Don’t Believe All That You Read

by John Werry on January 23, 2009

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.

meeks hawking parlor set Dont Believe All That You Read

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.

belter meeks Dont Believe All That You Read

belter meeks attributed1 Dont Believe All That You Read

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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

zeke January 23, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Great post John and it reminds me that the more I know, it seems like the less I know. My walnut tall chest of drawers has incised carving that is almost identical to that on an Allen and Brother piece, it could be Allen and Brother, but most likely not. There are many details on the chest that are very reminiscent of Daniel Pabst furniture, it could be Daniel Pabst, but most likely not. The best attribution I can personally come up with is:

“Attributed to some Philadelphia maker, perhaps, but could have been made anywhere in the United states”

I love this post about the Meeks/Belter, John, it gives us all pause when we too hastily wish to make a rather dubious attribution.

Hey I want all my furniture to be made by some famous Victorian furniture maker too, but shaky attributions are worthless.

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RareVictorian January 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

“the more I know, it seems like the less I know” – exactly how I feel, Zeke.

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Nevin January 25, 2009 at 12:42 am

Does anyone have an opinion of maker on the last two ads shown?? Pittsburgh, Boston or New York?

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Tom January 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Hello, could you please tell me the name of the reference material you used to call the Meeks Hawkins pattern a Belter pattern. Seems out of all auction houses, ie Neals, Cowans, Fontains and the prestigous antique shop of M S Rau’s in New Orleans all call these two patterns by Meeks. I know from personal experience that the lamination layers are much different between the two makers.
Thanks in advance.

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RareVictorian January 31, 2009 at 8:41 am

Tom, my post may have been unclear, but I am saying that it is absolutely Meeks and the photos in the middle are old reference books that got it wrong – “reader beware”.

One is “Field Guide to American Victorian Furniture” by Ormsbee
The other is “American Furniture of the 19th Century” by Otto

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Tom January 31, 2009 at 9:31 am

THANK YOU FOR THAT CLARIFICATION, all the reference material I sourced led to Meeks, I wanted to be as confident of that attribution as possible.
Thanks again,
tom

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Jimmy September 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I found your article interesting. Do you know if Meeks made any Hawkins or Stanton Hall chairs which did not have solid rosewood backs? I am looking to purchase a Hawkins or Stanton Hall parlor set. I have found a Stanton Hall set but the chairs have cut-out backs covered in material rather than the solid rosewood backs. If they are original Meeks, would they be more or less valuable than his solid rosewood backed chairs? Also, any advice on where to purchase a Meeks parlor set and what is a fair price to pay would also be appreciated. Thanks

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John Werry October 1, 2011 at 8:22 am

I would like to see them. Send me pics to info@rarevictorian.com

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Jimmy October 2, 2011 at 11:02 am

John,

Their are two sets on e-bay with several pics. The Stanton Hall set is item number 220812169708. The two side chairs have backs covered in material. The other set says it is a version of Stanton Hall and is item number 220714801197. I believe it has cut out backs on both the gentlemans chairs and side chairs.

Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Reply

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