|Walnut Philadelphia Chippendale Foot Standing on Wet Floor for Years|
I just returned from several days hiking in the mountains. I hiked a lot when I was young (50 years ago) and have decided to return to the activity again, now that I am still able. Outdoor gear is a big business, and, as I carefully explained to my wife, since I didn't have a boat or golf clubs, it was fine to spend some money on hiking equipment.
My first purchase was some very expensive old school leather hiking boots made in Italy. I love leather boots and this is my third pair in 50 years. They last about 15 years on average.
As I hiked this past weekend, I would pass other hikers on the trail and each time I would look at their feet. Their choice of boots and the condition of the boots told me all I needed to know about them. Some were new, some were worn out. Some were too big and some were just ridiculous and not appropriate for the trail.
My foot fetish is not limited to people. Most of the time I look at feet on antiques. In fact, it is always the first thing I examine when I see a new piece of furniture.
Think about it. Something which has "stood the test of time" has been in contact with the floor for centuries. Moving around the house. Often drug across rough floors. Standing in water or on wet bricks. Attacked by insects who like to bore into the piece from the bottom. Being kicked by human feet, or attacked by dogs. Broken and repaired or replaced by workmen with different degrees of skill. Being lost completely and replaced by something completely different than the original.
All of these things tell the story of the antique and help to confirm the age and origin of the object.
That is why I always turn a piece of furniture upside down and start my analysis from the bottom.
Currently I am restoring an English butler's bureau, made around 1780. I thought the feet were interesting and would like to share their history with you so you can have a chance to see how to read the clues like I do.
|Back of Bureau Showing Feet Brackets|
|Original Bracket after Old Repair|
|Replaced Bracket (19th Century) with Cut Nails|
|What Are The Clues?|
Lets look at the front foot.
Look more closely at the tool marks on the original foot.
|Completely Untouched After 250 Years|
|Important Evidence of Original Work|
Note that the patina is consistent from the front bracket to the glue block. Note the chisel marks on the original pine block. Note in particular how the rasp and saw marks left by the maker when he shaped the bracket foot are consistent across the glue block.
Compare with the other front foot.
|Second Front Foot|
|Band Saw Marks, Machine Made Screw, Cut Nails|
|Tool Marks Do Not Match|
|Original Bottom Boards Dovetailed Into Carcase|
|This Is What Human Labor Looks Like|
You can read every pass of the scrub plane as the worker cleaned up the saw marks. This is not a surface that would normally be seen so it is not essential to make it nice. 18th Century furniture was made in a hurry and at a low cost due to competition. Workers did not spend extra time on surfaces which were not visible to the client. This bottom shows the effort of a skilled cabinet maker to make a surface fairly flat and clean, and the patina of hundreds of years of household dirt and grime.
It would be nearly impossible to fake this surface. (I said "nearly")
This bureau, which has served an unknown number of owners over the years, is still standing proudly on its four feet. However, only two of the 8 original brackets remain from its birth. The fact that one of these brackets has never been repaired or removed is enough to prove its origins and date it to the last quarter of the 18th century.
That shoe has survived the long and winding road.