Chair’s greatest value will come from its service

Q I have been a fan of your articles for some time now. I have an identification problem. I found four dining chairs in an antique shop tagged as oak. An across-the-room glance told me they were not oak. Closer inspection revealed that they are mahogany. I liked them and bought them. They have

English Arts & Crafts chair

This nice chair is an English version of Arts & Crafts from the early 20th century. (Submitted photo)

the original finish and upholstery with the exception of the top fabric, which has been changed. The muslin over the cotton stuffing is tacked to the slip seat and the tacks show some rust from age, and the webbing is original. Each chair has the same set of numbers stamped on the bottom of the back rail. I suspect they are style and order numbers placed there by the manufacturer.

Each left corner seat block has a number stamped on it, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, a part of a special order? Each slip seat frame also has the same numbers in pencil. Another department processing the order? Thus far no discovery department of the local auction houses can identify the chairs. I did find a similar chair online at an auction house in the U.K., but they could not identify the manufacturer either.

The orb design in the splat says Arts & Crafts to me. None of the catalogs for American manufacturers show anything like the front foot design and most are done in oak.
My future plans for the chairs are to establish their origin, decide their value and sell them if any, or make a companion table to go with them and keep them for my own use.

Any help would be appreciated.
— H.K.

A I agree that your chairs are certainly not made of oak. That just illustrates the ignorance of so many shop owners who haven’t taken the time to learn their trade. Bleached or well faded mahogany is the wood. The chairs are definitely from the Arts & Crafts period of the early 20th century. They are also, almost without a doubt, English, and isolating the chairs to a specific factory is virtually impossible.

The English attribution comes from the curved front and rear seat rails, which is a common English element. The narrow scale of the back also points to this, as does the stilted style of the incising. Since a great deal of handwork was involved in English factories of this period, my guess about the numbers on the seat blocks and seat frame is that they are to ensure each seat fits a specific chair. This is a holdover from the 18th and early 19th centuries in both England and the U.S., when individual chairs within a set were often numbered. The style of the feet is a “half Mackmurdo” foot, which is sometimes seen on Roycroft pieces and the occasional Stickley piece. Similar examples can be seen in the book “Furniture of the Arts & Crafts Period” (L-W Book Sales, 1995).

There probably is very little current market value in these chairs. Most English pieces are fairly well discounted in the U.S. market. They appear to be good solid chairs and should render many years of service, if you decide to keep them.


Q I love your columns and read them whenever they appear. I am hardly a do-it-yourselfer and need

This top-selling book by Antique Trader columnist Fred Taylor teaches you how to solve the mysteries of antique furniture. Order your copy directly from the author at

This top-selling book by Antique Trader columnist Fred Taylor teaches you how to solve the mysteries of antique furniture. Order your copy directly from the author at

some help. I bought a vintage 1940s screen door, screen fully intact. It had at least three coats of paint, which I wanted stripped. I did half the door myself but since it was such a messy job I had someone else finish it. The screen is removable and has a wood frame that also needed to be stripped.

Here’s the problem. The wood framed screen was stripped nicely without damaging the screen. But the guy did a sloppy job of putting the stain on it and the stain dripped and dried on the adjacent areas of the screen. It is a premium alkyd transparent cedar stain. I tried removing the stain from the screen with paint thinner and a wire brush with absolutely no success. Do you have any suggestions?
— B.S.

A You have a slight chemistry problem here, but nothing serious. I am assuming that the “stain” you were using was an exterior stain for use on decking, siding and the like. These stains almost always have an alkyd-based sealer in them that prolong their outdoor life. That sealer is what you have to penetrate to remove it from the screen. You tried to remove it with paint thinner but that won’t work – as you found out.

Alkyd based finishes are known as “reactive” finishes. They form the finish by a chemical reaction as the substance dries. Paint thinner is just that – a thinner for the stain/finish when it is in liquid form. It is not a solvent for the material once it has had its chemical reaction and becomes, in essence, a different compound.

For this you need a solvent. The original paint remover you were using to strip the door should work just fine in removing the alkyd stain/finish from the screen. Just be careful you don’t get sloppy, too, and get the remover on the door.

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