Ask AT: Civil War vet, inventor founded Cushman furniture company

Q  I have a maple table and six chairs (one armchair) with a metal plaque (round) on bottom of each chair. It says “CUSHMAN A Genuine Cushman Colonial creation. Made in Bennington, Vt.” Carved in the bottom of each chair is “CUSHMAN 4-24.” The chairs are put together with wooden pegs. The table is drop leaf. All pieces are in great condition. Do you have any knowledge of this?
— M.H., Monticello, Ark.

Cushman Furniture tag  Cushman Furniture has a long and interesting history. “A Genuine Cushman Colonial Creation / made in Bennington, VT.

A The H.T. Cushman Furniture Co. has a long and interesting history. Mr. Henry Theodore Cushman (1844-1922) was a Civil War veteran and an inveterate inventor from Bennington, Vt. He got into the furniture business by the side door. His first love was thinking up things. He actually invented the pencil eraser, selling the rights to a manufacturing company. In the 1870s, he started one of the early mail-order companies and invented things to sell through his catalog. He developed the first ink eradicator and manufactured some of the earliest roller skates, making one line almost completely of wood and another model that folded into a tube for easy carrying and storage. He got into the furniture business by manufacturing coat racks and inventing the “Ladies Friend,” the first towel rack and sponge holder for the bathroom.

After incorporating the company in 1899, Cushman became less inventive and, like almost everybody else at the time, began making Mission furniture. He did develop a popular line of smoking stands, and in 1921, he came out with a line of breakfast room suites. By the 1930s, after Cushman’s death, the company delved heavily into the Colonial Revival, taking pains to simulate the look of hand work.

By the 1950s, the company had switched from maple to Canadian yellow birch in its Colonial furniture. Cushman was sold to General Industries in 1964, which spun it off to Green Mountain Furniture Co. of New Hampshire in 1971, which then went out of business in 1980. You can read the entire history of the company, thanks to the Bennington Museum.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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Q I am trying to identify a table I purchased several months ago. I believe it is mahogany. It is 29 1/2 inches high and has a 24-inch diameter round top. When I purchased the table, it had several layers of ugly brown and red paint on it. I removed the paint. I have not attempted to put another finish on it because I am uncertain what to do next. The table is quite attractive as it is now. I have been applying lemon oil to it. It has several stains or watermarks on the top. Should I leave them or try to remove them?
– D.K., via email

A Your lamp table is indeed solid mahogany. It is from the turn of the 20th century to about 1915. The style is a sort of Empire Revival in the manner of the Late Classicism or “French Restoration,” popular in the 1840s-50s and characterized by the “C” and “S” scrolls. A good reference for this period is “Field Guide to American Antique Furniture” by Butler.

Unfortunately, you have done one of the worst possible things you can do to an unfinished piece of wood: applying the accursed “lemon oil” polish. It is essentially mineral oil with a scent added and it will never dry and offers no real protection to the wood. It will attract and retain almost every particle of dust that comes its way and will eventually ruin the table. The table needs to be re-stripped to remove the oil. The mahogany definitely needs a finish on it, and if you like the low luster, informal look, apply a wipe of furniture finish such as Watco Danish Oil.

As far as the stains and watermarks in the top are concerned, they didn’t look too bad from the photo on the web page. You could go to the trouble and expense of bleaching and sanding or you could just think of them like facial wrinkles and gray hair: just signs of age and “character.”

A note about furniture repair and restoration safety

Occasionally I get to do a little preaching about safety because many of things that come up in the subject of woodworking and restoration involve hazardous materials, tools or techniques not encountered in everyday life. If you pick up a can of finish or stripper and read the label does it actually tell you what is in the can beyond the ubiquitous “petroleum distillates”? Do you need to know? In my opinion there is no such thing as too much safety information.

If you run a business that uses any hazardous products you already know that the suppliers are required to furnish information about the products in the form of an MSDS certificate – the Material Safety Data Sheet. But they are not designed for or furnished to consumers. The MSDS provides information about the chemical composition of the product and such physical characteristics as boiling point, flash point, melting point, toxicity, health effects, first aid, storage, disposal, protective equipment, whether vapors are lighter or heavier than air and where they tend to accumulate, etc.

Aren’t these some of the things you would like to know about a product? Some manufacturers provide a site to download an MSDS but most don’t. Some retailers may let you look at an MSDS but most won’t. The actual form can be intimidating and are purposely hard to read but it is worth the trouble.

There is a site where you can learn more about the MSDS and possibly find a link to download one for the product you are interested in:

Get informed and be safe.

Contact Us: Send your questions and photos via e-mail to AskAT[at], or mail to Antique Trader Q&A, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54945. Photos sent by e-mail should be 200 dpi or larger. Appraisals are personal opinions of value and are to be considered for entertainment purposes only. The values are estimated and are not to be used for any other purpose, either legal or personal. Personal replies are not possible.

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