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Furniture Detective: 1930s chest serves its true purpose in foyer

Decorative elements of furniture are often clues to the age and the style of a piece, such as linear design patterns characteristic of many items of furniture produced in the 1930s and '40s explains Furniture Detective Fred Taylor, in his latest column.

Q I was doing some research on a piece of furniture we purchased and came across some information regarding the Irwin Company of Grand Rapids. Would it be possible for you to give me any information on the piece that we have. It looks like a dresser, but is half round, and there is a matching mirror that is hung on the wall. Thank you.

—C.F., via e-mail

This chest or dresser was actually designed for use as a hall or entryway piece with a mirror mounted on the wall over it. Submitted photo

This chest or dresser was actually designed for use as a hall or entryway piece with a mirror mounted on the wall over it. Submitted photo

A Your piece is a reproduction of a semi-circular Louis XVI commode, originally designed in France around 1780. The original was intended to be used more as an entryway/foyer piece rather than as a dresser. The beautiful striped veneer on the front of your cabinet and on the rounded sides is possibly bleached Australian walnut, which has a very linear pattern and was a favorite decorative element of American manufacturers in the 1930s and 1940s. It is used to simulate the exotic kingwood of the original French furniture and was often used in Art Deco pieces.

Your cabinet was made by Phoenix Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids. Phoenix was started in 1872 by Julius Berkey, one of the founders of Berkey & Gay. It was acquired in 1911 by Robert W. Irwin and his partners Alexander Hompe and Ralph Tietsort. Irwin bought out his partners in 1919 and consolidated both Phoenix and Royal Furniture into his Robert W. Irwin Co. at that time. Both companies issued lines under their own names until Royal was discontinued in 1931. However, Phoenix continued to issue furniture under its own name until 1953, when Irwin closed.

The circular logo in the drawer was first used by Phoenix in 1928 and apparently was used right up to the end. It looks like your piece was made in the mid-1930s based on the decorative paint scheme, but there is a way to be absolutely sure if the mirror is in fact part of the set and if it is original to the piece. American plate mirror originally used in furniture and in encased mirrors in the 20th century always has a date on the reverse of the glass. By carefully removing the backing from the mirror, you will be able to find the year and possibly the month the mirror was manufactured. This will be a very close approximation to the date the furniture was made.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine
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Q I was wondering if you knew anything about PHILCO radios? When my grandfather passed away, I found this in his storage. I know it is a lot older than I am, and my mother never remembered this in their home. Any assistance in this matter will be greatly appreciated! I am wondering about the “age” of this and/or about its worth. It is in good condition as is, but would be awesome refinished. I’m waiting to find out more on it before I do anything to it. The only tag I can read is as follows:

PHILCO RADIO / 37-10, CODE 121, 50-60 CYCLES, *115 VOLT / *120 WATT, 39-5076 *HIGH EFFICIENCY AERIAL

This is all the information I could read on the back. I would have to clean some heavy dirt to find more. I hope it helps! I thank you so much!


A I am no expert on radios, but I have restored several for customers, including my father. The neat thing about Philcos is that the date is included in the model number. Yours, Model 37-10, was made in 1937. The first numbers of the model number are the year of manufacture.

Most Model 37-10s were very stylish floor consoles in Art Deco styling with multi band

Check out this Philco Radio book recommended by Fred:

Check out this Philco Radio book recommended by Fred:

coverage. Philco offered a rotating preselected tuning system that you rotated around the dial and would stop on the stations that you selected when this system was set up. This was offered on some consoles and table models.

Whatever you do – do NOT plug it in and turn it on until a pro has looked at it. It could be dangerous to you and the radio. I learned this the hard way.

If you do a Google Internet search on “Philco Radios” you will find several interesting sites, including The best book on the subject is “Philco Radio, 1928-1942” by Ron Ramirez (Schiffer Books, 1993).

Q I just read your answer to a man refinishing a rocking chair and was having trouble getting the old finish out of the spindles. Up here in the North, I found that baler twine works great to remove the old finish in the grooves of chair spindles and other round wooden parts. Just apply stripper and let it sit, then cut a length of baler twine and wrap it in the groove and pull from both ends like you are trying to start a fire. It removes the old finish very easily. You may have trouble finding baler twine where you live, but it does work great.

ASort of like using dental floss? Sounds like it would work. Thanks for the heads up. I was raised in L.A. (Lower Alabama), where we called it “bailin’ wahr” or “bailin’ strang” but I guess it’s the same thing.

Speaking of dental related, you might ask your dentist for some of his discarded instruments (whatever you do, don’t call them tools). Old dental picks come in handy chasing stubborn paint out of grooves and corners.

About our columnist: Send your comments, questions and pictures to PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or email to Visit Fred’s newly redesigned website at 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.
Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. 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

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