Ask Antique Trader: Fumigation is only surefire way to solve termite infestation

Q Can you tell me what Regency furniture is? What period is it from and what country? I have seen lots of pictures of antiques that say “Regency” but often they don’t seem to have anything in common and are very hard to identify. Help.

A The problem you have run into is WHICH regency is being discussed. The word itself refers to a type of caretaker government when the intended head of state is incapacitated or too young to rule and the affairs of state are conducted by a Regent in his or her place. What does this have to do with furniture? In earlier times furniture fashions tended to be named after the monarch of the period. Thus we have “William & Mary” who ruled England in the late 17th century, the various Louis styles from France as well as the Georgian era from England, not to mention Queen Anne. The most common description of regency refers to the very late 18th century and early 19th century in England. George III, the English king who was in charge of losing the American colonies, was still on the throne but he was quite mad as a result of the American Revolution. His son, the Prince of Wales, who would become George IV upon his father’s death, ruled England as the Regent. The furniture of the period bore a strong resemblance to earlier French Directoire and Napoleon’s Empire furniture, but of course it couldn’t be called that. This period of furniture is generally referred to simply as “Regency.”

The earlier style of regency occurred in France nearly 100 years before in the late 17th and early 18th century. This was the interregnum between the reign of Louis XIV, who died in 1715, and his great grandson Louis XV, who ascended the throne in 1723 at age 13. During this period, furniture styling in France changed from the massive, straight lines of the earlier Louis’ to the delicate and gracious style associated with Louis XV. This period is usually referred to more specifically as the “French Regency.”

On an antiquing trip to the deep South last year I acquired a small six board chest with bracket feet. Recently I noticed a small pile of what looks like sawdust around one of the feet. Close examination showed it wasn’t really sawdust but had the consistency of sugar or salt. It is definitely coming from the chest. Is this an insect infestation? Can it be harmful? What, if anything, should I do about it?

A Since you got it in the South and the sawdust is “granular,” I would say you have yourself a dose of Southern drywood termites. The further south you go in the United States the worse the termite problem tends to be. Drywood termites are big business in the South and virtually every house sold in Florida, for example, has to be “tented” for them. This involves covering the entire house with tarps and pumping in a chemical that extracts all of the oxygen from the air, killing anything under the tarp, including termites deeply imbedded in the wood. Of course, the little critters love the old dry wood of antique furniture and will destroy a piece in a matter of a year or so. There are lots of cures for drywood termites in furniture but only one surefire method. The only method that does work 100 percent every time is putting the piece in a sealed vault and fumigating it with the same material used to tent homes. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Contact a local exterminator and determine if they have a vault and if they are familiar with the process. Otherwise, get rid of the piece, because if your infestation happens to include a queen in the colony, they will soon spread to your other furniture and your house.

Read more articles written by Fred Taylor.

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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