it was far cheaper than buying a much smaller, new table that would be made in China of pressed saw dust that only seats six - and we did need a much larger table and servers as we host both Christmas and Thanksgiving for our entire family(s). 0_0 That's a houseful of folks, but for casual Sunday dinners with my parents, brother, nephew and SIL over, we have been able to eliminate the 'kids' table', something the children are excited about!

Bottom line, I'm not worried about what its worth. We paid what we believe to be a fair price for it, and haggled for it first. All I'm trying to do is narrow down its age and country of origin. ;) Which I hope, in turn, will help me find Skeleton keys as two of the four keys were lifted by a thief from the store. *sigh*

OH! Also! We've tried dozens of skeleton keys (bit and barrel). Antiques dealers and locksmiths from all over have been generous enough to let me simply borrow and return their keys. NONE have fit. Our appraiser friend said we should have no trouble finding a key to open it - BUT that was before he saw the pieces and decided they may be French in origin. We have yet to find a key that even comes close to fitting, let alone working the locks.

We have ran down one name on the entire set, and it is stamped into the lock on the master sideboard: La Bellota and has an acorn symbol stamped into it as well. My Google-fu fails me on any hits for that name that tie into anything to do with furniture, BUT La Bellota is Spanish for 'Acorn'.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 11:12AM
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The cabinet, buffet or whatever you want to call it is 1920s-1930s, probably English, and has been repaired. Those hinges are NOT typical of their cabinets. It's uncommon to see that mix of blonde and dark finishes, but it's not unknown.

The table's massive pillars are typical of that era, as is the wavy pattern (vaguely Art Deco influenced) along the edges.

The chairs are not "parsons style", they are upholstered straight-back chairs with carved stretchers. You might find a carved chair rail under the fabric, maybe not.

The cane-backs leg carving resembles, but is not identical to the sideboards. It is a very common motif, so it means little.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 2:18PM
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Fori is not pleased

Good call on those legs, LG. It's really close, but doesn't seem quite right. (And now I see why it seems familiar--it's on a coffee table I have.) I would guess that the chairs it came with were big chunky ones.

I agree with you about the value, Misty--it's definitely $1500 worth of dining room furniture since you're going to USE it! I certainly don't think that being a little mismatched detracts from it. It kind of makes it more interesting.

If you really want to get into the locked cabinets, you might be able to pop off the back without doing any damage. Do not quote me on that!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 4:14PM
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If you can find a locksmith that knows what he is doing, he will use or make a blank that they cover with blue ink, insert it into the key hole, and turn it. The bails in the lock will make marks on the blank, showing the locksmith which part of the blank to remove. The locksmith can even make the blank key if he does not have one. Also, if you want to find someone to pick the lock, find a business that repos cars and ask them if they have someone who is good at picking locks. Also, you can go on the web, do a search on how to unlock a china cabinet, select the site, and it will tell you how to pick a lock. It also tells you, if all else fails, to pick a locksmith "with references for this type of work." He will do what I explained above.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 6:41PM
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By the way, in my original post I did not say veneer indicates age. I stated the thickness of the veneer indicates age or lack thereof. But as always, I may be wrong. I hereby acquiesce to the people who have more knowledge about veneer than I. There are many other indications of age, such as the carvings, but that is not what the original poster asked. She asked the country of origin.
Also, when a chair is caned on the front and the back, it is called double caning and is found occasionally. Of course, I may be wrong here also. These are all just my guesses.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 7:13PM
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Someone requested measurements of the table, fully extended. It is 48x102, that includes the moulding.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 11:21AM
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Does it not appear that this back panel is plywood?

That just may be a clue. Plywood backs = 20 century.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 7:55PM
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Plywood was invented (patented anyway - early examples of plywood date back to ancient Egypt) in the 1850's and from what I've read about its history, was widely used for furniture making from that point on. Still, I have no doubts the set is from the 20th century. Since my initial posting, we've have numerous antiques dealers and appraisers look at the set, all are still baffled, yet all agree: It is European, pre-1920's.

I suppose its time to let the exact history of this set lie. I have a new project, and this one is going to require a lot of work: A serpentine front dresser that has been butchered and mistreated. But that's a topic for a new post someday.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 4:28PM
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