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Slight differences in turnings provide key details when evaluating furniture ‘sets’

In a recent column, Furniture Detective Fred Taylor shed light on a reader's inquiry about her Karpen and Brothers porch furniture; explaining how inspecting turnings on the legs can help confirm if a set is truly a set.

QI need information on furniture I own. It is my understanding that it is a lady’s porch set including a lady’s writing desk with one small drawer in middle with two each envelope holders or ink holders (they are rectangular and on top of the desk on each end of the table top). The desk has a small chair with no arms and has woven rush seat.

The set also includes two demilune tables and two bow back rockers with woven rush seats. The entire set is finished in a dark green old crackled finish and has dark red painted on part of the turned chair and table legs with gold banding painted within the recessed areas of the turned legs. There is also a small thin painted line of gold and red around the perimeter of the desk table top and on the middle of the bow back rockers where there is a “fiddleback” and a gold and red “thin line” painted (almost a Celtic knotting) design. The entire set is remarkably stable and is very usable and would be considered as “brand new” furniture if it were not for some minimal paint peeling in wear places.

Karpen furniture

While these pieces have similar paint schemes there are enough differences in the details that the assembly does not really make up a ‘set.’ (Photo courtesy Fred Taylor)

There is a small metal tag underneath each piece that says “Karpen Guaranteed Construction Furniture, Chicago, Michigan City, In., New York.” There is also a paper tag that is glued underneath the seats of each rocker that says, “Karpen Handwoven Fiber and Enammeled cane” and also says, “Upholstered Furniture, Davenport Beds, Windsor Chairs.” It also says “Pattern No.” (which I cannot read), “Finish: Old Crackled Red,” “UPH No.” (which I cannot read), and “Order No. 3-22-1835.”

I am just curious to know more about the styling and the manufacturer, date of manufacture and the approximate value of the entire set if possible. I was told when I bought it 20 years ago that it came from an estate sale and the seller thought that it was American made and a Scandinavian style and paint design. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.
— K.S.

A Karpen and Brothers was formed in 1880 in Chicago by Solomon and Oscar Karpen, German immigrants born in a family with a cabinetmaking tradition. The company prospered through the Depression and became an American success story. The company was sold to Schnadig Corp. in the 1960s.

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

I hesitate to call your porch set a “set” because the only thing the pieces have in common is the manufacturer and the paint job. The desk is the type often seen in middle class hotels in the 1920s and 1930s. The envelope boxes traditionally contained hotel stationery. The ladder back chair may be a match to the desk. The turnings on the front legs are very similar to the turnings on the desk — but not exactly.

The Windsor rockers are actually “sack-back” chairs rather than “bow-back.” A bow-back’s top hoop is continuous from side to side, secured into the seat. A sack-back top terminates on the horizontal member that forms the arms. Your chairs are similar in style to Windsors produced in the late 18th century in New England except that few of the originals featured a pierced splat, the vertical solid piece of wood in the center of the back. This is more of an English style and was copied extensively by American factory designers of the 1930s. The turnings on the legs and stretchers of the rockers are very different from the turnings on the ladder back chair or on the desk.

The two demilune (half round) tables could be called either end tables or console tables, depending on their height. Tables used next to piece of furniture, end or elbow tables, were traditionally 24 inches tall, more or less. Console tables, designed to stand alone in a foyer with a mirror above are usually 31 inches tall. I am guessing by the relative size shown next to the bed that these are end tables. Again the turnings on these tables are different from any other turnings in the entire assembly.

I believe that the set was not manufactured as a matching set. It obviously was all painted by the same hand or in the same factory but there are inconsistencies in the scheme. For example the long shanks on the Windsor legs are painted red while the long shanks of the desk legs are black. I suggest that this was a general paint scheme shown by the factory for a particular season or promotion and the customers picked and chose the pieces of furniture they wanted to buy in that particular general scheme, without regard to strictly matching styles or details.

Given that this is an “assembled” set it is very hard to establish a price since there probably is not another exact match in the world. Valuing the pieces individually produces an aggregate value somewhere around $700.

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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