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Early American Furniture
( Article orginally published June 1957 )
Early American furniture has come to generally mean the furniture used and made by the pioneers of our country rather than that used by the Pilgrims and early settlers who brought their furniture from Enig,Iand, France and Spain.
To determine which is authentic and which has been reproduced takes years of constant observation, research and study.
The term, "Early American" usually means the simple style made by carpenters and country craftsmen, not that of the cabinet makers who used the designs of Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Duncan Phyfe. Though these are early styles they are generally classed under the Colonial Period.
The novice interested in collecting "Early American" should begin with the eyes of the analyst who looks for native woods that were used such as walnut, maple, pine, butternut and cherry. Hickory and ash were used in parts of chairs because of their strength. Certain localities used poplar and tulipwood where they were native as these woods rarely warp.
Secondly, the construction should be studied as there are many ways of joining. A special study of this should be pursued. The effort will be worthwhile. Hand wrought nails, wooden pegs and dovetailing are early types used in joining.
Third, and though not the least important is style and line. It will be good to note that although all of the furniture made in the early days of America follow the same general line of simplicity, there will be noted definite effects of past culture brought to various localities by the people who settled there. Pennsylvania has the definite touch of the "Dutch" or painted German peasant furniture. Minnesota and Wisconsin tend to reflect the Scandinavian influence, while the New England states as well as Michigan, Indiana and Ohio seem to reflect the English styles. Many country Sheraton types are found in these states, some of course probably were brought from the east in covered wagons. French influence is reflected by the cabinet makers of the south.
We have but suggested the ideas of procedure in identifying "Early American." If you want to be a true "Antiquer" of such, may we suggest further reading from your public library. A visit to your local museum or historical society will be most rewarding. There you will be able to view and get the feel of the real thing.
Remember that good "Rarly American" examples have been reproduced for the past few years so when buying be sure to study every detail of construction. Is it hand hewn, sawed, carved or whittled? Is the wood old and the type generally used? Does it have that certain flair or individuality of the maker? And many more details you will come to know. Reputable dealers and authorities are always willing to help you. Look to them for guidance.