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Looking Back on Some Antiques That Mom Loved

If you’re like me, you were introduced to antiques by your mom, so Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and grandmothers who pass down the love of antiques and collectibles to the next generation.

Not that dads don’t play a part in passing down appreciation for the finer things in life, but it does seem that when I talk to collectors about antiques and how they got interested in the hobby, it is typical that they recall their mom or grandmother’s house and style.

For me, it was listening to my mom Margaret O’Malley Bierkortte tell me the history of a piece of furniture, painting or decorative item, where it came from, what year it dated to, and often a bit about the relative or person who owned it.

These weren’t high-priced antiques that she purchased, just items that she came into and understood the significance of the craftsmanship and style. She was an artist and had a great eye for design.

For example, the fine chest of drawers shown in the column, complete with mirror. I can remember her telling me that it was one of the few items that came from my father’s family and that it came from Uncle John who lived in North Wheeling.

I never knew Uncle John but I felt that I did because of this story that I heard. The oak chest of drawers itself has always been a favorite of mine because it is so reliable.

The early late 19th century piece is strong and the drawers have gone through three generations of usage without a mishap due to its strong dovetail and peg construction.

From what I’ve researched it’s in the Eastlake style of Victorian furniture and its drawer joints are a good example of the “pin and cove” dovetail of the 1880s. Also referred to as the Knapp joint after Charles Knapp who patented it in 1867 and it was the first known mechanization for making drawers. (See furnishgreen.com)

Think about that. Furniture that is still strong after 140 years of steady usage by all ages! What modern furniture performs like that! The dovetailed drawers are a testament to the careful woodwork and excellent real wood that went into this piece.

Studying the joints and dovetail design in furniture is an effective way to date antiques. The oldest type of dovetail is handmade, which is irregular and uneven. Created by skilled cabinetmakers, handmade dovetails are strong and hold for centuries.

The pin and cove style dates to the late 1800s and was a result of American ingenuity, according to Ken Melchert who is featured online in the Harp Gallery website.

The deep drawers are big and include locks, with a key for an added security feature. The glass in the mirror unfortunately had to be replaced after a rowdy boy threw a shoe (I’m not saying who.)

Another treasure I recall my mother talking about is the “black desk.” This late 19th century secretary style desk is black due to age, but the wood is likely mahogany.

This desk remains in my home and is useful with its glass fronted bookcase above a small drop desk front with spaces for files and so forth. It was always treasured by the family but would benefit from a careful restoration now.

Antiques are a wonderful hobby to share with your children and living with treasures helps a child appreciate design and respect the home and its furnishings. I’m forever saying to my grandkids, now be careful with that chair or table or whatever, it’s an antique (and they still like me, by the way.)

Living with antiques is doable so enjoy your home and treasures and definitely share them with your children and grandchildren.


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