Ask Antique Trader: Metal tacks offer quick drawer fix

The drawers of my antique drop-leaf lamp table have brass keyholes but no knobs or pulls for opening. I can see the marks along the edges of the drawers where previous owners have used butter knives, fingernails etc. to open them but I don’t want to do any further damage. I would like to just put a knob through the keyhole but the lock is the kind that is inset into the drawer and I can’t get it out. Should I just drill through the lock to install knobs?

Maybe you are working too hard. Use the locks to your advantage rather than destroying them by drilling through them. Take a drawer and visit a keyshop or antique restorer. Most older locks work on just a few basic key arrangements and in your case the key doesn’t even have to work — it only has to fit. You are looking for a “barrel” key, one with a hole in the end of the shaft, that will fit over the pin in the middle of the lock. Then turn the key 1/4 turn and when it engages the interior of the lock, you have a drawer pull! Put a nice tassel on the key and you are in business — no more butter knives. If the key actually happens to work, so much the better.

At a neighborhood garage sale I acquired what appears to be a fairly old oak dresser with antique style hardware. The problem is that it is missing one of the handles that fits in the eye-hook looking things that go through the fancy brass plate and the drawer front. I have looked at the hardware store and can’t find anything close. Does this mean I will have to replace all of the hardware? 

First some terminology. You have to know what you’re looking for before you can find it. It sounds like you have a late 19th century or early 20th century factory made late Victorian piece with stamped brass pulls. The piece you are missing is called the bail. The “eye-hooks” are called posts and the fancy plate is the back plate. In earlier versions the backplate, posts and bail were all separate pieces and the entire “pull” had to be assembled to install it on a drawer. Later versions such as yours have the posts already stamped or soldered into the back plate with the bail affixed to the posts. The bails are usually noticeably thinner than the posts and be pulled out of shape and out of the posts if the drawer is reluctant or even stuck. Your best bet is to visit your local antique dealer. Most dealers have a supply of left over or extra bails, posts etc. for their own use. Likewise a decent restoration shop probably will have a loose bail or even an entire pull from which you can extract the bail.

As a last resort you can order replacement hardware from which to scavenge parts from Van Dyke Restorers. Call 605-796-4425 for a catalog or write to them at P.O. Box 278, Woonsocket, SD 57385.

During our recent move one of the curved panels of glass in my antique china cabinet was broken. The claims adjuster sent by the moving company suggested replacing the glass with Plexiglas so it wouldn’t break again the next time we move. He said I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and that it is much safer. Is that true?

First understand that claims adjusters who work for moving companies do not work for you. Their job is to close a claim as quickly and inexpensively as possible and your best interests are not a factor. Plexiglas is an option for curved glass replacement since it is relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, readily accessible and in some applications safer than real glass. It is a good choice when young, rambunctious children are around or when the piece is in a high traffic area such as a recreation room. On the other hand you definitely WILL be able to see the difference between Plexiglas and the real thing if you have been around the real thing very much. Plexiglas lacks the clarity and sparkle of true glass and over time, as it is cleaned repeatedly, it will start to haze over as the surface acquires the millions of tiny scratches left by cleaning rags and paper towels.

Fred Taylor’s Furniture Detective column is published weekly in Antique Trader. He is the author of the book “How To Be a Furniture Detective.” He lives in Florida with his wife, Gail.

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