Ask Antique Trader: Windsor fan back chair based on 19th century design

Q Please tell me something about these Windsor style chairs. They were painted and used as outdoor furniture when my mother-in-law acquired them in the 1940s. She refinished them and used them inside.

The wood is hard – maybe maple. Do they have any value other than as used furniture?
— K.C., White Stone, Va.

fanback windsor chair

The fan back Windsor style is from the early 19th century, but this chair is from the early 20th century.

A Your chairs are in the style of the fan back Windsors made in New England and the mid-Atlantic region in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. The original versions were generally made of maple with pine seats following the traditional pattern. The soft wood was used in the seat so it would shrink around the harder wood components and keep the chair sturdy.

The chairs in the photo are factory made in the first quarter of the 20th century. The seats are composed of individual boards glued up to make the seating surface. Original seats were one piece of wood with the grain running from side to side rather than from front to back as it does in these chairs. They probably are made of birch rather than maple since it was a more commercially viable material at that time. They originally had a dark mahogany finish, evidenced by the splotchy coloring in the spindles and on the arms. The original finish was probably under the paint and was removed when the chairs were stripped and refinished.

Unfortunately, even though these chairs will soon be 100 years old, and are a reasonably good interpretation of the original style and appear to be quite sturdy with lots of use left in them, they have no particular collector’s value. Their worth is as good, solid, old chairs.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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Q I was hoping you had the knowledge to answer a few simple piano questions. I just bought a piano from a very elderly lady for my girlfriend. Now it looks old, but everything works fine. It does need a lot of work and I plan to have that done soon. Trouble is I have no idea what kind of piano it is. I can’t locate any name because she had it refinished many years back. In fact, I was told she refurbished it in the 1950s.

Anyway, I can only locate two numbers, one is behind the metal harp at the top in a cut-out oval. Through the oval it has a stamp burned into the cabinet with 16976 on it. The second number is 3010 on the front lower panel. It also is burnt into the wood. I see also that it was tuned or worked on because all 88 keys have a number 1-88 on them and in the upper right-hand corner is a faint pencil mark with the date 1-19-12. This is an upright in mahogany color and I think rosewood. It has some veneer but mostly it seems to be hard wood throughout. The keys seem to be ivory from what I’ve read while checking into this. It has three pedals on the floor, the main cabinet is 54 inches tall and it seems just as wide. So do you have any idea what kind of piano this might be? I’ve looked at about 4 million pictures and can find no other that comes close to the cabinet look.
— J.D.B. Irving, Texas

A That’s a tough one. The number you found in the oval, 16976, is definitely the serial number. The other is probably a style or finish number. It is unlikely that the piano is rosewood. That is very rare in pianos of that vintage. Rosewood was used in the mid-19th century but rarely after that for pianos. Most of the wood you will find on further examination is either mahogany veneer or a hard wood such as birch which has been colored with an aniline dye to make it look like mahogany. Solid mahogany was not used a great deal for two reasons: It was too expensive and it is not dense enough to create the tone achieved by using maple or birch.

Going on the assumption that the penciled 1912 date is relevant to a manufacture or tuning event around that date, I have narrowed the possibilities of makers down to three of the more common brands using the Pierce Piano Atlas. The first, of course, is Baldwin, Cincinnati. Baldwin serial numbers in 1912 ranged from 18,700 to 20,099. The 16,000 series was made in 1909/1910. Two years later, it probably needed tuning.

Another possibility is Wegman from New York. Their serial number 16,976 was made in late 1911 and may not have left the factory until 1912.

The last candidate is Steger, Chicago, the maker of Steger & Sons and Singer, among others. Steger’s number 16976 also was made late in 1911 and could carry a 1912 date.

Examine the harp very closely and see if there might not be another mark or label on it somewhere. Usually there is more than just the missing decal to identify a maker.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or Visit Fred’s Web site: His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916 or

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