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Queen Victoria reigned in England from 1837 to 1901, giving her name to the furniture fashionable during that time. With the domination of television and its endless Westerns in our lives, Victorian settings are brought into view daily. To many people this is the mental picture evoked by the mention of the word "antiques."
With the advent of modern mechanical tools, a change came upon the furniture scene. Like sister with a new pinking shears, or Dad with his new power-tools, the cabinetmakers of the Victorian era desired to try their new "toys" on everything available. Fretwork, curlycues, and fancyness appeared on everything. Dustcatching crevices were the rule. Inlay had disappeared, carving was minimized and that was often done by machine.
The machine age truly had begun. The machine had taken over. The first part of the period is characterized by ugly, straightlined Gothic-style furniture. Later, however, this eyesore was overtaken by the graceful curves of a more attractive style, adapted from French designs.
Marble tops were frequently used on commodes, chests of drawers and tables. Marble is generally thought of in connection with Victorian furniture since it was used so often, although marble tops were used on some Empire hall tables and even as far back as Queen Anne. The Maryland Gazette, a newspaper of Annapolis, Maryland, carried an advertisement for "Imported marble top tables" in its issue of January 9, 1761.
Walnut was once again the most favored wood, and pieces made of pine were often stained to resemble walnut. Mahogany and rosewood were also used, as well as pine, maple and cherry.
Among the furniture were such handy items as wash stands, dry sinks, commodes, towel stands, hideous hall racks, and small chests of drawers. Massive wooden beds were characteristic of the style although in rural districts short posts and trundle beds were made.
Metal furniture appeared in several forms, including the familiar ice-cream chairs and metal beds. Amid the twisted metal, brass beds appeared, sturdy and gleaming.
Furniture was often made in sets such as this one advertised in a Philadelphia newspaper in November of 1874:
Gould & Co., Philadelphia, Pa. Christmas Presents and New-Years Gifts This SOLID WALNUT, Italian Marbletop Chamber suit, containing nine (9) separate pieces, will be packed free and shipped to any part of the World on receipt of FIFTY-THREE DOLLARS ($53) Every other conceivable description of Furniture at equally low prices. N.E. cor. Market & 9th Sts. 242 & 244 South Second St. 87 & 89 North Second St. 272 South Second St.and 1206 Market St. Philadelphia, Pa.
Complete sets such as those advertised, and much other furniture, were made to be sold together. Gentleman's and Lady's chairs, chairs and sofas, bedroom suites, and parlor "suits" were typical.
Love seats were frequently seen and captain's chairs were mass produced.
What-nots were extremely popular and much bric-a-brac was used to fill them. Colorful cranberry glass was sold cheaply in variety stores and through mail-order houses. Witch balls, those useless blown glass balls, were often seen. Much ornate glassware in fancy shapes was popular during Victorian times-these are now referred to as "art glass."
Britannia ware, the first cousin to pewter, was used. Drawer pulls were in the form of wooden handles, carved (usually by machine) in leaf, or fruit and leaf patterns.
The so-called "Gone-With-the-Wind" lamps were in vogue as well as taller stately banquet lamps, student lamps and the plainer glass kerosene lamps. Swinging-arm, cast iron bracket lamps were produced literally by hundreds of thousands from 1875 to 1910.
In rural sections of the country some of the simpler forms of furniture in pine, maple and cherry were still being made with hand tools and by the same methods as earlier. This is often called "Victorian Provincial" or "Primitive" furniture, and includes such pieces as six-board chests, chests of drawers with bootjack ends, wash stands, Welsh dressers, commodes and simple tables. These pieces are not high in value as far as intrinsic values go, but some of the better examples are delightfully quaint and well worth collecting.
Colors most favored during the Victorian era include all the purples, as well as mauve, lilac, lavender, pink, baby blue, dark green and brown. Rooms were often painted in deep colors with light woodwork. Wallpaper usually had large floral patterns as did the rugs.
Fabrics were heavy and elegant. Elaborate lace curtains were used either alone or with heavy draperies which were deeply fringed; curtains at doorways were tied back. For upholstery, black horsehair was most typical although other colors and colored satin and brocatelle as well as plain velvets were used almost as much. Tables were always covered, often with heavy, floor-length fabrics.
A great deal of accessories and bric-a-brac was displayed, and the rooms appeared crowded.