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Published September 23, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Refinishing can revitalize worn furniture

Original finish on antique furniture is not always a plus. Sometimes the furniture is so worn and scarred, it is too unsightly for the living room. Should it be refinished?

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Original finish on antique furniture is not always a plus. Sometimes the furniture is so worn and scarred, it is too unsightly for the living room. Should it be refinished?

If it is a rare 18th-century piece, be sure to make a decision with the help of a furniture expert who likes antiques. A good refinishing job may add thousands to the value. A bad job adds nothing. If the furniture was made in the 19th, 20th or even 21st century, it could be refinished to fit in with the new furniture in your house or it could be given a new look.

Repainted wicker furniture, white-painted “cottage” furniture, round flip-top tables recently carved with a scalloped edge and armoires reworked into cabinets to hold a television set or sound system are sold at shops. No one is fooled by the new look, but the piece sells because it is useful and “fits in.”

Collectors consider these pieces attractive furniture, not antiques. At a Conestoga auction in Manheim, Pa., in June 2011, a blanket chest was up for sale. The description was “19th-century blanket chest having 20th-century polychrome paint.” The colorful paint was used to create geometric, heart and potted tulip designs – and the fake date of 1805. The chest was old, with dovetails, bracket feet and wrought-iron strap hinges. It brought $450, a fair price for a new-old chest. The paint made the chest desirable. We recommend a total change like this only if the original finish is beyond help and out of style.


Q: I have a very old blue and white patterned platter, 20 by 15½ inches, with flowers and vines around the edges. I was told it’s from my mother’s family. It has a scene in the center with one couple sitting and one couple standing by a lake. There is a church in the foreground and two castlelike buildings and mountains in the background. On the back it says “Columbia, W. Adams Sons.” Any idea what it’s worth? It’s not something I want to carry around for an estimate. It’s in excellent condition.

A: William Adams & Sons was founded in 1769 in Staffordshire, England. The company became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1966. From the 1820s to the 1860s, several Staffordshire potteries made dishes decorated with transfer-printed scenes. Collectors call the dishes “Romantic Staffordshire,” since the scenes are romanticized views. W. Adams & Sons made Columbia pattern dishes in about 1850. At least two other Staffordshire potteries also made patterns named Columbia. If your platter is large enough to hold a turkey, it would sell for $350 or more.

Q: I have a game called “Game of Dr. Busby” by J.H. Singer of New York. It’s in the original box with playing cards, spinner and directions. It was given to my late husband in 1952 when he was 2 years old. The woman who gave him the game was in her 80s and told my mother-in-law it was given to her by her grandmother. Does this game have any value?

A: J.H. Singer sold games and novelties from about 1890 until the early

1900s, when the company went out of business. Your “Game of Dr. Busby” was made in the early 1890s. Several companies made versions of the Dr. Busby game with different sets of cards. The original Dr. Busby game was designed by Anne Abbott and published by W. & S.B. Ives of Salem, Mass., in 1843. Abbott was an author and editor, as well as a designer of other games. Dr. Busby is considered the first card game made in the United States.

Q: I have a low bowl about 8 inches in diameter that is made of silver plate. It has a top that fits tightly, but the top is full of holes pierced in a pattern. What could it have been used for?

A: Could it be a flower container? In the late 1920s, low flower bowls were very stylish. You filled the bowl with water, put on the pierced lid, then poked short stemmed flowers into the holes until you had a large arrangement with none of the silver top showing. The silver bowls were made with or without a ring of silver that acted as feet. The ads for these “centerpiece bowls” said they were dual-purpose: to hold flowers or, without the lid, to serve fruit or salad. The largest of the containers were oval, about 17 inches in length. In 1927 this type of bowl cost $230. Because few people today understand the use of the pierced lid, this type of bowl sells for about what a bowl without the lid would bring.

Q: I have an upright scale that reads “Columbia Weighing Machine Co., New York.” It has a full mirror and a metal bracket at the top for pennies. There is a key for removing coins from the back. Can you tell me how old the machine is?

A: The Columbia Weighing Machine Co. was founded in Pittsburgh in 1902. The company moved to the Bronx about 10 years later. Columbia started making coin-operated scales with mirrors in 1922. The firm’s name became Columbia Scale Co. in 1930.


Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

- Jeannette Glass Co. juice glasses, Fine Rib pattern, footed, 1940s, 4 inches, set of four, $40.

- Royal Worcester bone china teapot, Bernina pattern, green vines and white flowers, marked, 5 by 9 3/4 inches, $60.

- Buffalo Sled Co. bank, celluloid over metal, two-sided, “Auto Wheel” brand toy wagons, “For Play or Profit,” white, round, red wagon on cover, 2 1/2 by 1/2 inches, $75.


For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website, www.kovels.com

Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any Kovel forum. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St.,

New York, NY 10019.

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