Don’t Believe All That You Read
You need to retain a healthy dose of suspicion when you read anything in books related to 19th century furniture and the identification of their makers contained within. That caution also includes what you read on this site. We all have the best of intentions, but the reality is we’re trying to recreate history from scraps of leftover information and it isn’t pretty.
Especially in the 50’s and 60’s, there was some apparently rampant confusion between J & JW Meeks’ Rococo designs and those of John Henry Belter’s due to Belter’s patent on laminated construction. The patent was not for the process of lamination (which had been invented much earlier), but for the production of laminated furniture that curves in two planes, rather than one. That patent probably contributed greatly to confusion that occurred decades after Belter was long gone, even in some cases still today, surrounding laminated furniture and their makers.
The appearance of a Meeks “Hawkins” set on Ebay at the moment prompted me to pull out a few examples of the presence of some of these mis-attributions in reference material from decades past that you can see in the two images below. The furniture that we know today to be by Meeks were once commonly mis-attributed to Belter.
Even the Meeks-Hawkins Set link that we all take for granted today is somewhat tenuous based on the information that I have. Teresa Meeks married Dexter Hawkins in 1859 and received a parlor set as a wedding gift. It is assumed that this daughter of Joseph W. Meeks would have received a set made by her father’s shop and not from a competitive one. It’s a strong attribution, but an attribution just the same.
I don’t bring up these problems to admonish the authors and their books. They know/knew more about this furniture than I as a part-time hobbyist will ever know. I bring it up so that you will remember to surround yourself with research from multiple sources: web, multiple books, Rare Victorian, etc. The collective body of knowledge will provide the best information possible … for this moment in time.
You can get more details on the Meeks set currently for sale at it’s listing.