Bureaus Part 2

A curious instance of over-devotion to duty in this very line was brought to my attention the other day. A walnut table which had been in daily use in a dining- room for over sixty years had now passed on, through inheritance, to a young housekeeper who called in assist ance to know what was the matter with and what it, could be done. It had been a good piece, built on plain and simple lines, but the top was worn in positive grooves, the softer part of the wood between the veins seeming to have been scooped out; otherwise the table was in good condition, and seemed to have had the best of care. The son of the house, whose mother had owned the table, finally, under his young wife's questions, told how its condition came about. It seems that his mother had aservant, one of the old-fashioned kind who lived long in one family, and that this girl had been taught that every day this table had to be rubbed with waxed a brush. She came into the family at the age of sixteen, and had lived with them over forty years; and being stout and carefully trained, she had literally rubbed this table to pieces in her desire to keep always in the it highest state of polish! Ifcloth had been used a it might have pulled through, but the brush under her vigorous hand was too much for mere wood. There was nothing for but it new top, and now the rubbing has a to begin all over, this time under less strenuous hands. Too much beeswax and turpentine will produce a glassy surface, which seems to take away the feel of the wood. This is almost as much a mistake as too little polish. Potash and water -will remove the surplus of coating; but then the process has to be begun again, and it takes a long time to bring it to the state of abso lute perfection, that is, with neither too much nor too little polish.

Old oak has sometimes been degraded by being painted white. When this is the case it must be cleaned by scraping and potash cleaning. In the grain of the wood will probably remain some traces of the paint, ghing it a sih'er grain, which it is nearly impossible to reniOve. In fact, if it is not too marked it had better be left, since at any rate it is a mark of age, and to remove it further would be beyond the scope of almost any amateur. In trying to detect old furniture from spurious imitations, if the piece is carved, pay particular attention to the state of the carving. Any piece of domestic furniture which has been in use will have the lines of the carving much worn away by the necessary dusting and the rubbing against it in passing it. There will be no hardness or sharpness, and the finer lines will be to a certain extent filled up with dirt, dust, and wax. The dents and scars are not allways to be trusted, since "as the French put could con- the foot of a it, trh'e to administer such signs of wear on an entirely new piece.

In many old pieces of furniture, particularly bureaus, the presence of the worm or beetle which riddles them is very unpleasant. In an old cherry bureau which I Own, and which has nothing to recommend it but its capacious size, the worms are most annoying, covering with a fine dust the contents of the drawers, and work ing with a speed that in a single night produces quite a little pile of dust. The holes are elliptical rather than round, and the creature seems to take pleasure in making two or three of these so close together that they will sometimes merge into one large hole.

The commonest of these pests is the Anobium domes- ticum, and the larva or grub which works the greatest havoc is a trifle more than an eighth of an inch long. When the creature is in the beetle stage of its existence it is even smaller. Many times I have tried to gain a sight of these little fellows which are at work almost under my very hand; but though I sometimes hear the click of their jaws, which is called the " death-watch," I can see only the work, never the worker. They are seldom found in mahogany, seeming to prefer less dense wood, though they will occasionally be found even in that, if the article has in it an inferior piece of wood.

A fine mahogany piece is shown in the next Figure, 312, having a serpentine front cut from the solid wood, and carved ball-and-claw feet. The board top corre sponds in its curves with the lines of the front,while the shell which is at the bottom is not commonly found in such a position. This bureau is made in two sections, the top part with the drawers fitting into the base with the legs. This was the way the upper part was set in the lower part of high-boys, and I am inclined to think

? ^ ? PHHI ._ . ' ? |_ 1 * ~*^ * i i -55% r that such pieces were made at about the time the high boys became less called for. Many of the small bureaus have handles on the side for lifting them about, and I have seen them on walnut as well as mahogany pieces. The drawers of the bureau in Figure 312 have the nar- row little moulding on the bureau and not on the drawer itself. The willow brasses are of the style which was mm in use as early as the first half of the eighteenth century, and continued in use for many years. Unfortunately one of the handles on this piece is missing.

 Fig. 311 walnut Bureaus. Fig. 312 Bureau Fig. 313 Cherry Bureau.

Fig. 314 Maple Bureau, Hepplewhite Fig. 31.rMahogany B BUREAUS.

Fig. 31 Flkurs and Blenheim. Fig. 32 Adams Jasper Ware.

A small bureau shown in Figure 313 has the over lapping edge on the drawer, and is in the style used during the latter part of the eighteenth century. It is a plain piece of cherry, and very much less ornamental than the bureau shown in Figure 314. This is Hepple white with curly maple panels set into mahogany. There is a line of inlay of whitewood where the maple and mahogany join, and around each drawer is a single narrow moulding. The handles are of an unusual shape, and the escutcheons are of brass; and while the photograph gives the wood a stained appearance it is not so in the original, which is both choice and in the best condition. In fact it is one of the favourite pieces of a collector living in Vermont, who has a great house full of fine antiques which she has been many years in gathering. She apologised for the looks of the bureau, saying that the photograph did not tell the truth.

Both Hepplewhite and Shearer designed and made such bureaus as these, and they were successfully copied over here. They were substantial pieces of furniture, depending on the beauty of the woods put into them, and the good proportions of their lines for any beauty they might have. Only once have I come across a tall bureau like the one in Figure 315. It is not a high-boy, yet it is six feet tall, and I think was made for a special order. It is of sofid mahogany except for a narrow veneered band about the drawers, also mahogany, and this band is defined by a thread-like line of whitewood. On the frame of the bureau are other lines of the inlay, and it has the graceful French foot which we always associate with the name of Hepplewhite.

The handles are round brass rosettes, very plain and solid, and altogether the piece is substantial and digni fied. Every time I see it it seems more worthy than it did the time before, and yet for several years it has been looking for a home among articles suited to its age and merit.

Table of contents


The Collector's Manual by N. Hudson Moore, Amy Richards. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1906.

© Furniture Ferret 2022