Period Furniture Photo Library


Active member
First, has anyone heard if Irion is planning to publish or make available any of their information, photos, drawings, sketches on their Greatest Commission Ever, 90 Best Period Reproductions?

The second part of the question; has the SAPFM ever considered establishing an on-line photo/ plan / study library. We’ve all gone to the major web sites, MET, Winterthur,…, to study what documentation they have on period furniture as well as purchase $100-$300 books hoping for enlightenment, but I’m continuously disappointed in the dimensions given and the photos. The photos are not of the details or angles we as furniture makers would like and the dimensions are usually just overall widths and heights. Most of us don’t need full blueprints, but a handful of accurate dimensions on a piece and we’re off to the races. The other dimensions we need usually can easily be interpolated form the ones we have if the “exact” location of the dimensions is known.  I know that I’ve been allowed to take detail photos (from the angles and of what I want) and measurements on certain pieces that I would be willing to share and I’m sure other SAPFM members would also. If we all thru our photos/sketches/dimensions together it probably would make the worlds’ greatest reference for period furniture from a furniture makers perspective. Any thoughts?

Bob Baker
Good idea but most members do not have a photographic back drop nor proper photographic lighting nor a hi-tech camera to take accurate photos nor the experience to take high quality photos that you would like.  Just my opinion.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
Bob, I agree with Dennis that really good, detailed, photos are a little hard to come by. I have varying amounts of details; photos, dimensions, sketches, etc on each piece I have made that I would be glad to share with any SAPFM member who asks. I can take and e-mail detailed digital shots of any piece in my house (where most of them are). These bits of info would not satisfy someone interested in an "exact" reproduction. Close maybe; but not all the way there. Contact me off forum.  It would be difficult to put it all together to go in a "plan pool".  Some would want lots of details; others, as you say, "with a hand-full of accurate dimensions------are off to the races!" John McAlister
Bob -- I think it is a wonderful idea -- a central repository with photographs, dimensions, and construction details.  Even if the photographs are not professional quality, something is better than nothing!  
I, too, think such a repository would be a great idea. We've recently started a google group -- Chips and Shavings -- devoted to period woodworking. I can't tell you technically how it works (Dean Jansa set it up for us) but it's an efficient way to share information. We're still in our infancy, but such a group or one like it, I think, would be a great way to store and share photos, videos, drawings, specs, etc.
I would think it a good idea for photos of actual period pieces to be described as such and reproductions given the same treatment. Sometimes people make changes without knowing it. It is always best to refer to the real thing, but not always possible. Good luck with this endeavor, it sounds very interesting.
I think this is like the fable about the stone soup.  It just must be started.  It will build momentum as people begin to understand it's use and power.

I'm working on a similar type of effort.  I built an excel spreadsheet of all known cabinetmakers, joiners, and chair makers who worked in Philadelphia in the 18th century.  At this point, it's nothing more than a list, and possibly an incomplete one.  My goal was to figure out how many of them were immigrants.  What I'm really interested in is the mechanism of a regional style.  How did it work, what were it's influences?  Did the buyers demand enigmatic features or did the craftsmen all come from the same place, have shared sensibilities, training, social pressure? 

I began Googling the names on the list.  Isaac Barnet worked for David Evans.  So I googled Evans.  Turns out Barnet may have been one of the 12 journeymen who worked for Evans, when Evans was 26!  Seasoned master indeed.  David Evans made many fine pieces of furniture.  Sold a piece to VP John Adams.  I thought David Evans might have been the son of joiner Edward Evans'.  Apparently not.  Many of you know Edward Evans as he built the "scrutore" that is currently in the Wallace Dewitt gallery in Colonial Williamsburg.  Bess Naylor made a brilliant copy of it a few years ago.

Anyway, it's surprising what google will turn up.  David Evans was born in Philadelphia, the son of a cutler.  He apprenticed under a pair of partners from his Quaker meeting (James Gillingham and Henry Clifton).  They split up during his apprenticeship and the master he stuck with died a year after his apprenticeship or a year before- can't remember.  So Evans got Clifton's shop somehow (we don't know how exactly).  Googled up some old maps.  Clifton's shop was on the North side of Arch street between Third and Fourth directly across from a Friends burial ground which was quite large.  So the front of his shop got good Northern Light, but morning light was obscured and evening light may have been as well. Not sure. Evans had an apprentice in his early years so we could be talking about 14 benches in that "Frame" shop without good light. 

David Evans probably lived in Cherry Street then. Cherry is like an alley and runs parallel to Arch, one block North.  Evans kept a cow.  This block was fairly well populated so I wonder where exactly he kept the cow.  Philly's blocks are large so there may have been enough space in his back yard or a "common" in the center of the block.  But the image in my head is of a much more agrarian life than I originally thought.

This sort of information can be helpful as we consider the influences on design features, the nature of period shops, how much day light they had, whether they lived where they worked, etc.  It began as a simple list in excel.  Nothing more. An hour on Google turned up the low hanging fruit.  If someone hosted databases like this one, others could add information, photos, links, as they became available or were of interest.  Like a wiki page, folks could add info. 

David Evans day book is owned by the Historical Society of Philadelphia.  Since I live near Philly, I could try to get a copy or take a picture of the books themselves.  Others in other areas could create similar databases of craftsmen in their regions.  It's really not that big an effort.

Pictures of furniture, lists and photos of tools, videos of techniques, databases of historical info would all be helpful and all of it can start very simply;  With a list or an outline.  In my mind it's stone soup.

This is a great idea.  And I can indeed help.  But someone has to address the issue of web reproduction rights.  If you take a picture in an Art Museum, can you post that photo on the web?  What if the photo is on a pay for access site?  Is that different than a non-profit?  If a non-profit .org like sapfm wants to have a members only area for this, would they still be considered a non-profit for this use?  How does the wikipedia do this?  I don't think they own all of those images.  I know last I looked, web permission was effected by the image size.  If we promised to use lower res images, could we post our photos then?  How is this different from FLICKR?

Assuming that this is all no problem, the next question is whether this is a sapfm project or not?  If not, I could do it on  But that is a .com and would be a very different sort of thing.  I wouldn't be for that, in fact.  I think the period woodworking community hears enough from me.  So would a new organization be formed to support such an activity?  What would that do to sapfm? 

So there are two questions that are above my pay code.  In terms of the actual doing part of it, the execution, I could easily do that myself.  Bob's right.  Like most period woodworkers, I have an awesome camera and an iPhoto library full of pictures of furniture that would be helpful to other woodworkers.  Finding a way to get that on the internet can't be that hard.  I like the open source wiki idea. 

I'll be interested to see how this pans out. 

I do see problems with this.  Some people, like Bob, want only a  few dims.  Others will want detailed drawings and close-up photos.  Some members will want exact drawings from the original, others just ruff dims. Members may post their piece of furniture and state that it is not an exact copy.  Will others want to copy it knowing that it is not an exact copy?
Will museums let SAPFM post photos and drawing of their items knowing that they will be copied and possibly sold as a museum copy?

In my opinion it is a lot easier to buy a drawing from a know source, say Phil Lowe, or others or simply buy a book with drawings.  If you see a member's photo posted on this web site it may be a lot easier to simply ask that person for drawings.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
Dennis: I think you've hit the nail on the head and your last paragraph says it all. This question of a plan pool or library has surfaced frequently since the beginning of SAPFM and after beating it around for a while the conclusion is reached; as well summed up by Dennis.
John McAlister
Although lacking the credentials and experience of those that have commented on this issue so far, I must say I  would hate to see this effort so easily dismissed just because it's been considered before.

Why not try it and see? Sure, it may not be to everyone's liking, but this type of information sharing could easily  adapt itself to the demands of the user. It's difficult for me to see that the storage and dissemination of information would have anything but a beneficial effect. Might some of it be inacucurate? Likely. But those inaccuracies are probably already out there drawings, pictures, plans, etc.  The scrutiny brought to bear on "problematic" pieces might go a long way in educating many of us aspiring period woodworkers about what is historically accurate (and imporant) -- and why.

And what could possibly be easier than consulting a reputable, on-line source for period furniture?

All of this assumes, of course, that there's no copyright infringement, etc. on works already published. As to the museums -- why don't we solicit their opinion? They might wish to participate knowing that they have a stake in preserving their exhibits.

This is a subject that came up at our first Junto.  So there's the legal issue.  That needs to get worked.  And then there's the issue Dennis and John are raising.  If we do it, will it be valuable to people? 

Here's my take: I think every woodworker wants free project plans.  Many many woodworkers start woodworking because they love to build stuff, any stuff.  For these guys complete and accurate plans are a necessity.  Period furniture makers are often a bit different, however.  Many I have met are motivated by the design and style of the items they make, I think more than the general population.  While I'm sure all of these guys would love to have very complete plans, I think they would also benefit from just seeing pictures of furniture.  And I agree that the perspective of the photographer makes a big difference.  I take front, and side views.  Whenever possible I shoot details, construction etc.  Curator types shoot ISO views that I personally find less helpful.

I think the bigger question is should we consider a period woodworking database/online reference source?  And if so, what should go in it?  And can we get the information?  Do we need it all?  And who should host it?  EAIA may be interested.  There was an EAIA rep at our first Junto.

I'll read what you guys have to say on the subject.    Email me offline if you have any specific questions.  I know the reproductions people in both Philly and Winterthur.  They would be the first people I would talk to regarding reproduction rights.

Not to supercede Aswartz on this - no doubt he could give a considerably more nuanced (and complete) opinion on the copyright thing, but I've a good bit of experience on the practical aspects of copyright as it applies to photography, as I've been doing it (photography) for about 30 years or so.

In general, and with the exceptions noted, if you take the photograph, you own the copyright by default.  The exception is that if you enter into a legal agreement with the owner of the object (or person, as the case may be) to sign over the copyright for specific considerations, such as the limited right to use the owner's name in a description of the object in a publication.  Another exception is the use of a photograph of a recognizable individual for commercial purposes - i.e., you can't take a close-up picture of Jeff Gordon at a NASCAR event and use it for financial gain without his permission.

However, that restriction does not apply to the owners of physical objects.  For example, you can take an image of the exterior of an historic building from a public area (like the street) and publish with an identification in a magazine, regardless of the owner's feelings on the issue.

Obviously, however, the best route on something like this is the permission of the owner of the object in writing.  My own personal experience on this with antique owners in the local area is that some are thrilled and proud that someone is interested in photographing and reproducing their heirloom, and some want nothing to do with it.  I'd bet we'd find a similar situation with Museums - those that are famous may be a lot less interested (particularly if they're granting access to reproducers in exchange for a fee or licensing agreement), and some that are out-of-the-way may love the idea of getting some publicity for their organization.
I've found that it is difficult (and risky) to talk about legal matters in the abstract.  That said, dkeller is generally correct.  Museums may have enforceable copyrights in their own photgraphs of their furniture, but they do not own copyrights on the piece of furniture itself -- to the extent there is a copyright on a piece of furniture, the copyright has long since expired on the furniture we're interested in.  Therefore, one could take pictures of a piece of period furniture and make reproductions 'till the cows come home and not be in violaiton of copyright law. That said, "can" does not necessarily mean "should."  When dealing with museums, I would not want to jeopardize SAPFM's carefully cultivated relationships (and access) by distributing photos, plans, etc. in a way that would anger the museum.  Perhaps the way to start this would be to approach likely museums as a group, explain our interest in examining furniture in more detail, and sharing images and dimensions within the group.  Who knows, some farsighted museum curators might appreciate the interest and be willing to facilitate our endeavor. 

This post sounds very interesting; however, what is a JUNTO and have you had more than one?  Can you tell me what an EAIA is, as well?


Jim Vojcek