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Clues reveal chairs are made for dining room

The shape of the crest rail of a chair and the type of bolts used to hold it together offer some clue as to the age and use of the chairs, explained Furniture Detective, in his assessment of a reader's inquiry about what were thought to be ice cream parlor chairs.

Q I came across five ice cream parlour chairs or so I believe, stamped on bottom “North American.” They are light in weight (beech?) with round caned seats. They look like a Thonet style except the backs are six spokes and a curved back piece at the top, about 3 1/4 inches wide. I just can’t find any information on ice cream parlour chairs in libraries, the web or anywhere.

The only thing I have come up with is a Thonet or Kohn with hoop backs and mine look identical in

dining chairs

Fred Taylor believes these chairs are dining chairs, not ice cream parlor chairs. (Submitted photo)

construction except the back. Thanks.
— K.B., Canada
via email

A Your chairs are from the early 20th century but I do not believe they are ice cream chairs. They more likely are the remnants of a set of dining chairs. The crest rail, the top of the chair, has an Empire Revival look to it popular during that period and is heavier looking than the standard form of the ice cream chair, which normally is made completely of bent components except for the front legs, a la Thonet. The square iron bolts are a clue to the period.

They probably were made by North American Furniture Co. of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. Owen Sound had a thriving furniture industry based on local natural resources, including beech and birch timber. There was another company in Owen Sound named North American Bent Chair Co., but the description of their chairs more closely resembles Thonet chairs than it resembles your chairs.

Your set appears to have been refinished and at least partially re-caned at some point. This won’t detract from the value and probably has enhanced it. The set of five chairs would probably sell at auction for $300 to $400.


Q I have several pieces of old furniture that have mirrors on them. Most of the older mirrors are starting to flake and there are black holes in them. I have tried to paint the backs with silver, aluminum and chrome-type paint but nothing has helped so far. I have been told that they have to be re-silvered but nobody in my area does it. Where can I buy supplies to do it myself? Thanks.
— R.P., via e-mail

A When the backing starts to come off a mirror, there just isn’t much you can do about it by yourself. As you have found out, paint does not work and just so you know, neither does aluminum foil or reflecting tape.

This top-selling book by Antique Trader columnist Fred Taylor teaches you how to solve the mysteries of antique furniture. Order your copy directly from the author at

This top-selling book by Antique Trader columnist Fred Taylor teaches you how to solve the mysteries of antique furniture. Order your copy directly from the author at

The reflective surface of modern mirrors is usually a fine film of liquid aluminum or silver, sprayed or evaporated onto the glass with special equipment. Before the development of spray equipment, the backing was brushed on but the uneven results can be seen in old mirrors. The reason not many people redo mirrors commercially is that the setup is expensive, the process is hazardous and the chemicals are very expensive and very hazardous ... so much so that in some areas it is against the law because proper disposal of waste material
is such a problem.

If the glass in your mirrors is relatively new (20th century), flat, straight cut and ordinary, you may be just as well off to buy new mirrors. If the pieces are very old and valuable, you probably don’t want to re-silver the mirrors anyway because of the loss of antique value. Re-silvering is really only a good choice when the glass itself is very unusual or would be impossible or too expensive to duplicate.

Commercial re-silvering is a fairly expensive option. It can run as high as $20 to $30 per square foot with a long lead time, lots of shipping expense and no guarantees. For more detail you can checkout


Q I have a small wooden box about the size of a recipe box. It has a striped wood with brass hinges. The inside is lined with velvet and has a small lift-out tray. A brass plate says “Caldwell & Co. 902 Chestnut St. Philad’a.”
Any clues to what it might be? Thank you.
— L.T.
via email

AJ. E. Caldwell & Co. is a high end jewelry store in Philadelphia, somewhat like Tiffany’s in New York. It is now part of the Carlyle & Co. chain of jewelry stores and centers. Carlyle, in turn, was acquired in 2005 by Finlay Enterprises, the largest operator of licensed fine jewelry departments in department stores across the United States. The box probably is a small jewelry storage box from that store. Is it empty?

For more information: Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or email Visit and check out the new downloadable “Common Sense Antiques” columns in .pdf format. Fred’s book, “How To Be A Furniture Detective,” is available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17+$3 S&H) is also available. Send checks or money orders to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423. For more information call (800) 387-6377 (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Eastern, M-F only), fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail All items are also available directly from