Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Locating Antique Furniture Parts

QUESTION: I have a Chippendale/Mahogany bookcase/secretary that is missing a finial. Do you have any idea where I can locate one?

ANSWER: Finding parts for pieces of antique furniture can be a quest in itself. But before you decide to restore a piece, you first have to know how old it is. A piece of furniture dating before 1830 is considered a fine antique. As such, it has special rules for restoration. First, you cannot replace more than 60 percent of it without it being declassified as an antique. Replacing anything on it will definitely lower the value. In fact, doing any sort of restoration usually hurts the value, unless it’s to restore the integrity of the piece.

Restoring furniture made after 1830 is another matter. As time goes on, even pieces dating from the mid-19th century will be scrutinized closer when it comes to restoration. However, generally the fine antique crowd tends to avoid anything Victorian, looking upon it as used furniture. Replacing parts and restoring a piece of Victorian furniture can actually enhance its value. But the replacement has to be of the finest quality and the restoration done right.

The person who asked the question above didn’t signify when her bookcase/secretary was made. If it were an authentic 18th-century Chippendale piece, replacing that finial would have to be done by a professional cabinetmaker and restorer. This could cost several thousand dollars, but when the piece may be worth half a million in the first place, that’s a drop in the antique bucket. The cabinetmaker or joiner would have to hand-carve the missing finial to create an exact match to the original.

If–and that’s a BIG if–a replacement could be found from an identical bookcase/secretary, that would also work. But since 18th-century cabinetmakers all customized details like finials on their pieces, the chance of finding one is a million to one. The only way to make sure is to find a bookcase/secretary from the same cabinetmaker that’s beyond restoration and use it for parts.

On the other hand, if the piece were from a later period, and I’m guessing it is, it may be possible to find a finial floating around in a antique or junk shop. But you can’t just go to a home center and pick one off the shelf.

The first place to start looking is in antique shops that specialize in selling furniture. This could take years of browsing. But parts have been known to service in the least possible places.

You can also turn to a cabinetmaker who specializes in making replacement parts for furniture. This, again, could cost a bit since each part has to be handcrafted and that takes time.

Finally, there area a number of places on the Internet to find replacement parts. A lot of them sell mostly replacement hardware, but some, like Don’s Furniture Clinic and Antique Furniture Repair and Refinishing, do make parts to order. McLean’s Refinishing, of Bogart, Georgia,
stocks old furniture parts and has access to reproduction and replacement parts.

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