Saturday, January 24, 2015

More Data on Cope's Patent Castors

Mr. Cope's Patent Bed Wheels

Six months ago I posted information about some nice antique hardware,  specifically wheels marked "COPE'S PATENT".  You can find this post using the search tool; it was July 5, 2014.

Well, yesterday I finally found another example of this type of wheel, from an email sent to me by an English antique dealer.  It is amazing and wonderful how internet searches can bring people together.
He had been searching the internet to find out information and discovered my post searching for help.

Thomas Franklin wrote to me stating that he has been in the antique business for 50 years in England and had seen numerous examples of Cope's castors over his career.  He indicated that many of these pieces were from the Regency period, which makes sense, since the rosewood table I restored was exactly from that period.

As Mr. Franklin now lives in France he is finding a good supply of English furniture which the aristocracy brought over from England some 150 years ago.

He sent me photos, which I post here, of wheels which were original to a Hepplewhite bed he purchased in France.  He said the bed could not be later than 1830, and that the Cope's wheels are "definitely English."

I have seen similar wheels (not marked Cope however) on bed frames from Lannuier (Empire period) to Herter Brothers (Late Victorian period).  Most of the high end beds during the 19th century had wheels, either brass or porcelain, mounted under the frame inside the rails or foot/head boards.  These wheels allowed the rather heavy beds to be more easily moved away from the walls or around the room if necessary.

Height Adjustment Possible

Mr. Franklin notes that the wheels he has on his bed were the first he had seen with a method to adjust the height.

I am curious as to what exactly did Mr. Cope do to wheel design to gain the advantage of a patent?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes "Made in America" Just Doesn't Work

European Kraft Paper Now Available Here
I live in Southern California, so everything I see in stores must come in from China through Los Angeles.  In truth I don't ever go shopping for anything except food, but I can easily imagine a continuous line of cargo ships crossing the ocean from LA to China.  There must be enough of them that it might be possible to just walk there from ship to ship?

All my life I have preferred local and domestic production to imported.  Except cheese...

However, in my chosen profession, I have found items in France which I cannot find here.  Veneer nails for example.  Sawn veneer is another.  And, for some unknown reason, Kraft paper.

In Pierre's book there is no mention of Kraft paper or making and using an Assembly Board to make marquetry.  When I arrived at ecole Boulle for the first time and observed students working on projects building face down on stretched paper, I saw the "light bulb" over my head.

Like most marquetry workers in countries outside France, I thought you worked from the front and used either glue or veneer tape to hold everything together.  Just like others who have discovered the problems this causes, I had several projects ruined since the press put uneven pressure on the different layers of tape and allowed the thin veneer to buckle under areas where there was no pressure.  The other problems in working from the front with tape is that the work is covered up and you can't see what you are making.

Pierre did not include any information on Kraft paper since it is such a basic component of the French process.  It is simply assumed that everyone knows about it.

I have posted before on building Assembly Boards, so use the search function to research this.

The first day of class here at the American School of French Marquetry I spend time introducing students to the glue and materials used, including Kraft paper.  I can see in their expressions the doubt and surprise when I show them a piece of paper and say, "You cannot find this paper in America."

This is the minimum Order!

In Europe Kraft paper is everywhere.  If you buy fish, bread or flowers, the store merchant wraps it in Kraft paper.  If you buy a kilo of shellac or pumice stone or sandarac, it is wrapped in Kraft paper.

Kraft paper is made the old fashioned way: by layering paper pulp in solution.  I remember once in 8th grade I decided to make paper for a term paper.  I filled up my mother's washing machine with water, glue and paper pulp and made paper, including my own watermark.  I got an "A" and a good beating.

Kraft paper is shiny on one side and dull on the other.  That's one of the secrets.  The shiny side resists water and glue and the dull side absorbs water.  By wetting the shiny side it expands in all dimensions.  Gluing it to a flat board around the edges and letting it dry makes it shrink and pull tight.  All elements of the marquetry are then glued to the paper with hot hide glue, face down.  You cannot imagine the advantage this provides for working with small pieces until you try it.

The mastic is easily applied after all the pieces are in place and any unevenness of veneer thickness is sanded down flush from the back (glue side).  Finally the picture is cut away from the Assembly Board and glued to the project, with the Kraft paper on top.  After the glue is dry the Kraft paper is wetted and dissolves easily so you can remove all the paper and glue from the front.

Of course all the veneer is even and flat since it was built face down on a flat board surface.


I have imported rolls of Kraft paper from Raja in France, but there is a minimum order and the shipping costs exceed the paper costs.  That is why I sell it for $3/yard to students.

Now one of my students, Wes Highfill has spend the money to bring in several rolls.  Since he is located in the Middle States area, shipping is probably cheaper to the East Coast.  In any event he is now selling Kraft paper for $3/yard as well.  Both of us use and sell the 90gm/square meter weight.  This is best for our purpose.

Here is his blog: Kraft Paper For Sale Here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is Your Glue Reversible?

King Tut "Before"

I often wonder about furniture makers, both in the studio and in the factory, who choose to use glues which are "permanent".  I guess that is because in my career I have seen every possible type of damage that can occur with "normal" use of furniture.

I have also seen "unusual" damage in my time.  One case in particular was when a rather embarassed man showed up with a spindle back rocking chair.  The crest and the entire tops of all the spindles were shattered and broken in one hand and the topless rocker was in the other.  When I asked him how this had happened, he quietly replied, "I was practicing my batting swing in the living room."

I didin't believe him.

Another time there arrived at my door a wonderful curly maple Chippendale chest of drawers.  However it was neatly severed completely across the middle, leaving broken drawers and backboards in splinters.  I was told it was a "moving accident".   It was a lot of fun putting it back together.

That story I believed.  Movers can do a lot of damage.  For example, there was the triple pedestal mahogany dining table the movers put on the truck and then loaded boxes of heavy stuff on top until all the legs broke off at the same time.  What fun it is to reattach every cabriole leg on the table so it looks undamaged.

Some 30 years ago I was doing a lot of insurance claim damage and thought I should help solve the problem.  I went to several different moving companies and offered my services.  I thought if I could be paid a reasonable fee for a short course of instruction, I could teach them how not to damage antiques.  Things like knowing about card tables opening when you lift them,  removing the pendulum and weights when transporting long case clocks,  not loosing keys or finials, how to move corner cabinets, etc.  I assumed that by reducing their damage claims they would be happy to pay me for basic information.

The uniform response I got from all of them was "no".  They actually considered damage claims as a basic "cost of business" and something that was expected to happen.  It was very discouraging.

Dining tables seem to attract a lot of attention from stupid people.  Once I got a frantic call from Newport Beach and drove up there to see for myself what had happened.  This client had paid a moving company to deliver their Cuban mahogany double pedestal Georgian dining table and set it up.  The driver carefully laid out blankets on the cement and put the top of the table face down on the clean blankets.  Then he proceeded to set the pedestals in place and attach them with screws.  Each pedestal took 6 screws.  Unfortunately, the sheetrock screws he used were not only modern but 1 inch too long.  As he turned over the table in front of the client, you can imagine her response.

I managed to solve that problem with a bit of experience, a good protein glue and magic.

Another table I was asked to repair had shattered glass imbedded into the top where the chandelier had fallen on it from the ceiling.  At first the owner had assumed that the hook holding the chandelier had failed, but my investigation focused on the housekeeper.  She informed me (in confidence) that her method of cleaning the chandelier was to stand on the table and turn the fixture while wiping the glass crystals.  Eventually she unscrewed the fixture and gravity took over.

I kept her secret, she kept her job and learned a valuable lesson.

I guess my point here is that all furniture suffers damage in its lifetime.  Unless it is repaired with a glue which is reversible, there is a chance that it will not be repaired properly and could be lost.  This is one of the biggest problems I have with modern work.  Using glues and finishes which cannot easily be repaired is a death sentence.

King Tut's Beard

Today I found a news article which is not related to furniture but in fact demonstrates how important it is to use reversible glues.  Workers in Egypt were cleaning the death mask of King Tut, certainly one of the most important artifacts in history.  Imagine their surprise when the beard snapped off in their hands.  I'm sure their response was similar to the client in Newport Beach.

Instead of stopping work and researching the solution properly, one of the ladies cleaning the mask called her husband who picked up some epoxy and repaired the beard.  To make it worse, in cleaning off the epoxy residue from the joint, the surface of the gold was scratched in many places.
What Glue Would The Pharaoh Use?

Not the best solution, to say the least.  Remember the basic rule: "Do No Harm."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I have been thinking about posting my thoughts on endangered species materials for years now, and every time I sit down to start writing, I stop and reflect on the impact it may have.  I have personal and professional friends who are on both sides of this issue.  I also argue with myself from time to time, trying to decide how I feel.  It is a very difficult problem to resolve.

First of all, there is a jewel cabinet which sits at the top of this blog which contains ivory feet and knobs.  It is one of my best creations and has been exhibited in museum shows on both sides of this country, as well as published in several magazines.  When I made it I took particular concern that the ivory be from legal stock, harvested in Kenya before 1963, and I have legal papers which confirm that fact.  It wasn't until 10 years later that the creation of an international convention to protect endangered species was signed ( C.I.T.I.E.S.) forcing nations to control and restrict the sale of such materials.  The purpose of this treaty was to prevent the continued depletion of certain precious materials but at the same time allow for the continued consumption of existing stock.  Thus, each legitimate business which had inventory of a protected substance would register the amount of stock and provide certificates with each sale showing the amount sold and the origin of that stock.

When I purchased the Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia negra) for my Louis Philippe tables from Patrick George, I got papers which certified it was harvested in Brazil in 1952.  Mr. George indicated on my papers the actual amount of wood and, at the same time, reduced that amount from his list of legal stock.  In theory, each dealer who maintained stock of these endangered materials would reduce their inventory lists until they were depleted, at which time there would no longer be any stock.

The same process was used with the ivory material I consumed for the jewel cabinet.  I purchased the blanks from David Warther, and was given a certificate authenticating the ivory as pre-C.I.T.I.E.S.  I included this certificate with the sale of the cabinet for the protection of the owner in the future.

I watch in dismay as each day brings news of the elimination of rhinos and elephants from the face of the earth due to illegal poaching.  Obviously the efforts to legislate the control of horns and tusks has had little effect on their activities, unless it is to raise the value of their horrible trade in other markets.  I cannot express the feelings I have when I see tons of illegal ivory being destroyed by countries to make a point.  I feel the same way when I see antique pianos being crushed by tractors in the dump, with no effort to salvage the ivory, ebony or rosewood materials they contain.

Let me make a simple observation about efforts to control endangered species by contrasting two materials: tortoise shell and rosewood.  People harvest sea turtles because the meat is a food and they taste great (so I read; I have no desire to sample sea turtle).  Thus, if the shell is no longer valuable, people continue to harvest the turtles, eat the meat, and then throw the shell back in the ocean.  On the other hand, in Brazil where the rubber tree is a valuable item, natives make every effort to protect the rubber tree from destruction.  By making the rosewood tree illegal to harvest, and therefore not valuable, there is no protection for the trees that have survived,  and acres of ancient forest are systematically burned to open up land for farming, with no regard to the species of trees destroyed.

What if the rosewood tree was worth thousands of dollars?  What would change?  Would the forests be saved and managed or would the tree just be cut down and sold and then the rest of the forest would be burned as before? Does international legislation have any effect on a farmer with a match?

I do understand that C.I.T.I.E.S. has had a profund and positive effect on managing the international trade of certain materials, but only among those nations who fully support its mission.  For example, in the past year America has proposed and adopted more specific legislation regarding the control of ivory, and this year similar bills have been proposed in California (AB96).  More information can be found here:Ivory Education Institute

As a professional conservator in private practice for the past 45 years, I have collected a good supply of ivory, tortoiseshell, Cuban mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, and many other materials which are currently listed on the C.I.T.I.E.S. list.  All of this material was purchased years before there was any concern with their ownership, and I have no records to prove that I purchased them legally.  Only the materials purchased since the passage of restrictive legislation have certificates.  My business is restoration of objects of art which contain similar materials and that is how I use them.

More and more the decision to use these materials is causing a serious dilemma for me.  It is not clear to me what the future holds for collectors of antiques which often contain precious materials.  Do I use a piece of tortoise shell to restore a missing element in a Boulle clock?  Should I use a scrap of an ivory piano key to make a missing key plate?  How about a scrap of Cuban mahogany veneer being recycled to restore a Georgian card table?  I cannot bring myself to substitute plastic filler or paint and putty to make such repairs, as is more and more the case these days.

I decided to sit down and post these thoughts today since the possibility that all objects which contain ivory will loose their value is a serious concern.  A good example of this is the work of Aaron Radelow.  Aaron is a young furniture maker who I have known for some time.  I first met him when I was the Superintendent of the Design in Wood Show at the Del Mar Fair.  His work was always large, massive and complicated to assemble.  I suggested that he focus more on smaller designs with more detail and "finesse".  He subsequently attended classes at my school where he discovered French marquetry.  During one of these classes I mentioned that the ivory table in the J. Paul Getty collection was perhaps the finest example of work I had seen, and that it had never been copied.  His response was that he would make a copy, and I was quick to dampen his spirits.  I pointed out that it was "iconic" and a "masterpiece" like the Mona Lisa, and that it was "sacred" or some other crap.

Well, he did it.  He spent several years in research, consulted with Brian Considine at the Getty, purchased thousands of dollars of legal ivory and horn and figured out how to do it.  Not only did he succeed in making and exact copy of the original table, he also produced the counter part, which has never existed.  Both of his tables were here in my shop for several weeks as my partner, Patrice Lejeune applied the French polish, so I had a good chance to examine the work.  In my opinion these tables are equal to the original in every respect, and even Dr. Pierre Ramond wrote that they were unique in his experience.

More information on how he was able to produce these pieces is here: Making The King's Furniture

Now the problem:  After thousands of hours of work by a very talented craftsman, using legal materials, what is their value?  How do you recognize this achievement and where will they end up?  When he started work on this project he had every expectation that they would be worth a lot of money, and in my opinion, they are nearly priceless.  However, due to subsequent legislation they may end up as illegal or certainly difficult to sell.

Here is a photo of his tables on either side of the original in the J. Paul Getty Museum:

Radelow, Gole, Radelow

What does the future hold for these and other great works of Art?