I have enclosed some pictures of two chairs that I have. I wondered if you could please give me any information about them and their estimated value.
I believe I was around 10 years old when they were brought to my attention in my grandmother’s house. I’m now 79. I have had these two for 60 years and used them all the time. As a result, they had to be recaned. On the backs of these chairs it says “Design Pat’d, Dec 30, 1884, P. Derby & Co., Gardner, Mass.” Thank you in advance.
Chairs like these were manufactured all over the country in the late 19th century – but especially in the Midwest. In fact, one colloquial name for this style chair is “Indiana Eastlake,” even though these particular ones were not made in Indiana. Chairs like this were extremely popular during the closing years of the century and were classified as true “Country Chairs.”
The chairs appear to be made of a hardwood such as maple or birch with a dark stain and finish probably meant to simulate the walnut used in more elaborate and expensive chairs. I could not find much specific information about “P. Derby & Co.” but they were in a local hotbed of furniture activity. Gardner, Mass., in the late 1800s had more than 15 chair factories. Other local manufacturers included such luminaries a Heywood Brothers & Co., the forerunner of Heywood-Wakefield; Conant, Ball & Co.; and S. Bent Brothers – a pretty fancy crowd to run with.
A chair essentially identical to yours is illustrated on page 202 of Kathryn McNerney’s useful little edition of “Victorian Furniture - Our American Heritage, Book II” (Collector Books). The book was published in 1994, so her price guideline of $125 may be out of date. In fact, I believe the actual market value would currently be lower than the price guide. There are many, many examples of this type of chair available in antique shops and malls, so establishing a current price should be as simple as a trip to the store. Thanks for writing.
Your column has been very helpful and interesting to me. Keep up the good work! My dad bought for my mother a bedroom set at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It was manufactured by John Stuart Inc., 470 4th, New York, NY. The tags on each of the pieces say “stock #360, finish Maple, upholster #338.” The set consists of a chest, dresser, vanity, bench, straight back chair and a corner what-not shelf. But alas, no bed. I think my mom sold it in a garage sale back in the late ’60s.
I would love to find a bed or at least a picture of the bed so I could have one made to
match. In my memory, it was a four poster bed but I’m not positive. The set is in immaculate condition. Mom apparently got tired of the original fabric on the chair and bench, so she covered it over. I didn’t care for the new fabric, so I removed it and found the original fabric to be as good as the day it was made.
If you could tell me anything about where John Stuart is these days or who bought them out, etc., I would greatly appreciate it. Or if you can help me out in any way that would be great. Thank you in advance for your help.
— B.L., Rochester, Ind.
John Stuart had a small factory in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a showroom in New York. The company imported a great deal of Danish modern stuff in the early 1950s and also built some furniture based on designs of some famous 1930s- 1950s designers such as Paul Frankel, Finn Juhl and Hans Wegner. But John Stuart actually was more of a high-end designer’s showroom in New York and sold goods with their label on them that were made by a number of factories in Grand Rapids under contract. They sold a number of styles, including Colonial Revival reproductions. There is no record of John Stuart in Grand Rapids after 1956.
Fred’s Comments on Refinishing Safety
A number of furniture restoration and refinishing techniques involve the use of chemicals that can be dangerous if proper procedures are not followed. Two of these happen to be Methylene chloride stripper and two-part wood bleach.
In both cases, always work with adequate ventilation – outside is best. Wear long sleeves, a heavy apron, solid shoes (no sneakers) and solvent-proof gloves. Most importantly, wear eye protection. This stuff will hurt you.
In the case of the MC stripper, water is the antidote. Keep a plastic pail full of cool water and a clean rag nearby in case you splash some stripper on an unprotected area – bare necks, cheeks and chins are especially susceptible. In the case of two-part wood bleach, which is super alkaline, the cure is vinegar, which is dilute acetic acid. Keep a pail of 50/50 water and vinegar within reach at all times. When you are done bleaching, rinse your still gloved hands in the water/vinegar to prevent spreading the bleach as you undo your safety gear. It is always a good idea to have commercial eyewash with a rinse cup handy.
And be sure to use your best piece of safety equipment – your head.
About our columnist: Send your comments, questions and pictures to PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Fred’s newly redesigned website at www.furnituredetective.com and check out the new downloadable “Common Sense Antiques” columns in .pdf format. His book, “How to be a Furniture Detective,” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.