Dear Helaine and Joe:We bought a table with six chairs, hutch and buffet from a couple who were moving for $750. The only thing they could tell us about the set was that they thought it was made in the 1920s. Could you tell us a little more about our purchase from photos? —J.L., Champaign, Ill.
Dear J.L.: There is no question that the partial dining room suite is circa 1925. We say "partial" because during this time frame manufacturers customarily produced 10-piece dining room groupings that consisted of a table, six chairs (five side chairs and a sixth with arms called a host's chair), a china cabinet, a sideboard and a buffet.
The set in today's question is partial because it has nine pieces and is missing the buffet or server. But it should be pointed out that it is possible the original owner of this grouping might never have owned the 10th piece because this type of furniture could be purchased by the set or by the item. It is possible the original owner had no need for the server or that perhaps his dining room would not hold all 10 pieces comfortably. Whatever the reason, J.L. should be aware that there is almost certainly a 10th piece to her set out there somewhere.
It should be mentioned that in 1920s nomenclature what we have called a sideboard would have been termed a buffet in most manufacturers' catalogs, and the smaller piece that we called a buffet would have been referred to as a server. The buffet and the server are often very similar in appearance, but the buffet/sideboard is usually about 70 to 75 inches long, while the server/buffet is smaller at around 40 to 44 inches long.
In any event, much of the everyday furniture made during the 1920s was an amalgamation of a variety of pseudo-styles modified to meet the needs of the manufacturers and of their 20th century customers. The particular set belonging to J.L. was supposed to look something like English Jacobean, but it ended up looking like a very typical American set from the 1920s.
All of the details on this set that look like they were carved were actually achieved mechanically by pressing the designs into the wood using pressure, heat and steam. It appears from the photographs that the manufacturer used two different veneers — one light and one dark — in order to create a nice decorative contrast. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell from the pictures just what these woods might be with any certainty.
Oftentimes, pieces of furniture such as these have a manufacturer's label, and J.L. should check the inside of the drawers near the front on both the china cabinet and the sideboard (buffet) to see if there is a manufacturer's label. If there is, this will tell where the piece was made and by whom, but generally, this information has more historical importance than monetary impact.
In other words, unless the label identifies this set as having been made by an important manufacturer such as Berkey and Gay or the John Widdicomb Co., the identify of the maker will not enhance the value.
This set is of fairly average quality and design, and its current insurance replacement value is between $3,000 and $3,500 — which is not bad for a $750 investment.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.