Bureaus Part 3

On many of these bureaus were set little dressing- glasses, as they were called, set in a swinging frame, and with a few drawers below the glass to hold toilet articles. Madam Washington left, by will, to her son George, her " best dressing-glass," and at the sale of the furniture at Beh'oir in 1774 he bought several glasses in gilt frames as well as dressing-glasses. At Mount Vernon now there is one of these glasses in the General's bedroom similar to the one shown in Figure 316.

 Fif. 316 Bureau Fig. 317 Carved BureauFig. 319 Bureau-Desk Fig. 320 JIahoga BUREAUS.

This glass was said to be made about 1770, while the bureau is about the year 1810. These dressing-glasses were of many styles, and not alone wood, solid and veneered, was chosen to make them of, but Oriental lacquer ones are sometimes to be found. There are others also, painted in gold or colours on a black ground, and some are covered with beautiful inlay and are carved besides. For many years they were much used, and are mentioned, among glasses in " gold or choice mahogany frames," as on sale by. 175 .

The bureau in Figure 316 is handsomely carved, with four pineapples at the tops of the posts and solid twisted pillars. The legs do not bear out the elegance of the rest of the piece, as they are but simple turned affairs, and rather detract from its appearance.

The drawers are solid mahogany with a simple mould ing about them, and the rosette handles are of brass. This bureau has long been in the family which now possesses it; but there are many persons who long for such treasures and will buy them rather than not have them, though they admit that family heirlooms are the best after all. I know of a bureau like this, which was recently bought by one who has taken the disease of collecting, and avIio went through what might be called "experiences " in getting hold of it.

Little by little she had grown to be a collector, the first manifestations of the disease showing itself in the gathering of a few pieces of china, somewhat nonde script in character, and which came in diverse ways, some by gift and some by purchase. But the fever did not stop here; and as she had in addition the true collector's spirit and the faculty of finding "things" she went on, one step after another, till she was the proud owner of tables and chairs, desks and tabourets, lamps, girandoles, and other small articles too numerous to mention.

She laboured under disadvantages, too, for she was surrounded by a family whose chief ambition was to acquire new things, fresh of aspect and modern of form. The " antiques " which flowed into the house met with no appreciation, save from choice spirits like herself, who met and gloated over them, and wished they, too, could secure like bargains.

Then at last she had a house of her own to put them in, and those aaIio came to scoff remained to admire, and the charm of the old furniture in its harmonious and artistic setting impressed even the Philistine whose taste had hitherto led him to admire those abominations known as " mission furniture," or the crude patterns which are foisted on a long-suffering public, many of whom, it is true, know no better than to admire.

Imagine the pleasure of our collector with all her possessions set out and well rubbed up; for after get ting one of these elderly treasures the first thing to do is to put it in prime condition, and then consider how the thirst for more worlds to conquer must have devoured her. She did not depend only on her Own unaided efforts to " locate finds," but had scouts from every rank of life "out on her war path for her. " Butter and egg women were questioned, the milkman was interrogated, and no chance clew was allowed to go uninvestigated.

So many pieces were hers at last, that the only thing she really " must have " was a bureau, and the outlying districts were laid under contribution to supply one. At last, after months of patient waiting, one was heard of through one of the scouts, — its carved feet and posts duly described, — and our collector felt that have it she must, though she had not seen it. To tell the truth, it lay in the country, seven miles from her home, and as there were other " fiends " in the place where she lived ready to snap up any trifles which became noised about, she concluded to go and get it. Upon due reflection it seemed best to go in some vehicle which would bring back the bureau; so in her enthusiasm she started for that drive of fourteen miles, seven out and seven back, in a springless wagon, her only seat being a board set on the sides. The littlest of her dogs was taken along for company and to keep him out of mis chief, and on a bright autumn morning she started.

As they neared the house where the treasure was the collector's heart rose in her mouth.

"What 's this," she asked of the driver; " a funeral?" "No," said he; " don't think "Oh, can it be an auction? " she cried, acute despair in her mind as visions of the bureau being snapped up by some one else rose before her imagination.

"No, don't seem to be that drawled the driver, who could not be expected to be so keen on the scent.

When she got into the yard this is what resolved itself before her eyes: an old lady in her Sunday best sat in a large arm-chair. Near her was a cow with the milking- stool and a milk pail, a man holding up her head, while at a little distance sat an artist painting the scene. The rest of the family, and such of the neighbours as could leave their chores, stood around in an adniiring circle. lovely?"

"Ain't it asked one, as our collector drew near. " Ma is having her portrait painted with the cow. Her cow died about a week back, and it seems as though couldn't get along without some picture of her, so we borrowed a cow from one o' the neigh bours, and he's a paintin' it just lovely!"

At this moment, from the group gathered around the artist, rose sounds of eager discussion.

"No," said one, " I tell ye that 's all wrong. She did n't have no spot there, it was lower on the flank."

"You 're wrong yourself, Abram; 't was on the other side that spot was." And it was then explained to our collector that the defunct cow was a black and white spotted one, while the borrowed one, which was standing as model, was of the " plain-red " variety, and the artist was putting in the spots according to the memories of the family, which did not agree on the location of a single one of them.

All this time our collector was on needles and pins to see the bureau, and at last diverted enough attention to herself to get one member of the family to detach herself to show it to her. It was down in the cellar, and when she saw it her heart swelled. It was mahog any, sure enough, with carved posts, and carved feet too, though the latter had been unscrewed to allow it to be put in the cellar. She made an offer which was accepted, and the heavy bureau was brought up and was being loaded into the wagon when it caught the artist's eye. " What," he cried, " you will sell that for (naming the sum)? Why, (naming a dollar more) for it."

Consider what a moment of agony for our collector! She assisted as best she could, by pushing the drawers into the wagon, seizing the dog and climbing in also, and bidding her Jehu in a hurried voice to start right away. She thought her prize was to be wrested from her, and did not feel easy until she was well out of sight of the farmhouse, the artist, and all the rest.

What though the ride home was long and hot? What though the lack of springs became every moment more apparent to her tired frame, and that the dog was restive, and that she was sorry that she had started with out a hat? To banish all these miseries it was but necessary to glance at the prize before her, to stroke its satin sides, and to consider where it would show to the best advantage when, rubbed and restored, it should rise in its old-time beauty. The village street which led to her home was long and straight; and as she rumbled down it in the bright afternoon she was espied by a party of her friends assembled to play bridge, and among them were several rival collectors who rushed out to see what she had secured.

Do you think she was amply repaid for her pains when she displayed her treasure? If you don't, then you do not know what the pleasures of collecting are, and had better stick to your " parlour suites," and get your household goods by the half-dozen from the nearest factory.

A rather unique piece, to which it is difficult to assign a period, is shown in Figure 317. It is of solid mahog any, richly carved with the full-length figures of two of the apostles. These figures seem to take the place of the usual carved pillars, but you will notice on the base of each figure a small pointed wooden knob. This pulls out, and when it is removed the figure on its base swings back, revealing two narrow but deep cupboards. The bureau is said to have come from a monastery, and the cupboards were used for holding the wine used on the altar. The carving is sharp and little worn, but the handles are of an early pattern, and the recessed Gothic panel in the upper drawer is unusual. In decid ing the age of a piece of furniture it is allways necessary to take into consideration for what purpose it has been used, and its situation. Churches and cathedrals, though few buildings have suffered more from the depreda tions of the ignorant and the profane as well as the innovators lacking taste, often contain other furniture besides the chests, chairs, and tables which we expect to find in them. Articles which have stood for many years in such places are much less worn and defaced than those of equal age which have been in domestic use, though, unfortunately, there are doubtful pieces in sacred edifices as well as everywhere else.

Table of contents


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

© Furniture Ferret 2023