Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Everyone Loves A Mystery

Desk 5 Playing with antiques is really a lot of fun, especially if you love mysteries and researching. There's nothing quite like the thrill of buying a piece of antique furniture and then finding a clue as to its original owner, or where it came from. With some pieces, it's a challenge just figuring out what to call the darned thing, like this desk. Remember folks, my specialty is glass, not furniture.

I've had this desk in the shop for several months now Desk 1 and have tried unsuccessfully to determine its original use. Was it a schoolmaster's desk? An accountant's desk? What in the world to call it?

It's such an unusual piece of furniture...two pieces actually. The top and the legs lift off of the case that contains the drawers. There is a block of wood attached to the top of the case that fits into the bottom of the desktop in order to lock it in and keep it from Desk 2shifting back and forth. There are two functional drawers on the front that lock. The top does not lift up as you might expect. (Believe me, everyone tries to lift the top.)

The left side has two writing surfaces that slide out. For students, maybe? Or perhaps for secretaries?

The case has ten drawers; the top two are fixed because of the slides on the side, but the bottom eight drawers are all functional. The funny thing is that Desk 3each drawer fits into its own slot, but no other. A true custom piece of furniture.

Everyone assumes that the configuration of the desk limits it to sitting in the center of the room. Not true. The right side of the desk is clean and uncluttered, perfect for putting against a wall.

Desk 4So what is it? How old is it? Where did it come from? To my untrained eye, it doesn't fit any particular period style, so that's no help. But there were actually a few clues to help pin down its age.

The lock mechanisms are brass and are marked "Secure Lever". The only pieces of furniture that had similar locks that I could find at the time I was originally doing the research were English pieces dating from the mid to late 1800s.

The remnant of a paper label is affixed underneath the slant desk area. On it is printed "A. Best Furniture & Household..." and a partial address "350 Fulham Road", which is a current London address. I couldn't find any information at all on the A. Best Furniture company.

Then I spent hours going through hundreds of photos of antique desks online and none were quite like this one. With nothing else to go on, I've been assuming that the desk is English, probably mid to late 1800s.

Here's the funny part: while preparing to write this post, I grabbed a flashlight and crawled under the desk to get a look at the label so that I could share with you what it said, because my memory isn't quite what it used to be. Lucky for me, it is a high-intensity LED flashlight and caught the label at just the right angle to produce new information: handwriting in pencil above the company information that I hadn't seen before.

And here's what it said: "B. Abing, Esq. 1/9/13". How about that...an actual date! But is it 1813 or 1913? Back to the drawing board...we need more clues.

After looking closely at the dovetail joints in the drawers, I might lean towards 1813. Here's why: the dovetails are hand-cut and finely done, unevenly spaced as you would expect with early joints done by hand.

But the date notation...could the 00/00/00 notation have been used as early as 1813? In 1913, yes, but 1813 is doubtful. I've been trying to find a definitive answer to that question for hours and am getting frustrated.

The final judgment: 1913. Unless and until I find information to the contrary, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

See...wasn't this fun?

1 comment:

  1. Hello, since this is an older post I presume that you won't see this, but if so, could you send 2 photos: [1] the label with A. Best Furniture at 350 Fulham Road and [2] the lock with "Secure Lever" stamped on it? I have nearly 100 London Directories from 1765 through 1979 -- I should be able to locate that company at that address. Incidentally, the Directories earlier than 1860-ish give very few street numbers for Fulham, because those sections of the street were accounted-for by other streets. So if it's "/13" then it'd be 1913. However I checked the London Directories around that date (1899, 1902, 1905, 1907, 1910, 1912, 1916, etc.) and there was no A. Best Furniture at 350 Fulham. The label might be able to help, though. Please e-mail to jon@crumiller.com and I should be able to locate the entry somehow. Best regards, Jon C.

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