Author Topic: Level of fit and finish of period pieces  (Read 5159 times)

klkirkman

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Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« on: June 05, 2010, 06:51:14 PM »
I had the occassion to visit a well- known gallery that has a substantial collection of pieces from the Delaware River Valley area. Having been exposed mostly to reproductions and originals in private hands, I was somewhat surprised by some less than perfect details of certain pieces.

There were many examples of fit and finish that would not pass scrutiny on a piece being built today by our members; I noticed particularly drawer fronts that were cut out of square, bad fits, and rather poorly  matched grain. I am not talking about things that have developed due to time, but flaws that would have been evident in the pieces as new.

Are current reproductions typically built to a higher standard that period pieces , and using wood that is more highly selected ?

If so, does this come about because we tend to follow the very highest quality originals, not typical pieces ?

Karl
Karl

jacon4

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2010, 09:29:38 AM »
Are current reproductions typically built to a higher standard that period pieces , and using wood that is more highly selected ?

If so, does this come about because we tend to follow the very highest quality originals, not typical pieces ?

I would say yes & yes. I dont think theres anything wrong with this, different times, different client expectations equals different results.
« Last Edit: June 06, 2010, 09:31:31 AM by jacon4 »

albreed

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2010, 09:57:43 AM »
Karl-
This "over-finishing" of new reproductions has come about due to the application of modern standards of perfection to copies of period pieces.
There were some very particular workers in the period, John Townsend comes to mind, but in general these guys were "just" making furniture as a utilitarian item. To hold them to our standards of perfection is to ignore the culture in which they worked. This stuff was done by hand, and in that situation the emphasis was on efficiency and speed. The emphasis was on the primary surfaces; secondary surfaces were exactly that- second in importance as far as labor expended to make them work.
Those of us who are familliar with old work know they nailed on molding, left layout lines, used hatchets to rough out stock, filled knot holes and used bad wood in places that faced away from the viewer. In a world where candles were the next best thing to daylight, the draw that you saw that was out of square probably was not a show-stopper. Also realize that there were many qualities of work, and we tend to assume that these guys were all earnest and sober craftsmen achieving the highest form of craft, but this is not necessarily the case, as you discovered at the museum. They didn't sit around the cracker barrel waxing poetic about ow wonderful it was to make things with hand tools. Everything was made by hand, and there were lots of quality levels being produced.
Stock selection is something that we get fixated on. I've seen draws made from different species in the same piece, big stripes of sapwood in legs, knots used where you and I would never consider it. We have the luxury of picking through a lot of wood, and our customers might expect perfection in the wood. Some craftsmen in the period did spend effort in getting matched panels in doors, for instance, but I think at some times the selection of wood was not there, and they had to make do with what was on hand. Mahogany, for example, was expensive, and they used every bit.
At the risk of going on forever, I think you should strive for perfection using hand tools, for example, knowing that there will always be an imperfection in the work somewhere. If you're looking for authenticity, don't apply the same standards of perfection that you'd use on a Federal piece when making a Pilgrim era piece. You need to get into the head of the maker, look at an old piece, and take into account his tools and aesthetic sensibility to create something plausible for the period in which it was created.-Al
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millcrek

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2010, 11:04:39 AM »
This thread reminds me of something I read years ago and I don't remember where. If was something like , If you want it done quickly hire a professional, if you want it done perfectly hire a dedicated amateur. These guys were making furniture to feed their family, they were in a hurry. I must admit I have taken a short cut here and there.

albreed

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2010, 04:13:18 PM »
Karl and others-
I decided to rant on at great length on this topic on my blog today. If you're in he mood for more-allanbreed.com-Al
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hazard

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2010, 12:42:50 PM »
Earlier this year I toured Gunston Hall, the home of one of our founding fathers, George Mason, located here in Northern Virginia.  There is some original furniture in the house along with some displays of repaired/recovered items.  Through the eyes of a SAPFM furniture-maker, I was shocked at the poor quality workmenship of some of the pieces.  It seems that some of the furniture was built on site to fit specific places and specific needs in this plantation home.  Some of these pieces were built by the carpenters who built the house and followed the standards of house builders and not fine cabinet makers.  I would guess that this was a common practice, especially outside of the urban centers.  In some homes, I suspect that these type pieces may have been replaced by more high style items as time and money permitted. 
Chris Hazard
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Alexandria, VA

jacon4

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2010, 11:10:36 AM »
LOL, shocked huh? I think many have an idealized view of life in 18th century America, it was rough & tough where only the fittest survived. Furniture in most instances was based on function not form, thus, whether joiner or cabinetmaker they made what their clients demanded as quickly & efficiently as possible.

As pointed out above, there were exceptions, like the Goddard/Townsend clan in R.I. who made high end furniture for wealthy merchants like the Brown family but that was unusual in at least 2 respects. First off, American furniture was considered inferior to it's english cousin. Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century, the Metropolitan Museum of Art did not own a single piece of american furniture. It wasnt until Mrs Russell Sage purchased Eugene Bolles collection and donated it to the MET which in turn opened an American Wing in 1924 that any major american museum in the nation displayed american furniture. Further, considering that american made furniture was "inferior" to english made, it follows that many wealthy americans who could afford it, bought  their furniture directly from england.

albreed

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Re: Level of fit and finish of period pieces
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2010, 08:15:14 AM »
Interesting info on the Met.
Not only did the upper class colonists  get their furniture from Europe and England (Jefferson imported cases of French stuff) but also textiles, ceramics, glass, hardware etc.
I think the quality of the colonial work depends on the specialization of the local workers, which was a function of th size of the city, and the amount the consumer was willing to spend. Perhaps the maker of the furniture in the Virginia house convinced the owner that he was up to doing the work, but wasn't........Al
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