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Helaine Fendelman & Joe Rosson: Mighty oak, mighty popular

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This oak piece is called a side-by-side and was made circa 1910.

This oak piece is called a side-by-side and was made circa 1910.

Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelman, shns

Dear Helaine and Joe: I have no idea what this piece of oak furniture is called or what it is worth. It stands 72 inches and is 55 inches wide. It is in excellent condition. I would appreciate any help you might be able to provide. — P.D., Groton, N.Y.

Dear P.D.: By the late 19th century (circa 1895), American forests had — for all practical purposes — been denuded of black-walnut trees. These trees and their beautifully grained wood had been a mainstay of the American furniture industry during the Victorian era (1837-1901), but now a replacement had to be found.

Oak became the wood of choice in the early years of the 20th century, and many valuable items were made from this sturdy wood, which is sometimes called "golden oak" because of its color, or "tiger oak" because of its grain pattern when it is quartersawn.

The term "quartersawn" refers to the practice of sawing a log into quarters before it is cut into boards. In oak, this reveals a lovely "tiger-striped" grain much appreciated by many collectors.

The age of this piece of furniture is circa 1910, and we believe it is a so-called "side-by-side unit" that is more than a little bit out of the ordinary. The majority of these side-by-side units have a bookcase on one side and a slant front desk on the other — sometimes with a mirror and shelves above the desk and drawers or cabinets below.

Variations on this theme, however, can be quite extensive. Most of these side-by-side units were designed for secretaries in drawing rooms, while others were used in bedrooms and still others in dining rooms. Looking at the photograph of the dining-room piece in today's question, we believe that the shelf above the cabinet doors may be a later replacement and that there was a larger open space now divided in half by the shelf.

Also, the lumber used in the shelf appears to be too thin to be original, but this may be just a problem with the photograph and our perception.

Side-by-side units are often American in origin, but because of its hardware and certain decorative elements, we believe this particular item may be English. The value of most oak furniture has dropped precipitously in the past few years, and for insurance purposes, this side-by-side unit should be valued in the $1,400-$1,600 range.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.