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posted: 10/13/2012 5:27 AM

Antique chairs mix a variety of furniture styles

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  • Whether these early 20th century chairs are English or American makes very little difference in the value.

      Whether these early 20th century chairs are English or American makes very little difference in the value.

 
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. Grandma's chairs were a wedding gift to my parents in 1939. We know they were made in Grand Rapids, Mich. Are they made from cherry or mahogany, and what are they worth?

A. We are curious how you know these pieces were made in Grand Rapids, Mich. Are they labeled in any way?

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It is true in a very real sense that Grand Rapids was -- and perhaps is -- the furniture capital of the United States, but these two chairs look to us that they might be English. If they are English, they would be labeled "Edwardian," but if they are American, the term is sometimes "belle epoque."

Edwardian furniture derives its name from King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, to the British throne in 1901. He died in 1910, but the styles associated with this era actually continued until the beginning of World War I in 1914.

The term "belle epoque" is really a French term and covers the time between about 1890 and 1914 and includes several types of furniture that range from art nouveau to Arts and Crafts. Many included Edwardian under this designation as well.

In any event, these chairs show a slight art-nouveau influence with their oddly undulating arms (they look uncomfortable) and crest rails. They also give a nod to the Hepplewhite style of the late 18th and early 19th centuries with their shield backs and shield-shaped seats.

The art-nouveau influence is continued in the pair of back splats that appear -- in the photographs -- to be elongated ovals with pierced floral decorations in the center. The narrow central splat is more a reference to George III pieces of the late 18th and early 19th centuries -- and we wonder if the top of that splat is not a representation of the Prince of Wales feathers (we cannot see details well enough in the photo to be absolutely sure).

Edwardian furniture tended to mix and match styles, but the lighter forms of the neoclassical regency and Hepplewhite periods were preferred to the heavier, darker designs favored during Victoria's reign.

The wood appears in the photographs to be mahogany, and we see none of the lighter streaks that might indicate cherry. The wood in the chairs appears to be the right color for the type of mahogany that was often used in furniture made in the early part of the 20th century.

It should be noted that these two chairs -- an armchair and a rocker -- were once part of a much larger parlor set that originally would have consisted of a small two-person sofa (or "settee"), perhaps a pair of armchairs, a rocker and at least two straight chairs with no arms.

These parlor suites were popular at the turn of the 20th century, but few have survived intact. If this set were complete with at least six pieces, its insurance replacement value would have been $800 to $1,200. But the two chairs alone should be valued in the neighborhood of $250 to $300.

Oh, and whether they are English or Grand Rapids American makes very little difference in the value.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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