Seeing as I deal with antiques, and have never had experience as a marriage counsellor, what I’m talking about today is what is called, in the antiques trade, a “marriage.”
A marriage, in this sense of the word, most often involves furniture and refers to an object that is a composite of two (sometimes more) different pieces of furniture. If done well, the result can be attractive and only noticeable to the trained eye. However, in many examples such as this one, this is not the case.
The photograph above was sent to me by a reader who wanted to know more about the chest-on-chest that she had just purchased. I had to be the bearer of bad news – The piece she had just purchased was only partly antique. I had to tell her that the furniture piece was, in fact, a marriage.
– If you look closely at the above image, the top is slightly wider than the base. Not a good sign.
– The woods are different. The upper section appears to be oak but the base seems closer to elm; even the direction of the grain is different.
– Because the grain is different, the stain that was applied to these two pieces, in order to connect them visually, is absorbed differently – therefor reflecting light differently.
– Because the base, or natural colour of the woods, are different, the stain, being transparent, looks different on both. The base appears warmer, with a slightly reddish undertone whereas the upper section is cooler, leaning towards blueish-brown undertones.
– The hardware is inappropriate. The type of door hardware that was applied to the upper section was originally found on early Medieval English pieces. If the hardware were authentic it would have been applied to a door that was panelled. This door front looks like plywood.
– This becomes even more evident when you see that the door front conceals three drawers on one side. These drawers have flat-faced knobs whereas the knobs on the base are heavier and rounded. They would be identical if found on one piece of furniture.
– A truly old piece would not be finished on the inside (19th century and before) unless it was meant to be on display. The interior of the upper section is finished but the drawers (see below) are unfinished.
– In an old piece the dovetails are unevenly spaced showing that it was done by hand. Machine made dovetails are perfectly symmetrical. The drawers behind the door and those in the base cabinet do not look anything alike.
– The last thing to consider (or the fastest way to tell) is to look at the back of the piece. If the upper and lower pieces are intended to be one, the wood will be similar and look connected – in style of construction and wood finish or lack of finish.
– The reader was told that this was a piece of furniture that was on a ship – that it was from a captain’s quarters. That seller was woefully misinformed or willing to lie to make a sale. Unfortunately this becomes an issue of buyer beware.
- Furthermore, this ‘chest -on-chest’ would have been way too large for the cramped quarters of a supposed 19th century ship. There was also no visual indications on the furniture that it had ever been attached to a wall to keep it from moving.
The most interesting thing about this whole piece are the carved faces shown in this detail. The base is probably 19th century whereas the top is a mishmash of old and new wood, definitely not a marriage made in heaven.
It’s worth examining a piece for signs of “marriage”. Your pocketbook will thank you.