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Golden oak server is actually a soap premium

Furniture Detective Fred Taylor provided an interesting 'promotional' history about an oak server, based on ties to Larkin soap products, in response to a reader's recent inquiry.

Q Please evaluate this piece for us. The measurements are 49 inches wide, 20 inches deep and 37 1/2 inches high without the mirror. My husband remembers this in his parents’ basement in the mid-1950s. He believes it came from a family member prior to that.

Oak server

This oak server is a Larkin No. 220 and was offered from 1909 to 1912 for as little as “20 Certificates” or was given free with the purchase of $40 worth of Larkin soap products. (Photo courtesy Fred Taylor)

It has a beveled mirror. The sides are bowed, rounded glass with a brass opener. There is one shelf in each side compartment. The three drawers all have brass keyholes and the top drawer has purple velvet for a silverware drawer. The velvet appears original. The wood is oak. Thank you.
— R.R., via email

A Thanks for the inquiry about the oak server and the excellent photo. It is a very nice piece, representative of the “Golden Oak” era of American furniture, around the turn of the 20th century. Servers of this nature with the low mirrors rather than the taller mirrored backs with a top shelf generally came slightly later in the period, and were definitely on the 20th century side of the turn.

Your server can be found on page 41 of the excellent reference book “Larkin Oak” by Walt Ayers. It is a “No. 220” but with slightly different drawer hardware, which is no big deal. The server was in the 1909 Larkin catalog and was offered by Larkin as late as 1912 for “twenty certificates,” the premiums earned when purchasing Larkin soap products. It is described in the catalog as being “An especially suitable companion to the round dining tables now so popular.” The mirror is touted as being “French” as are the legs and the description notes that the piece will be shipped from either Detroit or Philadelphia.

You should check the back of the cabinet for any sign that there once was a “Larkin” label on the piece. It appears that the piece has been refinished so the label may have disappeared. If the label is intact it will increase the value of the piece tremendously.

The purple velvet is actually known as silver cloth and was specially impregnated with a sulfur canceling substance to retard the tarnishing of silver. This server should sell at auction in the $1,000 range unless the Larkin label is intact. In that case it could go much higher.

Q I am refinishing a very old mahogany desk, but I have run into something I can’t figure out. I stripped the desk using a semi paste methylene chloride stripper, which I thought had done a good job. After I rinsed it with lacquer thinner and it had dried out overnight it was covered in white flecks! It looks like it had been painted, which I am sure it was not. The stripper I used was brand new from the can and the store has assured me it was fresh. I stripped it again and some of the white came out but not all. What is that stuff and how can I get rid of it? Thanks.
— D.T., via email

Actually you are causing yourself more work by trying to remove the mystery color. The color you

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see is in the grain of the mahogany and is the trapped residue of the paste wood filler which was originally used by the manufacturer to fill the open pores of the mahogany to achieve the smooth formal look found on virtually all mahogany (and walnut) furniture. The filler was originally tinted but the stripper has removed the tint leaving only the inorganic mineral portion of the filler. Most paste wood fillers are a type of crushed volcanic rock suspended in a medium of linseed oil with pure oil colors added for accent. Before the invention of commercial fillers, cabinetmakers and finishers filled the pores with pumice or rottenstone, both finely ground volcanic powders and applied the French polish over it after using some type of colorant to blend it in.

The remaining traces of the old paste wood filler in your desk will actually make your job easier when you apply your own paste wood filler. The residue will quickly absorb some of the new color and will blend in perfectly with your application. If you are not planning to use filler (which you most definitely should) you need to test an area to see if the residue will absorb the stain you are planning to use on the desk. If it does not blend well with just a stain, you need to rethink your approach and investigate the use of paste wood filler.