resources

Selecting Hardware

If furniture hardware needs to be replaced, keep the hardware simple and of a design that will compliment the time period of the piece.
  • Be sure the new brasses have the same measurement between the bore holes as the original.
  • The boring holes may reveal cotter pin marks. The presence of these marks is a good indication that the furniture dates to the William and Mary Period.
  • The lines of the original brasses may be discovered from the shadow of the backplate embedded in the wood.
  • Reproduction hardware should be chosen to closely match the original.
  • Check the escutcheon (keyhole plate) against the handle design. Handles wear out before keyholes. If the handles and the keyholes don't match, use the escutcheon as the indication of the age of the piece.
  • Look at the back of the bail handle for a signature. A collector will date an antique by using the maker's name.
  • The screws should also be examined. If they are like flat tires, they were handmade sometime before 1800. If the nut is attached to the washer, they were probably made in the Victorian period.
  • Before 1750, brasses were light in color because they had a large content of zinc and tin. After 1750, hardware became much darker because copper was mixed in.
Hardware enhances the value of your antique furniture. Don't buy a three thousand dollar dresser and add a dollar handle!

Terminology

William and Mary Period

William of Orange, a Dutchman, and his wife, Mary, daughter of James the Second, became King and Queen of England in 1689. The furniture from this period reflects the Dutch influence.

Queen Anne Period

Queen Anne, a sister of Queen Mary, reigned for twelve years. Queen Anne furniture is sometimes referred to as the Dutch style, reflecting the connection to the style of furniture introduced during the William and Mary period.

Chippendale Period

Thomas Chippendale of England (1718-1779), the twice married father of eleven children and a cabinetmaker of some renown in London, published the Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director in 1754. His early work was heavily carved and richly ornate. Hardware was important to his pieces.

Federal Period

  • George Hepplewhite, an Englishman, is know to have worked for the firm of Gillow and began to make furniture in London about 1760. After his death, his widow published his book, The Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Guide.

  • Thomas Sheraton, also an Englishman, was making furniture about the same time as Hepplewhite. His design books were published in sections, the first part in 1791, generally referred to as his Drawing Book.

  • Duncan Phyfe, a Scotsman born in 1768, immigrated to America in about 1783. He settled in New York in 1792 and worked there until 1847. It has been established that he is the only American cabinetmaker whose work has been proven through documents. He died in 1854.

American Empire Period

Hitchcock of Connecticut began his wood-turning shop in 1818, at first making only spindles and chair legs. Later he produced complete chairs and rockers in the Empire style. When he retired, his factory was making over a thousand chairs each month. He became well-known for these chairs which were sturdy and inexpensive. His work was comparable to the assembly line, and because of this his chairs are not quite accepted as a true class of antiques.

Hardware History

William and Mary Period (1690-1720)

Slender teardrop handles of cast brass attached to the furniture by a cotter pin were often used. This was one of the earliest true brasses, replacing the well-known wooden knobs.

Queen Anne Period (1720-1750)

The brasses were slightly larger and had bail handles (half-circles). Engraved backplates with narrow bails were popular, and bat-winged designs were also evident.

Chippendale Period (1750-1785)

Chippendale pieces feature large, heavy brasses, some of which had Chinese influence. The escutcheons were of the same size and design as the heavy backplates of the pulls. The willow handle was the most popular design.

Federal Period (1785-1815)

  • Hepplewhite

    Oval pulls of stamped brass, with concentric ovals raised on the surface, or with a simple design, such as a cornucopia.
  • Sheraton

    Stamped brass pulls with round backplates and round bails were used on this furniture. Rectangular pulls with clipped corners were also popular. The designs were simple and classic in detail.
  • American Federal

    The brasses identified with the Hepplewhilte style were the most popular. Patriotic symbols, such as the bald eagle were employed; Another design used was the dove, the symbol of peace.

American Empire Period (1815-1840)

Much of the hardware of this period displays gaudy ornamentation and animal-type figures. The most popular pull was the lion head with the ring through its nose. Glass and solid brass knobs also came into use.

Victorian (1840-1899)

The teardrop handle became popular once again, but, unlike the small teardrop handle of the William and Mary period, these were made of wood combined with a stamped brass backplate. Stamped brass hardware and carved wooden handles predominated. Porcelain and wood knobs were also used.

Furniture Styles

furniture_styles


PLEASE NOTE!
Descriptions on this page are generalities only. There are many highly detailed guides available for the furniture of each of these periods, and we invite you to go to your local bookseller's to browse and purchase those that interest you the most.

Dovetailing

The fronts of drawers need to be firmly attached to their sides, so that they cannot be pulled apart as a result of frequent use, even when the drawer is full of heavy things. Furniture makers meet this need in a variety of ways, most commonly through some means of what is known as dovetailing.

In North America, between 1690 and 1700, the most common method of joining drawer fronts to their sides was to cut a notch at each end of the drawer front, into which the end of the drawer side would fit. The pieces were then nailed together.

By 1700, drawers were being rabbeted in addition to being nailed. Strength was sometimes being added by cutting a fairly large triangular groove into the drawer front, which was matched by an identically shaped "tongue" at the end of the drawer side. The tongue and notch were shaped much like a dove's tail, hence the term "dovetailing".

During the Queen Anne period (around 1725), dovetailing became much more common, typically with three or four wide dovetails on each end of the drawer front. As time went on, furniture makers gradually reduced the size of the dovetails, until there would often be five or six thin dovetails by the 1840s.

Around 1850, though, they opted for a speedier construction method, with only a single large dovetail at each end of the drawer front. The industrial age had arrived, and there was a much greater demand for furniture with drawers.

Between about 1860 and 1890, machinery was being used more often to assist the cabinetry and furniture industry. This is the time period when machined pegs were introduced to hold drawer fronts to their sides. By the turn of the century, machine-made drawer pieces were being hand-nailed together.

Between 1905 and 1925, advances in technology brought in a process where glued machine dovetailing became common throughout the industry. This process became the standard until the early 1950s, when pressboard and plywood construction became more accepted as the standard.

In recent years, a wider range of methods for joining drawer parts have become available. However, many of us still prefer the beauty and strength of a well-made dovetail joined drawer.

Did you know?
The secondary wood in a drawer often tells you where it was made. For instance, pine was most commonly used in Colonial Virginia, while poplar was more frequently chosen in Maryland.

Brass Care

Grout cleaner can be used to clean the green corrosion from brass.

Potash ages brass pulls.

Always place a cardboard or rubber gasket between metal doors and brass hardware or door knockers or discoloration will occur.

Lacquer can be removed from brass (or other metals) by dipping in a boiling solution of four tablespoons of baking soda per quart of water. Even stubborn lacquer can be removed within about fifteen minutes.

Care of Polished Brass When Installed Outside

All hardware which is exposed to the elements will ultimately develop an impaired finish. Items such as door knockers, letter box plates, or any hardware items mounted on outside doors will eventually deteriorate. The period of time from which the tarnishing will begin may vary from area to area, depending on the local atmospheric conditions, clean air standards, emission of pollutants from industry and other commercial establishments. We have seen some items deteriorate within a month while others, after three years of installation, remain in excellent condition.

Products which are exposed to sun deteriorate more quickly, since ultraviolet rays eventually affect the finish. The coefficient of expansion between the metal and its lacquer coating differs, causing hardware products exposed to bright sunlight during the day to expand to such an extent that the lacquer begins to crack, exposing the metal surface to air, rain, and pollutants.

When discoloration or deterioration of the finish occurs, we recommend that the surface of the hardware product be fully washed with warm, soapy water. This will loosen any debris accumulated in the pores of the metal. Next, lightly scrub the entire fixture using a soapy, fine metal scouring pad in order to remove the additional loose particles of lacquer that may be peeling from the hardware item. We also recommend the use of "Scotch Bright" pads (a 3-M product), soaked in light oil (3 in 1) as a method which is even more effective. After scrubbing, the metal should appear smooth and bright again. Wash the metal surface once more using warm, soapy water and dry it thoroughly.

The last step to preserve the finish will be to apply a light coat of wax. If you do not have any, use clear shoe polish, applying an even coat on the entire surface and then buffing it, using a soft polishing cloth.

Your metal product will now have a semi-glossy, yellow glow which will be preserved for several months. When discoloration recurs, repeat the process. It may take several years of repeated applications of this waxing process before your hardware will have the protective coating necessary to retain its shine for a long period. As a matter of fact, the finish will become more beautiful with the years, depending on your polishing skill and zeal. The efforts are most rewarding since the hardware will eventually have a very beautiful appearance that resembles antique brass products, similar to the hardware mounted on historic homes.

PLEASE NOTE!
Your results may vary. We cannot accept responsibility for any damage or loss of value resulting from your use of any suggestions found on this page.

Clean-ups

    Marble

  • Some stains in marble can be removed with a light paste of baking soda and water.
  • Wood

  • A baking soda and toothpaste mixture will remove white rings from furniture.
  • Oxalic acid diluted twice with water and applied to wet wood with a sponge is often successful in leaching dark stains from the wood.
  • Denatured alcohol removes glue from wood when caning. White vinegar works as well.
  • General Cleaning and Customizing

  • Hydrogen peroxide (industrial strength) is used for cleaning porcelain.
  • A combination of lemon and vinegar makes an excellent brass cleaner.
  • Ammonia hides hairline cracks in glassware by removing dirt from within the crack and allowing it to close. This does not, however, return the glass to its original strength.
  • Dunking SOLID brass for a short time in household bleach will make it look old.
  • Tarnished silver? Place aluminum foil on the bottom of a glass container and fill with warm salt water. Place the silver item to be cleaned on the aluminum foil and let it sit until the tarnish is removed. You can also use your sink, depending on the size and quantity of item(s) needing to be cleaned.
  • Vinegar Clean-Ups

  • Spots on stainless steel and chrome? Rub with a cloth dipped in white vinegar; then wipe dry.
  • Sludge stains in an automatic drip coffee-maker? Run full-strength white vinegar through a normal brew cycle. Then repeat the cycle several times with plain water.
  • Greasy or smelly items? Add a few teaspoons of white vinegar to the cleaning water.
  • Stains on upholstery? Spray a dampened absorbent cloth with white vinegar and lightly brush the soiled area to lift stains.
  • Rings on wood furniture? Rub with the grain, using a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and olive oil, then polish.


Please Note!

Your results may vary. We cannot accept responsibility for any damage or loss of value resulting from your use of any suggestions found on this page.