Q I have recently come into possession of a Lillian Russell twin bedroom suite, which includes two poster beds, dresser with mirror, chest of drawers and night table. I know that it was manufactured by the Davis Cabinet Co. of Nashville.
My mother states that it was purchased in the 1930s or ’40s. She believes it is mahogany. I believe that now they produce similar articles in cherry. I have pictures uploaded that I can forward. What do you know about these items? Thanks.
— M.V., via e-mail
A The date of manufacture is on the back of the glass in the mirrors. If there is a paper or wooden backing it must be removed to see the glass itself. The date will be in very dark gray. All American
20th century plate mirror included in furniture carries a date.
Davis Cabinet Company was incorporated in Nashville in 1929 by Lipscomb Davis who firmly believed that furniture should be made of solid wood, a quaint idea at the beginning of the Depression. But he made it and the company has survived. Your set, the “Lillian Russell” line, named for the Victorian beauty, has been continuously manufactured since 1931.
Most of your set (the dresser and chest) is a modern reproduction of the Rococo Revival style, which was popular in America around the time of the Civil War. It, in turn, was a remake of the French Rococo style of the 18th century. Rococo is often considered to be “THE” Victorian style and is the one that most frequently comes to mind when “Victorian” is mentioned.
The bed, however, is not Rococo. It has the spool turnings similar to Jenny Lind beds of the mid-19th century, but it has a broken pediment with finial as the headboard, which is classic Queen Anne. This mixture of styles is typical of furniture of the 1930s and 1940s. The neat thing is that this exact set, made by Davis, mid-to-late 1940s, sold at auction recently in Terre Haute, Indiana. The set was a tall chest, two twin beds and a dresser with a round mirror. The set sold for $1,500, which has to be considered wholesale, since it was at auction. This set was described by the auction house as being walnut.
*A follow-up from M.V. states that he did check the back of the mirror and found the date of June 1947 on the glass.
Q An old turn-of-the-century piano stool with ball and claw feet turned up in a building I just bought. It’s in pretty good shape but it does need refinishing. It has the old ball and claw type foot that I assume was once brass, but it is now just rusty and the glass balls are chipped here and there. Can I replace just the glass part and paint the rest of it or do I need to replace the whole thing?
— T.L.J., via e-mail.
A Complete replacement assemblies, as well as replacement acrylic balls, are available from a number of sources, including Van Dyke’s Restorers (www.vandykes.com). However, if you decide to just replace the ball, bear in mind that most of those older ball and claw feet are made of cast iron and they don’t tolerate a lot of bending and prying to get the glass balls in and out. The likelihood of breaking a talon is very high. If you opt for total replacement, you have to deal with fitting a new assembly over an old leg and matching up the diameters and screw holes.
A better approach might be to just deal with what you have. A few chips in 100-plus-year-old glass hardware are not fatal flaws and actually add some character to the piece. Remove the feet from the legs by releasing the one screw. Using a good brand of masking tape, tape off the glass balls as best you can around the talons. Use two layers of tape if you have time. Then use a wire wheel attached to your drill to carefully remove the rust and burnish the metal. Clean it well with thinner, prime with a good primer and paint the feet either a brass color or a low sheen black. Untape the glass and clean it up carefully with lacquer thinner to remove any paint that may have crept under the tape.
Now you have nice looking, original feet that will actually fit properly on your newly refinished stool.
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