Ask Antique Trader: Antique chest may have had a concealed drawer

Q  Dear Fred – I need your help. Could you take a look at this chest of drawers and tell me who the manufacturer is?

three-drawer chest  This three-drawer chest may have held a hidden drawer or faux drawer front.

I would like to get two more of the pressed metal pulls for this piece and can’t find them doing just a browse of pressed metal pulls. Maybe if I have the manufacturer of the piece itself I could get a little closer. I am guessing that you will notice this right off but I am also missing the trim work that was below the last drawer, along the bottom.

It would be nice to know what this trim looked like so maybe I could get something close to it, as well. The tag on the middle drawer maybe says “Wilson Bros.” with something below that. Any help in leading me in the right direction would be appreciated. Thanks. – M.A.J, via e-mail.

A  What an odd little piece. Several things strike me about it. The escutcheons, the diamond shaped plates around the keyholes, are very late Victorian era. So is the style of the hardware, but I don’t think the piece is 19th century, maybe very early 20th.

The chest appears to be made of chestnut or elm rather than oak. My guess is that the missing trim work below the bottom drawer was either a faux drawer front or perhaps even a fourth concealed drawer. In any event, I would be willing to bet that the trim or panel continued the striking pattern of the other drawers all the way to the floor or at least to the bottom of the chest.

The hardware is simply “post and bail” hardware with an attached back plate, again indicating late very 19th century or 20th century manufacture. The “bail” is the handle part that hangs down and the “post” is the part that holds the bail on the back plate. The bail on the right side of the middle drawer has already been replaced. This type of hardware is simply stamped brass and the bail is usually made of steel. The best bet is to find something similar and replace all the hardware. There are some very close to yours in the Van Dykes Restorers catalog or 800-558-1234.

I couldn’t find a record of “Wilson Bros.” in my American reference material, but I did find an English furniture company by that name in Monte Video, Uruguay, around the turn of the century. That would almost fit but it would be a long shot.

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Q  I have a primitive wood bowl that is cracking and I would like to know what I could put on it. My name is Vicky and I hope that you can help me. Thanks. – via e-mail.

A  Wood cracks because it expands and contracts in reaction to changes in temperature and humidity in its surroundings. Over the very long term, the net result is cracking as the wood dries out and shrinks. You can apply mineral oil (from the drug store) or Watco Danish Oil Finish to it but both will darken the wood somewhat. Both will help control movement due to atmosphere but neither will entirely stop the natural shrinkage of the wood as it ages.

The best solution of course is a constant temperature and humidity but that’s not always practical. I personally would use the Danish Oil (Natural) approach. It comes in colors but stay with the Natural. I know you want to preserve the old piece as much as possible but some cracking in old wood is seen as a true sign of age and is inescapable over the long term.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com. Visit Fred Taylor’s website to order his book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. For more information call 800-387-6377 or fax 352-563-2916.

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