Q I bought this couch after being assured it was old. However, once I got it home I questioned the removable cushions and the brand label. Can you tell me where Pullman was located and the age and worth of my sofa? Thank you. M.J., Virginia
A At first glance your couch does look very much like a 19th century Rococo medallion back sofa, circa 1865, so I am not surprised that an uninformed seller would say that without investigating further. It is a very well done reproduction. However there are things about the piece that will tell you right away that it is a modern version rather than a period piece. While the three-cushion arrangement is a warning sign, it could also be the result of a modern reupholstery job so that in itself is not a solid lead.
The more important clue is the apparent size. This looks like a very long couch. Most mid 19th century couches are significantly shorter. You will almost never find a medallion back couch longer than 65 to 70 inches. The other significant clue is the center leg. Mid Victorian medallion backs usually never had a center leg – they just weren’t needed on the shorter frame. When a 19th century couch needed additional support it normally came in the form of an additional pair of legs across the front rail rather than just a single center leg. For more information and some good pictures of Victorian medallion backs check out “Victorian Furniture – Our American Heritage, Book II” by Kathryn McNerney from Collector Books.
Now for the Pullman story. The Pullman Couch Company was formed in 1906 in Chicago by Jacob Schnadig and Julius Kramer. The name of the company was taken from the building in which the two men had lunch while discussing the plans for the new company. The building was the Pullman Building on Michigan Ave. The company made Victorian reproduction furniture as well as overstuffed parlor sets until it received a patent for an innerspring mattress to accommodate a pull out sleeper sofa. After that they made mostly the sleepers. In 1954 the company became the Schnadig Company, run by the son of Pullman founder Jacob Schnadig. That company is still in business under that name.
Unfortunately the value of your couch is less than the cost of reupholstering it. It probably would sell in the $300 to $500 range, retail.
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 and 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 50’s. Anyway, I can only locate 2 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 to check this. It has 3 pedals on the floor, the main cabinet is 54” tall and its 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. Thanks for your help. 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: first it was too expensive and second 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. The first of course is Baldwin from 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 of 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.
Fred Taylor is an author and syndicated columnist. Send your comments, questions and pictures to P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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