(Editor’s note: This column was originally published Feb. 8, 2016.)
Dear Helaine and Joe:
My grandmother bought this set of furniture secondhand in the 1930s. It is apparently from France and includes a dining table, matching chairs, buffet and china cabinet. Any information about the history and value of this cherished family heirloom would be greatly appreciated.
Dear M. S.:
The 1930s were hard times for many people. The stock market crash of 1929 had brought an end to the freewheeling, high living days of the 1920s, and economic recovery did not make much headway until the late ’30s.
In many cases, some people had to sell their cherished possessions, and often when a family member died, their household goods were sold just so their survivors could make themselves a little more comfortable. We begin like this because the dining room set in today’s question was not very old when M. S.’s grandmother purchased it secondhand.
It is a product of the 1920s, when styles from the past were mishmashed together to produce furniture the manufacturer thought to be quaint, colonial or aristocratic, to name just a few of the desired characteristics. We are at a loss to fathom why M. S. thinks this set to be French, because the style, which is part-Elizabethan, part-Jacobean, part-Heinz 57, is what makers of the day would probably have termed “Early English.”
The various styles of melon spacers — i.e. a section shaped something like a melon — decorating the legs of the pieces in this set hark back to the time frame mentioned above, but the rest of the decoration, particularly the flowers surrounded by something that resembles chip carving, is out of keeping with the time period. In addition, the shape of the crests on the chair backs are very reminiscent of those found on chairs made from 1900 to 1910, but these are a good decade and a half to two decades later.
Furniture manufacturers of the day typically made their dining room furniture in 10-piece sets that often consisted of a sideboard, a buffet or silver chest, a china cabinet, a table and six chairs. On occasion, the sideboards came in two sizes meant to allow the buyers to choose the size that would fit their dining room. Customers could choose the number of pieces they needed, wanted, could afford at the time, fit their space or a combination of these factors.
We have never really understood the style of china cabinet that was made for this set. It does not hold that much china and the doors are blind (without glass), so the homeowners could not display their prized glass and china held within as most china cupboards made during the last half of the 20th century and beyond did.
Still, this china cabinet is very attractive and adds to the charms of the set. We feel confident this grouping was made by an American manufacturer and M. S. should check the inside of the drawers for a maker’s label. For insurance purposes, this dining set should be valued in the $2,500 to $3,000 range.