Few consumers today go out of their way to purchase goods of inferior quality. Furniture is no exception. Given a choice, the discriminating buyer would prefer to purchase furniture which (1) is the “best buy for the money”, (2) is of quality construction, good materials, and a lasting style, (3) will appreciate in value over time, and (4) is durable and functional.
This paper provides one perspective on the better quality mahogany furniture manufactured in the United States during the first half of the 1900’s.
The “Best of the Old”.
The list below reflects AMG’s assessment of the quality of furniture manufactured in the first half of the 20th Century. It is a comparative listing of the manufacturers of that period, based on their quality of materials used, quality of construction, and quality of style.
This list is not all-inclusive in terms of every manufacturer of this period. There were literally thousands of furniture manufacturers in existent between 1900 and 1950. But it is representative of a large portion of the furniture manufactured during that time which is still available today.
Nor should the list be considered all-inclusive from the perspective of regarding all furniture ever made by any one manufacturer. One piece of furniture passing through AMG’s hands over the past ten years was an extraordinary solid mahogany Chippendale chest-on-chest manufactured by Basset. The quality of that one piece equaled or exceeded anything Kittinger ever manufactured. At the same time, we had a pair of Kittinger end tables which were nothing of note “to die for”. Rather, the five categories reflect the comparable quality of most furniture manufactured by the company listed. Or, it may be considered as the comparable quality of an average piece of all furniture made by each manufacturer.
What If It Has No Name?
As not all manufacturers labeled every piece made in the first half of the 20th Century, what can one tell of the vast amount of unmarked furniture available on the market today?
The following list reflects characteristics of better furniture manufactured during this period, and can therefore be used to determine the merits of any one piece.
> Solid mahogany, or a mahogany veneer over an oak core.
> Flame mahogany, ribbon mahogany, or half-sawn mahogany (vice quarter-sawn mahogany).
> Serpentine or bow front casings on veneered pieces.
> Solid mahogany framing versus white wood framing.
> Solid-sided construction.
> Graduated drawer sizes.
> Oak interior drawer casings.
> Solid brass (cast or stamped) pulls (of no consequence if the piece was made during WWII, when no manufacturers were allowed to use brass.)
> Any type of drawer joints front and back. (Dovetail is only one type of joint. Mitered joints are actually stronger and a sign of better quality. Any joint is better than no joint.)
> Attention to detail (cockbeaded drawers, beveled edges, etc.).
> Trueness to style (not a mixture of different traditional styles).
The Final Choice.
Still unsure as to which way to turn? Purchase anything made by the manufacturers listed in the top three categories and you won’t go wrong. Purchase anything by the manufacturers in the top two categories, or new furniture by Henkel Harris or Kindel, and you will unquestionably own some of the finest furniture produced in the history of mankind.
Comparative Listing of Furniture Manufacturers in the US Between 1900-1950
Century (original; not to be confused with present-day company)
Berkey & Gay
Mid-Line: Drexel, Bernhardt, and Thomasville
Peck & Hills
Johnson & Sons
Sterling & Welch
** Denotes manufacturers of all solid mahogany furniture, all others using mahogany veneer over solid hardwood cores on flat surface pieces (table tops and case piece tops, sides, and drawer facings.)