“Based On The Quality of Work” And Other False Reasonings

by John Werry on October 17, 2011

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There are a lot of methodologies that people use to identify a particular piece’s maker, but few of them drive me more bonkers than “based on the quality of the work it surely was made by so and so”.  Relative to what?  How is quality being defined, compared?

This is probably the least scientific, most nebulous strategy for attribution that is humanly possible.  We just don’t have a grasp of the level of craftsmanship that was pervasive at the time.  Belter wasn’t the only person that made high-quality Rococo furniture.  Why couldn’t your piece be by Galusha, Roux, Henkels, Jelliff or any one of 5,000 cabinetmakers that would have been busy (and skilled) at the time.

Case-in-point.  Here’s a moderately well-carved Rococo style bedstead that I have.  Flowers and acanthus carvings out the wazoo.  Burled and striped mahogany.  Circa 1900.

Guess where it was made?

New York?  No.

Mid-Atlantic U.S.?  No.

Midwest?  No.

U.S. at all?  No?

North America?  No.

Europe????? Nope again.

It was made in Buenos Aires, Argentina according to the tag and here it is sitting in my guest bedroom 100 years later and 5,200 miles away in Philadelphia, PA.  I bought it from a local dealer here in the area.

We have to admit how little we know about these makers and just appreciate their work for the beautiful items that they are.

Argentinian Bed 2 of 2 Based On The Quality of Work And Other False Reasonings

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

james conrad October 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

We have to admit how little we know about these makers and just appreciate their work for the beautiful items that they are.

Well said, in the case of early american furniture, 99% of which is by an unknown maker, it is hardly ever discussed. I collect on the basis of emotional response, when i first look at a piece, it either moves me or it doesnt.

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Gregory Thomas May 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm
Peter February 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I have to agree there have been so many furniture makers out there that had a high degree of skill (and lots of patience!) that never signed their work. In the English antique furniture that we deal with I find precious few pieces with any kind of maker’s mark or label. There are even famous furniture makers like Thomas Chippendale that didn’t mark their work.

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Chris @ English Classics February 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

Definitely! We import quite a bit of Victorian and Georgian period furniture from England and it is rare for a piece to bear a maker’s mark. Even the finest pieces betray not a trace of their creator’s identity. This was apparently extremely common for England at least, although not being very familiar with American antiques I wouldn’t know about that angle.

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