Deciphering information determines age of commode

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By Susan Mullikin

Q: I have a carved chest, with one door opening and three drawers, that belonged to my grandmother.

It has a Widdicomb Furniture Company label on the back, but does not look like any other Widdicomb label I can find online. There is also a stamp on the back — 173.

There is a carved trim piece that appears to be missing at the bottom left and the finish on the top is worn and otherwise does have some wear. It measures 33-1/2” h x 32” w x 17-1/2” d.

I wonder if you can tell me the age and possible value.

Many thanks!

Elaine Parks

 The all-important paper label is key in finding out more information about this piece. All images are courtesy of Elaine Parks

The all-important paper label is key in finding out more information about this piece. All images are courtesy of Elaine Parks

A: I’m so glad that you brought to attention your question of age and value of your commode based on the label as found on the back of your Widdicomb piece of furniture. This gives basis for a lesson on deciphering information we have to best pinpoint your questions.

The fact that the early paper label is still adhered to the back of your commode solves some of the mystery as to the age of your piece. Paper labels such as yours were one of the earliest ways cabinetmakers had to identify their wares beginning early in the 19th century. Your paper label also identifies the maker, Widdicomb Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and tells us that they were in the wholesale manufacturing business, a middleman of sorts in the manufacture of furniture early in the company.

Upon research, we learn of the early years of the Widdicomb furniture company consistent with the time period when cabinetmakers were using paper labels to identify their wares. Some of the first products of the Widdicomb company as of 1873 consisted of spindle beds that were generally shipped to retailers unfinished or in the “white,” confirming that the company was a wholesale manufacturer as read on your label at this time.

 Close-up details of the commode.

Close-up details of the commode.

An 1878 article in the “American Maker Upholsterers and Carpet Reporter” states that the Widdicomb Furniture Company made only “nine styles of work” and specialized in low-priced ash, maple, cherry, and walnut bed sets. By the 1880s when industrialization started, Widdicomb expanded to include all forms of medium and fine chamber bedroom furniture. By 1881, the Widdicomb Furniture Company was listed as the largest maker of bedroom furniture in the world.

From the information regarding the company, I date your Widdicomb piece of furniture to the early years of the company, 1873-1880, when cabinetmakers were identifying their wares with paper labels.

From pictures alone, I would place a conservative value on your commode of $675. Seeing your piece of furniture in person would help, since I was not sure in one photo if an upper backing piece was added for support. Restoration would greatly help to bring your piece of furniture back to life.

Have a great day,

Susan Mullikin, AIA, CA.

Susan Mullikin, owner of Mother and Daughter Vintage Clothing and Antiques, is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute of Antiques. For the last 25 years, she has specialized in assisting clients across the U.S. in regards to fine antique garments, textiles, and ladies accessories. She provides conservation, restoration and appraisal services. 

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