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posted: 9/21/2013 5:51 AM

Green paint aside, these old chairs are quite nice

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  • Oak pressed-back dining-room chairs made circa 1910.

    Oak pressed-back dining-room chairs made circa 1910.
    SHNS photo courtesy Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelm

By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. This chair belonged to my grandmother, who was born in 1893. I remember seeing it in her house since the 1960s. There are actually two chairs, and I think someone tried to refinish them at one time. I am wondering if they are worth keeping.

A. These are oak pressed-back dining-room chairs made circa 1910 -- so, yes, they are antique. We know that the wood is not visible beneath the unfortunate coating of green that came from an antiquing kit and applied in the '60s or '70s, but these chairs were almost always made from oak.

The backs are called "pressed-backs" because the design was pressed into the wood using high pressure and moisture. The resulting design -- in this case, leaves and other foliage -- is raised, and some mistake it for hand-carving. It is not.

Much of the rest of the chair is composed of spindles and it has a seat made from pressed board that is supposed to resemble leather. The legs and stretchers are turned with a stacked-ring motif and the whole design is typical, but attractive.

These are really side chairs, popular in homes across the United States throughout the first quarter of the 20th century. Some of these were very fancy, with extravagant pressed-in designs, while others were a little more utilitarian.

In the not-too-distant past, collectors loved to find sets of eight, 12 or more. Before the interest in oak faded 10-plus years ago, these were highly sought after by collectors, and nice amounts of money were paid for sets that had fancy design elements, were in good original condition and not covered in green (also red or ivory) antiquing-kit hues.

Sadly -- at least, to us -- we just checked the Web and found that these kits are still available. And there are instructions on how to use them -- also on the Web.

Many pieces of furniture have been ruined (and made unsalable) by this process. If you want your furniture to retain any kind of value (as an antique), think long and hard before using this stuff. If you must utilize it, apply it to a broken-down newer item that is in such rough shape that a little pigment will not hurt it now or in the foreseeable future.

The basic problem is that once this "antiqued" surface is on, the pigment has a tendency to be difficult to remove from the wood's grain. In other words, once this is done, there is no way to reverse the process satisfactorily and restore the piece to its original condition without running the risk of doing some serious damage.

In the case of the chairs in today's question, the green surface is a little off-putting to us, but the chairs are still nice and should be kept because they were your grandmother's.

They have a small insurance replacement value (probably between $85 and $110 for the pair at most, and maybe a bit less in this condition), but the family connection is priceless.

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

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