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Empire Revival vanity probably dates to 1920s

Furniture Detective Fred Taylor advises a reader about determining age of a vanity by inspecting its curved legs and the back of its mirror.

Q I have picked up an antique table (vanity) and I was hoping to find someone that might know what era it may be from. It has bi-fold mirrors.

The legs at the front are curved to the back at the bottom of the table. It has drawers on the front and at one time it must have had a key to lock it. I have attached a couple of pictures of the vanity for you. You'll see pictures from different angles to better view some of the details. I am very excited to see what you are able to find out and I appreciate you taking the time to look at the pictures.

— N.A., via e-mail

Tips to Age of Vanity Lie Within Design

A Quarter cut oak makes up this three mirror vanity. The curved legs are in the Empire Revival style

Empire Revival vanity

This quarter cut oak Empire Revival vanity is from the 1920s. Submitted photo.

and reflect the “C” scroll and “S” scroll designs of Late Classicism Empire/French Restoration of the 1840s and 1850s. A Revival vanity such as yours was popular in the 1920s. Originally it probably had a matching chair. The two central drawers of the vanity certainly had a key to secure them. Locks from this period are very simple and almost any antique dealer will have a key to fit. Just take out one of the locks and take it with you to a shop.

A vanity virtually identical to yours is shown on page 270 of “The Encyclopedia of American Oak Furniture” by Harriett and Robert Swedberg (Krause Publications, 2000). With the chair it is listed at $525. Another example is shown on page 115 of “American Oak Furniture” by Kathryn McNerney (Collector Books, 1984).

You can verify the date by checking on the back of the glass on the vanity. All 20th century mirror glass used in furniture had a date on the rear of the glass itself. You may have to remove a backing to see the reverse of the glass. The date, if the glass is original to the piece, will be in dark gray somewhere on the back.

To Re-Cane or Replace

Q I have been reading your columns with great interest and learning from them, but now I am stuck. For many years I have bought caned chairs with the seats broken or damaged. Since I know how to cane they usually only cost me a few dollars to repair. At a flea market his fall I impulsively grabbed a chair with the caning punched out. Only when I got home and turned it upside down did I find out that although the seat was done with pre-woven cane held in by a spline, the chair was drilled for hand caning. To insert the spline a groove had been routed out to a depth of about 5/8 inch through the drilled holes all around the chair.

What should I do now? Can I replace the cane with more pre-woven cane? Do I need to just find another complete seat? Also do you know of a magic solvent for the old glue? It is dark yellow so it must be old hide glue, and vinegar and hot water is not working. Thanks for your help.

— J.H., via e-mail

Choice at Core of Cane Chair Repair

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 is by Fred Taylor.

A First things first. If the old glue is yellow, dark or not, it is not hide glue. Other wise vinegar and hot water almost certainly would dissolve it since vinegar is dilute acetic acid and it dissolves many organic compounds. Vinegar will also fairly easily dissolve most aliphatic resin glues, the modern yellow and white glues. This indicates its an epoxy or solvent-based household glue. The best way I have found to dissolve epoxy is using small amounts of stripper that contain methylene chloride. It takes some patience but it will work and that is preferable to breaking out parts of the chair seat. All the usual precautions associated with using stripper apply – gloves, eye protection, adequate ventilation, etc.

Now to the seat itself. There is no need to replace the entire seat and you can have your choice of how to re-cane it. Routing of the groove on top of the holes may cause the weakening in the chair. The removal of that much material, groove and holes combined, often leads to breaks in the seat. One way to fix it is to install a wooden strip of the same material as the chair seat, glued into the groove, flush with the top of the seat. After the glue dries, working from the bottom, re-drill the holes for the hole cane. This should result in a seat as strong as it was originally. Then just re-cane the seat with hole cane.

If you do not know how to install hole or hand cane, now is a good time to learn. There are lots of good books and videos out there on the subject. On the other hand if you don’t want to take the time, go ahead and re-cane with pre-woven sheet cane but be very careful installing the new spline. After inserting wet cane into the groove, the damaged wood is going to be tender. Just take your time.

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