Bookshelf: Furnishing Ideas

Bookshelf: Furnishing Ideas

Get a sense of your ancestors' space with these five furniture guides.

1. The Big Book of Antique Furniture by David P. Lindquist and Caroline C. Warren (Krause Publications). This photo-laden, three-volume reference features English, Continental, Colonial Revival and Victorian furniture. Although the guide targets antiques dealers and collectors, genealogists will find it useful in identifying family heirlooms. The furniture examples span Colonial times to the early 20th century. You’ll learn not only how to appraise a piece, but also what happens to old wood and how mass-market production affected the industry. The book covers furniture makers who operated in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia, as well. Each volume contains its own index.

2. Early American Furniture: A Practical Guide for Collectors by John Obbard (Collector Books). You don’t have to be a collector — just an appreciator — of antique furniture to get useful information from this book. Like other tomes on this topic, it’s arranged by furniture type and supplies plenty of illustrations with detailed descriptions. But it also provides background on the furniture trade in early America, plus chapters on understanding period and style, evaluating quality, identifying period workmanship and uncovering fakes and frauds. Utilize this book as a social history of the early American furniture that decorated your ancestors’ homes.

3. How We Lived: 1880-1940 by Peter Swift Seibert (Schiffer Books). If you were a fan of PBS’ “1900 House” and “Frontier House,” this book is for you. Like those reality series, How We Lived helps satisfy family historians’ fascination with envisioning what their progenitors’ lives were like. It offers hundreds of photographs — sepia-toned to enhance the book’s antique feel — depicting everyday furniture, fashions and settings. How We Lived combines those photos with meaty descriptions that point out details you might not otherwise notice.

4. Lighting Devices and Accessories of the 17th-19th Centuries by Stan Hamper (Collector Books). How did your forebears illuminate their homes before electricity? The listings and illustrations in this book will shed light on that subject, and perhaps help you identify an object your family still possesses. It also gives a brief history of lighting devices and the dates they were popular. Pair this book with Antique Trader Lamps & Lighting Price Guide edited by Kyle Husfloen (Krause Publications, which covers hundreds of lights, from chandeliers and candlesticks to torchiers and table lamps. A sort of encyclopedia of manufacturers, it gives background on each company — such as Tiffany — and reveals how to identify its work. Descriptions of specific lamp designs tell you where to look for the maker’s mark and what that insignia should say if your lamp’s an original. For example, a true Turtleback Tile Desk Lamp’s mark reads “Tiffany Studios-New York-28682” and contains the company monogram.

5. Warman’s How to Be a Furniture Detective by V.J. Taylor (Krause Publications). Working with clues and incomplete data. Searching through letters, diaries, bills and receipts. Trying to discover everyday history. Sound familiar? While you might think I’m talking about the hunt for your ancestors, the same resources apply to researching family furniture. You might be lucky enough to have inherited Great-grandma’s china cabinet or Great-uncle Arthur’s rocking chair, or maybe such heirlooms were passed down to someone else in your family. How to Be a Furniture Detective helps you pinpoint furniture’s manufacture date — and tell whether the piece cousin Martha insists was your ancestor’s is actually a fake. Though the book focuses on British furniture, it includes many items that were exported to America. And rather than ornate, grandiose pieces, it covers only the sturdily built furniture ordinary people — including most of our ancestors — used. The descriptions detail each piece’s construction, so you can compare and identify.

From the June 2005 Family Tree Magazine

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