Czech chair originates from the beech forests

Q My mother has a small chair with a tag that says “Jacob & Josef Kohn and Mundus, Made in

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Czechoslovakia.” I find three different patent dates, one on the wood is 1906, one on the label is 1910 and one on the metal brackets is 1914.

Can you tell me anything about this chair and give me any info on how to research the makers?
Thanks for any help you can provide.

A The Kohn brothers, Jacob and Joseph, were chair makers in Vienna, Austria in the late 19th century. They became so successful that they were the main competition for Michael Thonet’s company, which had patented the idea of steam bending wood for chairs in 1842. His original patent expired in 1869 and that opened the floodgates for competitors like the Kohns. By 1893, there were more than 50 companies in Europe, 25 in Austria alone, producing bentwood products.

However, the Kohns invented a new process that could shape the wood for bentwood chairs in a matter of minutes instead of the several hours required by the Thonet process. Their invention and some creative design work won them the Grand Prize at the Parisian World Trades Fair of 1900.

Many of the later factories were built in Czechoslovakia near beech forests, which supplied the raw materials for most of the chairs. Sometime just after the turn of the century, I can’t find out exactly when, the Kohn brothers merged with another large manufacturer and became Kohn and Mundus. Then, in 1923, K & M merged with Thonet, and the Thonet company became the surviving name.
All of that means that your chairs were made of beech in Czechoslovakia by the merged company of Kohn & Mundus sometime between 1906 and 1923.

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Q I have an old chest of drawers that maybe you would know something about. I have had this piece for awhile and plan to keep it in the family. The label on the back says “Union Furniture Co.” Any help you can give on the age, origin and value of this piece would be appreciated. Thank you.

A There were several companies doing business as “Union Furniture Co.” around the time this piece was manufactured. One was in Rockford, Illinois, one in Jamestown, New York, one in Batesville, Indiana, and one in High Point, North Carolina. There may have been more.

The one in Rockford concentrated mainly on library furniture, so that one is probably out. And the one in Jamestown produced a lot of painted, oriental type work.

This style chest of drawers was called a “chiffonier” when it was manufactured. In 18th century France chiffoniers or “semainiers” were tall, narrow chests that traditionally had seven drawers, each

chiffonier

The veneer is missing from two of the lower drawers on this chiffonier made by Union Furniture. The mirror is also missing. (Submitted photo)

of which held personal linen for a separate day of the week. The strict definition has loosened with use so furniture marketers in the early 20th century, when this was made, felt free to use the term. They thought it sounded very sophisticated — more so than just “chest of drawers.”

The serpentine drawer fronts were originally veneered in quarter sawn oak but it appears that the veneer has been removed from the third and fourth drawers and the underlayment has been stained dark. A very close examination of the photo of the back of the chest shows the “shadows” left by the supports that held up the now-missing mirror and frame. These supports were screwed into the back of the chest, and the holes are still visible.

This is still a serviceable piece of furniture and will last many more years with reasonable care. However, unfortunately, with its missing veneer, rough refinish job and vanished mirror, it essentially has value only to the family which has a shared history with the piece.

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Q I recently decided to repair a set of loose dining chairs that have been a threat to our safety for several years. Some of the old dowels were broken off and some were very loose. I took the chairs apart and drilled out the broken dowels with a 3/8-inch drill bit which fit perfectly in the old holes. Rather than buying individual dowels I bought a 3-foot length of 3/8-inch dowel at the hardware store. When I cut some sections to use in the chairs, the dowels were too small for the original holes. I took the dowel back to the store where they measured it and assured me it was the right size. They said I must have used the wrong drill bit but I know I didn’t. Is there a trick to making new dowels fit old holes?

A You just learned about “nominal” sizes. Ever noticed that a 2-by-4 doesn’t measure 2 inch by 4 inches? Same thing with bulk dowels. Most of those dowels are milled from birch and no matter what the nominal size, 3/8-inch, 5/16-inch, etc., they will be 1/64-inch to 1/32-inch smaller in diameter than what they are labeled. Unless the hardware store used a micrometer to measure the dowel, they couldn’t get an accurate reading to within 1/64-inch.

To assure the right size in dowels, spend a little bit more and buy the pre-cut, pre-grooved variety of birch dowel or buy longer dowels made from other hardwoods such as oak or walnut. They tend to be truer in size.

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