Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mystery Cabinet

This cabinet belongs to some friends down in Oregon. There is something about it that I just love, but there are a lot of things about it I can't quite figure out. Every time I see it, I seem to find some new detail that adds to the puzzle. I'd love to figure out a general history if possible.

I'm pretty sure it is old, maybe as early as the 1700's. I don't have anything solid to base that assumption on, so of course I could be way off. It does have many indicators of age - for example it shows a major repair and some hardware replacement on this drawer front.

The sides of the same drawer show what I assume to be rodent damage. I'm thinking that the repair on the front was for something similar. Also, on the hand cut dovetails, note that the groove for the drawer bottom was left exposed in a pin, rather than being concealed by the tail.

The inside of the upper door panel clearly shows marks from a heavily cambered plane iron.

I really like the inlaid stars.

The crown moulding is a little strange. It's a fairly complex profile, but not smooth at all. It's wavy, like it was carved and not planed. Hmm.

Finally, there are the turned bun feet. Is it normal for the front and rear feet to be different? And I don't know why, but every time I see those feet I think of Bermuda. Where did that come from? I just don't know...

Anyway, if you have any insights or ideas about this cabinet, please comment, I'd love to hear them.


  1. Very cool piece Dan! I too really like the inlaid stars and their 3-D look. Can't really explain any of the mysteries, but I'm willing to take a shot at the feet. The look sorta like onions to me. Maybe specifically, BERMUDA onions? Just a thought.

  2. I'm certainly no expert, but the first impressions of this cab are William and Mary. It's just speculation, but I'm pretty sure I've seen those bun feet on W&M pieces before. And maybe the moulding is carved instead of planed because they didn't have the planes readily available (early colonial?). Just some thoughts.

  3. Jamie - Nice! But I think they are a little more on the Walla Walla Sweet side.

    JLatham - Thanks for commenting. I'll have to look into the W&M idea.

  4. I'm not an expert, but I love old furniture. We recently bought an old cupboard, circa 1870, they still used cut nails. What did they use prior to 1800?

  5. Hi Dan,

    This post of yours caught my attention since we have some cabinets ourselves that have some 'mysteries'.
    It was once explained to me that in the old days when a cabinet was to old to be standing or damaged in some way, the good parts would be used to form other (not necessarily new) cabinets. Hence one could get somewhat awkard combinations from the point of design or execution of work.
    Especially the people on the lower end of the income scale went for functionality instead of looks, especially if you had to look twice (or be an expert) to notice.
    Just an idea.

    Love you're blog by the way.

    Andre, Netherlands

  6. Great post Dan. Old furniture always has a story. We stayed at a 105 year old beach house in Oregon that had some great pieces. One of them had dirt and hay in the corners like it had been stored in a barn. It's amazing how much you can tell about a piece when you study it closely. That's some really serious rodent damage on that drawer! I am thinking rats, and there must have been food in there.

  7. Franz - Thanks for commenting! I'm not sure about the exact dates, but prior to cut nails (which were punched or "cut" from sheets), nails were hand forged from rods.

    Andre - Thanks, I'm glad you like the blog. Yes, I've seen such "married" pieces before, but this one didn't have that feel to me. Of course, I could be wrong...

    John - Yes, I love exploring old furniture and seeing what might be sussed out. I too wondered about what might have been stored in the drawer to attract that kind of attention. It really doesn't look like a food storage cabinet to me. But maybe there is something that the saw as food that I'm not thinking of, that might have been in there. Then again, history is full of unpredictable stuff and random behaviors, so maybe this was someone's cheese storage cabinet!

    Thanks for commenting!

  8. I have seen similar pieces in England with the star inlaid moulding dated around 1830 - 1900, but they could have been copying something earlier. Are you sure those marks are from rodents - one of the draws looks like a shark has taken a bite out of the side?!

  9. LOve those old antique pieces! Interesting to think of the ways they got around doing stuff back in the old days!

  10. Al - Thanks for the information! I'm pretty sure this cabinet is older than that - of course, I could be very, very wrong.

    As for the rodent damage, I'm no expert. But I think that once they get chewing, they defy logic and are random in their assault.

    HTBC - I think that some of the old ways are quite superior to our "improved" ways...

  11. Yes rats can get in and damage old wood. It's such a sheame when people go and put plastic wood or some other sort of wood filler. Kinda of ruins the aura of the piece, or the authenticity. Anyways beautiful piece of furniture


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