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Reproduction Furniture—Is It All That Bad?
by Bob Brooke


Authentic reproduction Shaker rocker maede using old tools and original techniques.Furniture reproductions have been popular for a great many years, but the number of antiques being reproduced and sold as such has never been greater than at the present time.

Pre-eminent examples are the reproductions of 18th-century furniture made under the auspices of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware. Just as much care has been taken to duplicate the furnishings of the buildings and homes in Williamsburg as in the pieces from Winterthur's extensive collection of Americana. An original has been used as the model for each reproduction. Other restorations, like the Historic New Orleans Collection or the Historic Natchez Collection specialize in equally authentic 19th-century antiques of one kind or another.

Furniture is available in the widest range. There's furniture of contemporary manufacture that's referred to as "period" or "traditional" because its design is based on details characteristic of various 18th-- or 19th-Century styles. Such furniture isn't an actual reproduction. Authentic replicas are most common in 18th-century styles, and a few earlier pieces also are available.

One type of reproduction that's usually excellent is the piece made by a skilled cabinetmaker, such as those at the Hancock Shaker Village, outside Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It's often possible to obtain from such a cabinetmaker a pre-Victorian piece of the early 1800's. However, the price will be close to what's being asked for an original of the same period. Generally speaking, the furniture reproductions sponsored by restorations are about as close as you can get to antiques.

Furniture illustrates the broad range of reproductions with which many people are content. It breaks down into two main groups: machine made or handmade. In weighing reproduction versus an antique, remember that the originals were handmade until 1830 and in some cases many years thereafter. Accurate as current "furniture store" reproductions of early Victorian sofas, chairs, a tables may be, they're still factory-made. Cabinetmakers turned the original models in their shops. The details of construction and carving, therefore, appear quite different to knowing eyes. And any reproduction, however accurate, lacks the patina wood acquires through years of use and polishing.

Reproduction keyhole cover.Equally good examples of the two chief methods of reproduction can be found in furniture hardware. Strap hinges tipped with a bean, ball and spear, or a heart, which probably were the first type made in America; and H and HL hinges can now be purchased in almost any neighborhood hardware store. However, the examples of these pieces available in retail stores are machine-stamped. Nevertheless, it's possible to buy old-style, hinges as well as latches, bolts, and other household hardware at a restoration such as Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where they're forged or hand-hammered by a working blacksmith.

The difference between machine-made and handmade hardware may be so subtle as to be unnoticeable to anyone except an expert, but the handmade replicas are certainly preferable for a cupboard or other piece that's being restored.

Unfortunately, while most original pieces of furniture are better constructed than today's mass produced models, they can suffer added wear and tear in high traffic situations such as in offices and busy living rooms. In these cases, it's better to purchase a fine reproduction piece, for which the value won't suffer in case of damage through hard use. The older a piece of furniture is, the more likely it's worth a good deal of money. But the reproduction piece should be known as such to differentiate it from the original.

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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

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