Matthews & Brothers Furniture Co. Secretary


Hello, Group!
    I am in the process of restoring an old secretary that has been in my family for at least three generations. In order to better understand what I am dealing with I have a few questions. 1.    What might be the age of the piece? 2.    Does anyone have any more information about Matthews Brothers or have similar pieces created by the same manufacturer? (See picture P1010023.jpg and file WAG_99_kirschner.pdf) 3.    What type of wood do you think this is? 4.    What would be the best finish for this piece? 5.    Note the unusual joints in the drawer. Is there a name for this type of joinery? Where could I get more information on this technique?
I have uploaded pictures and links here: http://www.awhangar.com/restoration/Matthews_secretary /
    Thank you for your help!
Bobby
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Bobby wrote:

Has she got a wooden leg?
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Weatherlawyer wrote:

Who cares? If she's that old, she probably can't dance anyway.
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think Matthews is still in business, mightbe worth contacting them . As far as the finish goes it looks like it might be varnish which is difficult to restore ,other than strip and refinish. The piece looks like it could be 1880 ish.....mjh

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Bobby wrote:

Can't tell for sure but I would guess either gum or pine...

Looks like it was probably varnished..

Which picture shows them? W/ dialup it takes too long to try to find one by trial and error...
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Hi, Duane!
Sorry about that! The picture is P1010013.JPG. Here's the link:
http://www.awhangar.com/restoration/Matthews_secretary/P1010013.JPG
Thanks! Bobby
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Bobby wrote:

Those are a fairly common early 20th century machine made joint. They are sometimes called "bear paw" or similar owing to the multiple rounded shape end, but I think they are known as a "crescent" joint.
I've seen a discussion somewhere of who/when they were first produced (perhaps as a letter to the editor in FWW sometime?) but I don't have a direct reference.
There is at least one router guide/template that claims to make them I've seen in some of the catalogs (Woodworkers Supply, maybe?)...
HTH...
I'd say from this it's about 1900-1920.
As someone else noted, it might significantly reduce the piece's value if you were to do major refinishing--I can't really judge whether the piece would have actual value or not.
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If there is any chance that the piece has significant value as an antique, do not touch the finish. Any restoration of the finish will significantly decrease its value forever. Jim
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You're going to need to post a closeup picture with better focus and lighting of the unusual joint you reference. It looks a plain old butt joint to me, which is not at all unusual. I'm sure there is more to it, but not apparent from this picture. It looks like there may have been some slight blur in the picture when you took it. Try using a tripod when you take it.
bob
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Bobby wrote:

First - please, please, please a) crop the picture to remove extraneous stuff b) resize the image to get the file size down you can also increase the compression without losing much of the details 500-600K files take a while to download. I've done this to two of the piciures, got them down to about 40K and have posted them to alt.binaries.pictures.woodworking (not everyone has DSL or a cable modem)
Re: the circle and peg drawer joinery - it was machine made - a production joint that, while probably as strong as dovetails, apparently never caught on. I asked about this joint a few years back and was told it was only around for about 5 years - in the 1860s as I recall and developed and used by several furnitute makers in St. Louis or Chicago for the west coast market.
The piece looks like a mass market piece, designed for production - integral cock beading but just top and bottom of drawers, not the sides, what may be stamped "carving", shallow grooved dentil molding and rail and stile glass door frames, the glass in the doors show no wavyness so they've probably been replaced
Primary wood, as suggested in another response, is probably pine but could be cherry.
As for the finish - could be shellac. Find an out of view spot and see if denatured alcohol softens or removes the finish. If it does, it's likely shellac.
charlie b
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charlie b wrote:

...
I DAGS and found this link http://www.cpfmg.org/Articles/The_Knapp_Joint.html
My recollection was somewhat off apparently, the time frame being somewhat earlier than I was thinking. I do believe it lasted a little longer than the turn of the century that this fellow indicates based on the fact there are a couple of pieces using the joint that were in my grandparents home as new purchases when they were married which was in 1912. My pushing the piece to as late as in the 20s may be somewhat on the "too late" side, however.

Very definitely a production piece...

I really don't think it is cherry--one drawer front on the picture I looked at (I don't recall which one) had far too much grain visible--it was the one that made me revise my first thought of gum to the pine.

That's also possible and in fact probably more likely given that there was no sign of crazing as one would expect on a varnished piece of this age...
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Duane:
thanks for the ponter to the Knapp Joint. I took some pics of an old oak drop lid desk that used this joint for the drawers and couldn't relocate the info I dug up on it.
The piece seems to want to be a Swiss Army Knife of the furniture world display case/china cabinet/armoire? barrister book case drop lid desk (drop lid seems to be missing) drawer unit linen drawer It's a very incongruous piece.
charlie b
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Hi, Charlie!
Sorry about that! It is easy to take broadband for granted. I have recropped and resized the majority of the pictures. Here is the link: http://www.awhangar.com/restoration/Matthews_secretary /
Thank you for your input! I say that to all in the newsgroup, as well. It has been extremely helpful in understanding this piece.
As you can see, the top of the piece is noticably warped. How would one go about making it flat again?
The wood seems to be a soft wood, very possibly pine. Could you suggest resources to help me better identify it?
When you open the doors you are overcome with that unmistakable and wonderful "antique" smell! Might that indicate a shellack finish?
Again, thanks for all of the help. I am estimating the work will take me 6 months at best. (I AM an amateur, but learning fast)
Take care!
Bobby
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Bobby wrote:

Still far too many to try to hunt 'n peck at to look at w/o some id on what is what...at least for my dialup.

Which shows it?

Look inside for places where it isn't finished. The ones I looked at before showed some grain pretty characteristic of poine on at least one drawer front. The front of the carcase, otoh, looked very much like some other pieces of the same general time period that were simply gum stained dark enough to mask most grain.
Many of these pieces were quite a number of woods that were then stained to make them blend together.
The one new picture I looked at was the one of the open front. Some of the small drawer fronts and dividers are more choice woods or maybe even a veneer like a 3-ply ply. The picture wasn't close enough to see detail enough of that small light-colored drawer front for me to guess what it might actually be.
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