Articles At A Glance
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, March 2007
Q. I purchased a dresser, chest of drawers and night stands stamped," Northern Furniture Company, R-way". What can you tell me about the age, quality and value? It appears to be a maple veneer finish, light yellow, engraved in front with a floral design. Thanks.
A. You have some furniture from one of the longest lasting manufacturers from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the self styled "Furniture Capital" of the late 19th and early 20th century. There is a great deal of debate on that nickname since I am sure Grand Rapids has a thought to add but that's another story.
Northern Furniture Company began life as the Matoon Manufacturing Company, founded by George Matoon in 1881. George died in 1904 and the company was renamed Northern, retaining that name until 1949 even though it was acquired by part of the Reiss coal conglomerate in 1916. In 1949 the name was changed to R-way. It went out of business sometime in the mid 1960's as best I can determine. That was pretty good though since the bulk of Sheboygan's furniture industry did not survive the Depression. Interestingly enough, the city of Sheboygan received a $300,000 HUD grant to demolish the 400,000 square foot brick R-way building near downtown Sheboygan. It was scheduled for demolition to make room for an expansion by Rockline Industries, a manufacturer of specialty paper products.
Your bedroom furniture appears to have been made in the late1950's to early 1960's judging by the style of the hardware, the shape of the legs and the carving. I am guessing that rather than maple veneer, which is a little difficult to work with, the set is made of "bleachtone mahogany", a technique that actually used bleached mahogany and had a lighter wash applied over the wood to give it the bright look. This type of coloring was considered very modern at the time and was popular with people who did not want to remember the dark times and dark furniture of the 1930's and 1940's. The finish probably was much brighter when it was made. The organic based nitrocellulose lacquer used as a finish in that period has ambered over its 40+ years, giving it the yellowish cast. If it is bleached mahogany you will be able to tell by looking at the wood where the finish has been scraped off by nicks and dings. The wash and bleaching process did not penetrate very deeply into the mahogany and the wood will show its original reddish tone just below the surface if it is injured.
The set probably has oak as the primary secondary wood under the veneer and inside the drawers. This is a medium to high quality set but you need to check with local dealers for a range of values for it.
Q. As I write this my college student son is dismantling our old junker of an upright piano, a Cambridge which I have tried unsuccessfully to give away for several months. He is taking it apart so that it will fit in the dumpster! Is there any earthly use for the old wood? I hate to pitch it if anyone could use it. Of course I do not know what kind of wood it is, just heavy boards with that old dark crinkled finish. Now please quit laughing. I am serious. Thanks.
A. I applaud your move to get rid of "stuff". If I could do more of it I would have a lot more room in my shop. However, I, like most woodworking and furniture repair people, am a " net accumulator". I have difficulty throwing anything away. Knowing this, it would be a nice gesture to offer the piano remnants to similarly affected people in a local woodworking club or shop. Those old clunker pianos were built like a fort and 100 year old, well seasoned wood is always a welcome addition to most any craftsman's woodpile. I know it would be welcome in mine. In addition, if the keys are ivory, many piano restoration folks would love to know about it. The real subject here is about recycling precious resources such as old wood, thick veneer and key tops. What kinds of things do you recycle in your shop (brushes, rags, sawdust etc.) and how much trouble do you go to for recycling and how much is too much? Love to hear from you on that subject.
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