Questions and Common Sense Answers: Left handers have rights too

Q We acquired this oak secretary several years ago. We didn’t notice anything unusual about it at first. After comparing it with others we realized that they all had the desk and drawers on the right side and the shelves on the left side. We would appreciate any information you could share with us about this arrangement.

A The good quality picture is very much appreciated. At first blush I couldn’t recall seeing one with that arrangement but a review of my shop records indicated that I had indeed restored at least one in that configuration.

Most books on the subject of turn of the century oak furniture also never noticed. Twenty years of Larkin Oak catalogs do not exhibit a single one with that arrangement. Neither does the oak book by Kathryn McNerney or the 1902 Sears catalog. However, Robert and Harriett Swedberg found several to illustrate in their Encyclopedia of American Oak Furniture, Krause Publications, 2000. They remark that “In most cases the desks are built to accommodate a right-handed user as the writing surface is on the right side of the desk.” Several examples picture the less commonly found desks for those who are left-handed.

So there is the answer – they were built for lefties. Being married to one I should have recognized that. The fact that the left handed desks are fairly rare is a reflection of Victorian attitudes of the day which seriously discouraged allowing children to develop left handed skills but as my wife frequently reminds me “lefties have rights too.”

Thanks for sharing your find.

Q I have a 48-inch oak, claw footed pedestal dining table with two 12-inch leaves. It is marked “Hastings Table Company, Hastings, Michigan.” First, I’ve decided to sell it and I don’t know if it would be smarter to try to restore it myself (I know nothing of the process but could possibly learn.), or have it professionally restored (I have no idea what this costs) OR perhaps try to sell it as is. It is not in terrible shape, but does need refinishing and regluing. My decision should be based on what will ultimately result in the highest net profit from the sale. What would you suggest? Also, do you have any idea what this table might be worth and the best venue for selling it? I’ve researched fairly extensively online but can’t seem to get a handle on this. Thanks! – Bonnie, e-mail.

A Hastings Table Co. was a fairly well known, quality maker of living room and dining room  furniture in the early part of the 20th century. I strongly suggest you attempt to sell the table as is. If you are unfamiliar with the restoration process, the chance of error is fairly high and you have no idea what color or sheen might appeal to a prospective buyer. Having it professionally restored is for the final user, not the seller. The rule of thumb for most 20th century furniture is that restoration cost equals or exceeds current market value. Your highest return will be realized by doing nothing to the table except selling it.

My best guess is that if the table needs serious work such as refinishing or repair, you can expect to receive about half the price of one in perfect condition. To get an idea of what they sell for visit local shops or call around for retail prices. Then expect to get 50-75 percent of that price if you sell privately or 25-30 percent if you wholesale it to a dealer. You might want to talk to a local auctioneer and see what they might be able to sell it for at auction. Even after auction fees you probably would do better than wholesaling to a dealer but there is always a risk involved with putting something in an auction. Just place a reasonable reserve on it.

Q I have a fairly expensive set of barstools that have served me well until now. Actually they are more like chairs than stools. They are the kind that the seat returns back to the original position when you get out of them. The problem is with one of the ball bearing mechanisms. The top of the stool started to wobble and then I found pieces of the ball bearing on the floor. Is there a way to replace just the ball bearings without having to replace the whole mechanism?

A The short answer is no. Why bother? Most modern swivel mechanisms have only four bearings in them. These bearings are evenly spaced out in the race, held in place by a teflon ring. When the center post of the swivel goes bad or when the weld breaks, the bearings make their escape. The problem is with the housing of the mechanism, not the bearings.

Your swivels probably rotate 110 degrees or close to it and have a spring return in them. A replacement swivel is less than $20 so just replace it. However make sure you are replacing it with the same thing. You need to determine if your swivels have a tilt to them. Some swivels are flat and some are tilted. If you cannot find one with the correct tilt you can adjust the level by installing flat fender washers under the front edge of the swivel.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or

Visit Fred’s Web site at  His book How to be a Furniture Detective is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Send check or money order for $21.95 to the address above.

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) are available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377 or e-mail

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