Rare Victorian - Gold Gilt Belter Furniture

Gold Gilt Belter Furniture

Belter gold gilt crest Gold Gilt Belter Furniture

I recently ran across this four-piece set of John Henry Belter Rosalie chairs online and asked the owner if I could post the image here. What struck me about this set is that the crests are gold-gilt.
I have never run across this treatment on Belter furniture and so my initial reaction is that it was added later on in the chairs’ life and not originally put on there by Belter’s shop.  The owner has indicated that he has seen it in a reference book in the past and he’s trying to dig it up for me.

I’ll put the question out to you – have you seen this before or heard of original gilding on Belter furniture?
Belter gold gilt crest Gold Gilt Belter Furniture

Belter gilt chairs Gold Gilt Belter Furniture

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  • John Hutchinson - July 6, 2009

    John, just checking in.
    As a restorer and not a collector, my gut reaction is the same as yours. The chairs, just don’t look ‘right.’ Even further, by looking at the photos provided, the ‘gilded’ treatment looks like, what we call ‘radiator paint:’ not real water gild. So that further leads me to believe it is secondary. But, that being said, I have been proven wrong on this site before. LOL.
    John, RVR

  • Sue Armstrong Thompson - July 6, 2009

    Greetings! In the early 1960’s, I was on a buying trip in Phildelphia, PA. While searching on famous Pine Street, I came upon a shop with several floors. On the 3rd. floor, back in a dark cornor, I discovered a number of John Henry Belter chairs with a matching sofa. The design was rather simple with the faces of early American presidents in the center crown of each chair and the sofa. There was a bit of trailing acanthus leaf garlands hand carved on each piece as well as the face. Each piece had a gold guilding on the entire surface. I was suspect as it was quite different. The older owner of the shop insisted that it was all original. He had purchased the entire suite of chairs and sofa from the original owner’s decendents and had the bill of sales describing the furniture which the shop owner generously shared with me. This is so vivid in my memory because I have always regretted not purchasing those pieces of Belter. Also, I have wondered who had the vision to have purchased the furniture. It will be interesting for me to learn your response to the guilding of the Belter chairs. Always remember that throughout his life’s work, Belter was constantly creative in his expermentations of bettering his product. My best to you, Sue Armstrong Thompson

    • John Werry - July 6, 2009

      Great story. Did the bill of sale describe the gilding?

  • zeke - July 6, 2009

    Looks added to me too, but………

    In the book “American furniture of the 19th century” by the Dubrows on page 109 there is a Belter slipper chair. The caption reads: “Note original gilding on the knees” It’s a black and white picture so it’s hard to tell, but may in fact document original gilding on Belter furniture.

  • John Werry - July 6, 2009

    Zeke, that must be the book reference that the owner was referring to – good find. It appears that the feet might also have gilding.

  • raymond scarola - July 7, 2009

    Hi! I’ve been an avid Belter collector-and before, a Belter researcher for about 15 years now, and I have NEVER seen any Belter furniture with gold-gilding.

  • John Werry - July 7, 2009

    Did you see the one documented in the “Belter book” mentioned above? Do you think they’re wrong about “original gilding”?

  • zeke - July 7, 2009

    The chairs are very plain with the only real ornament on the crest. The crest looks like it may be applied like some Belter chairs, fastened from the back, however a back is not visible to be sure. I would think most Belter furniture was made to order and if the purchaser wished gilding that may have been an option? Personally I think it looks clumsy and awkward, but someone, maybe Belter himself may have decided it added some pizzaz to an otherwise plain chair. I still want to believe it was added later, perhaps to hide a bad repair?????

  • Mario - July 8, 2009

    Gilded furniture of the mid-19th century is known to have been produced in America. The best American cabinetmakers were European transplants and were very familiar with European prototypes. Gilded furniture was well-known in Europe at this time.

    Gilded furniture was created for the very upper crust element of society since such furniture was not applicable to the masses. Gilded furniture of the “Empire” period was created by a number of American cabinetmakers (Quervelle, Lannuier, Phyfe, Meeks, etc.) although the gilding was often limited to accented areas. The trend continued to the “Rococo” period in which some pieces were partially gilded, and some were fully gilded. Although some of the previous posts doubt the existance of gilded Belter furniture, a pair of fully gilded “Cornucopia” type sofas were donated to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1954 by the Moore/Morrison families.
    These two-sofas retain their original water gilding and are among the rarest of the Belter furniture.

    It should be noted that Belter produced works in Rosewood, Mahogany, Walnut and Oak. In addition, a few chairs have come to light that are veneered in an unknown wood of light color. It has been speculated that these chairs might have been experimental products by Mr. Belter. I am of the opinion that such examples were likely gilded and over time had the gilding removed due to changes in taste. One would suspect that Mr. Belter would have used a less costly wood to veneer his chairs if the veneer would have been covered in gilt since there would have been no reason to gild over rosewood.

    In the 1853 New York Crystal Palace, Warren Ward exhibited a suite of furniture inlaid with pearl and gold, and Matthews and Stacey were awarded a prize for their suite of white and gold enameled furniture (Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age, pg 61). In addition, a suite of furniture owned by Robert Kelly which was donated to the MWPI by the Pruyn family was decorated in gold and white (American Furniture, Helen Comstock, #630-632). Clearly gilded furniture was known and appreciated in the mid-19th century.

    Obviously gilding continued into the “Aesthetic” period as witnessed by the oeuvre of the major firms of the era, giving rise to the term, The Gilded Age.

    Unfortunately, it is impossible to ascertain whether this set is original or not without seeing it in person. If you are unsure of whether it is water gilded, a local gilder/conservator should be of assistance in answering this question based upon his/her
    personal inspection.

    If this set is original, it would rank with a small group of extant Belter furniture with its original gilding.

  • Lise Bohm - July 9, 2009

    The Virginia Museum of Art in Richmond, VA has a Cornucopia Belter sofa in original gilding. I saw it 12 years ago. It was in the permanent exhibit.

    It is not the best example of Cornucopia. The crest is not fully developped and the carving is flat.

    Here is the link:



  • mayerwagner - July 9, 2009

    I apologize in advance for not remembering my source for this information, but I recently had a discussion with someone about this. As I understand it, the gilding on the Virginia Museum’s sofa was a later addition over the original finish. Might be worth following up directly with the curatorial staff.

  • Charles - July 22, 2009

    As I look at this chairs they in fact are the same chairs I puzzled over back in 1992 in a mall in Augusta, Ga. I had noticed that the feet had been tip out and the castors removed. If I remember at the time I first saw them I thought that they had been refinished when the feet were extended and the gold was added at that time. Though for some reason people keep mentioning “water gilding” more likely if they had been gilded when manufactored they would have been oil gilded and not burnished.

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