Eastlake Antique Furniture
Werry: Herter Brothers, Allen and Brother, John Henry Belter, and J & JW Meeks are the names that are selling in the market and garnering the really big bucks these days, as well as Alexander Roux and R.J. Horner. My favorites are Merklen Brothers, John Henry Belter, Allen and Brother. Those are my top three. My favorites styles are Renaissance Revival, which was the third quarter of the 19th Century. Especially very showy, skillfully made pieces, lots of inlay and the use of ormolu and the mix of ebonized and non ebonized woods, and the addition of plaques, some of which are bronze or made by Sèvres.
I also like Rococo which is an earlier period 1850s/1860s, highly sinewy, curved lines, lots of use of C scrolls and naturalistic elements like flowers, vines, and leaves. I particularly like the pierce-carved Rococo where they have literally carved through to the other side of the wood so there are actually holes that highlight the vines and the flowers.
Collectors Weekly: When looking for antique Victorian furniture at a show or on eBay, what are some key things to watch for?
Werry: Unfortunately labels and stamps are very rare in Victorian furniture. The first thing to look at is visual appeal, assuming you’ve had the opportunity to look at a fair amount of Victorian furniture and you’re not just starting, you’re going to know a better piece relative to some of the more common, high volume, lower cost pieces. The visual impact is evident when you see a really good piece. It’s usually the condition combined with the skill of the manufacturer of the carving, the decorative elements, the quality of wood. Walnut would be a lesser wood compared to Rosewood, which is generally used on the higher end pieces, especially laminated Rosewood pieces.
Collectors Weekly: How can you make sure you’re identifying a piece of Victorian furniture correctly?
Werry: There are a lot of bad attributions out there. People selling Victorian, in order to get a higher price they want to put a maker’s name on it, and most of the time they don’t have a label. So attribution is basically an opinion. What I try to do with my blog is really dig into some of the historic documentation, like original catalogs and reference books, plus leverage the knowledge of other collectors. There are pieces you see over and over… when a furniture maker made something, they did it multiple times. It’s nice to be able to stand on firm ground, for instance to know that there’s another example in a certain museum and that there’s written documentation.
There’s a lot of work in trying to identify who actually made a piece. Some makers were really good at labeling their work, like George Hunzinger, he’s got stamps on almost all his furniture. Other than that, attributions are usually made on previous attributions. So if someone in 1920 decided this piece was made by so and so, that set a precedent for everyone else and for the next ninety years. What I’m trying to do is either validate or correct attributions through research.
Collectors Weekly: Rare Victorian is the name of your blog. What do you consider to be rare?
Werry: There’s plenty of mass produced Victorian furniture. Simple inscribed decoration Walnut furniture was made in mass quantities. I try to focus on the stuff that was hand crafted in the best materials and were bought by some of the most famous people in history. The Vanderbilts had the Herter Brothers decorate their New York home. Those are the really interesting pieces that end up in museums and the best collections in the world.
Collectors Weekly: What challenges do you face in going after these top tier pieces?
Werry: I don’t have an unlimited budget like many of the people who visit my site. Also, Victorian, for some time now, has not been one of the leading categories of antique furniture. A lot of the 50s and 60s furniture is popular right now and pre-Victorian furniture is more popular as well. Victorian’s the redheaded stepchild because of it’s over-the-topness, everybody pictures Victorian as crazy frilly, lacey, highly decorative, not really pertinent to today’s decorating style.
Since it’s out of vogue, that means that there’s fewer dealers focusing on it, and you have to look further, drive further, buy at auctions across multiple states and ship furniture back. I can’t just go down to a local antique store and find high end Victorian. I live near Philadelphia, the Valley Forge area, and everybody here collects and furnishes their homes a century or earlier than Victorian.
There are several auction houses that have a steady stream of quality Victorian that I follow. I have a lot of searches on eBay, constantly scanning for new additions, I do monitor eBay pretty heavily. I also try to scan Craigslist, but I’ve never had any luck with getting anything of any value on Craigslist, it’s always kind of mainstream, poor quality, bad condition, or misidentified.