Asked on Mar 20, 2015

Antique dresser provenance

by Heather
I purchased this piece several years ago and had never considered painting it or anything until recently. I'd like to repurpose it for use as a kitchen island, but before I do that, I decided it was wise to make sure it isn't a really valuable antique. From the research I've done, I think it was made by Estey Manufacturing Co. of Owosso, MI and it was likely made between 1879 & 1905 due to the fact that it has Knapp joints on all corners of all 4 drawers. It also has a double-beveled top, a mixed serpentine & flat profile, and what I think is the model number stenciled onto the back, but no other markings. If anyone can help me out with this, I'd greatly appreciate it.
  25 answers
  • Marie Lyle Marie Lyle on Mar 20, 2015
    I used chalk paint for an old bedroom suite. Used an off white color, then a dark wax. The key to the wax was to use a very small amount. I dabbed brush in was and then would blot it on cardboard. This would take most of wax off. After I finished all pieces I went over it with a clear matte finish polyurethane.
  • Leigh Curtis Leigh Curtis on Mar 20, 2015
    its in such great shape! I love the wood. I would think it would have more value as an antique. if it were me I would probably refinish it and keep it the way it is. I would surely keep searching for provenance. Please keep us posted! Good Luck!
  • Swan Road Designs Swan Road Designs on Mar 20, 2015
    It's not a "valuable" antique. Many, many such pieces were made by countless furniture manufacturers in this country. It is oak and appears to have been refinished somewhere along the line. Unfortunately, the refinishing job wasn't the best but probably what the person at the time could do as their best. I can't really tell from the photos, but the hardware seems to be of the pressed metal variety rather than cast metal. In any event, it is lovely and I would caution against painting it. As a matter if fact, don't do anything to it. Just wash it with warm soapy water and dry with a soft cloth. The patina is part of what makes it beautiful. Yes, the top is serpentine and without seeing a photo of the drawers I'll take you word that they are assembled using Knapp joints, which are quite strong. Even though Charles Knapp developed this type of joinery, many other makers used the technique so I wouldn't necessarily restrict the dresser's birth to a Wisconsin manufacturer. Even though I'm not a huge fan of painting furniture, you will lose little by painting this piece. Have fun with it and enjoy it when you're done. It is well-constructed and should offer you many years of service. Don't you wish it could speak so you would know how it's lived from day #1 of its life
  • Heather Heather on Mar 20, 2015
    Thank you both for your comments! @30 results are available, use up and down arrow keys to navigate.Leigh Curtis, it IS in great shape and yet, I'm not fond of the finish on the drawers. It doesn't match the finish on the rest of the piece, and I think that's likely because of the veneer. Maybe I can just paint the drawer fronts & leave the rest as wood because it IS pretty and still in great shape. What's your thought on that idea? Truthfully, I'm not looking to sell it unless someone tells me it's worth a LOT more than I paid for it and it's not a family heirloom, so it doesn't have sentimental value. I do, however, respect the age of the piece and the fact that the factory it came from hasn't existed since about 1937.
  • Heather Heather on Mar 20, 2015
    @Swan Road Designs Thank you for your advice! I DO wish it could tell me where it's been & what it's seen. The reason I restricted the vintage of the piece to the time frame I did is because I read that one, Knapp joints became common in manufacturing around 1879 and were virtually obsolete by 1905 due to the emergence of machined dovetail joints. I narrowed the manufacturer down due to Estey is that I've seen several pieces online that have many of the same elements (albeit not the same finish, which makes sense if someone stained it darker at one point in time) and all of them have the beveled top, the half serpentine top drawers, and the stenciled model number on the back. Some of the others actually had the manufacturer's label still attached, although mine does not. It's not necessarily the stain that I dislike, it's the way it looks on the drawer faces. Again, it may be that the veneer wasn't properly prepared to receive the stain or that the veneer just wasn't very nice to begin with. Yes, the hardware is very lightweight and may very well be pressed metal. The escutcheons are wood, not brass, so that also points to it not being something of extraordinary monetary value.
  • Cherie Cherie on Mar 20, 2015
    I bought a dresser like this from a guy about 38 years ago ($60.00 for 2 pieces). I owned a tavern and put it in the back to work on as it was half-painted, the top was an embarrassment and it looked awful. As I worked with a mild stripper, one of the beer truck drivers came back to look at it - and offered me $300.00 on the spot for it just as it was!! I turned him down and never regretted it. It's very pretty and very old and holds all my husbands t-shirts, etc. today! Has not had a lick of paint since I cleaned it off and I get lots of compliments on it. It also has a mirror, but one of the legs to hold it up is broken so I put the mirror just on the wall above it. I would think yours may be a little bit valuable!
  • Cherie Cherie on Mar 20, 2015
    You could refinish just the drawers as it looks like someone did a poor job of refinishing. I doubt that the veneer is messed up! Homer Formby is what I eventually used only on my drawers as they weren't in as bad shape as the rest of it for some reason. So they still look like they have a little patina on them, unlike the top of mine. My nieces all want it willed to them!
  • It's not a valuable antique. They were mass produced around the turn of the century. That is made from quarter sawn oak, also known as tiger oak. During the milling process the wood was cut a different way to showcase that grain. Somewhere along the line someone did a very poor job of applying a clear coat or some kind of poly. You could use a stripper to remove everything down to the bare wood. Give it a light sanding and put a new coat of stain on it if you want. If you like natural, then use some tung oil. If you like paint, try some milk paint. It looks great on stripped, bare wood. Whatever you use or do, just know it's for you. The piece is not going in any museum. It would be like someone 100 years in the future finding one of our Ashley furniture pieces and wondering, "gosh, is this a valuable antique??" Uh, no. Do what your heart desires.
  • Heather Heather on Mar 20, 2015
    @Cherie & @Beth H. Makemeprettyagain.blogspot Thanks so much for your input! I really appreciate it. Beth, I did try sanding down the one drawer face & putting a coal of Minwax PolyColor on it and that didn't look good, either, so I just painted over it. The grain on the rest of the piece definitely looks nicer than the grain of the veneer for some reason, but what that reason is, I have no way of knowing. As has been mentioned, probably a poorly done stain job at some point in the past. Beth, what kind of grain do you think they were trying to emulate with the veneer? Any idea?
  • Meglindsay Meglindsay on Mar 20, 2015
    Since it is not valuable as is, I would paint it. Serpentine lines are very desirable in painted pieces and the drawer pulls are interesting. Suggest a french country, shabby chic or bohemian-style paint job. Check out examples of painted furniture in these styles on pinterest.
  • GLHF GLHF on Mar 20, 2015
    Before you paint it, I googled "Estey Furniture" and found a site showing a very similar piece by same company, flat front, with an Antique Appraisal valued at appx. 1800.00, two years ago. Estey started in 1871 and was located at Cass & Elm Sts. in Owosso, MI. They had very well constructed "premium" pieces, specializing in bedroom furniture. I have a furniture dealers catalog covering the 1920's, with Estey's page listing. It elaborates on their construction methods. Though your piece is earlier (1880-90 ish). I can try to send you the link if you want. I'm not saying yours is worth this much, but it is best to do more research before doing anything irreversible. If finish is original, may be a worn out shellac. Test with a small amount of denatured alcohol on a rag and rub to see if finish is lifted. Try to do this in a non-obvious area. The item that was appraised had white water marks on the top, but finish was in better shape overall. If yours is shellac, it would do this piece justice to use a new shellac finish after removing the old. Old shellac (as well as new) finishes are affected by humidity, extreme heat, cold as well as age, pollution, and where it was stored, etc. NO FINISH can compare to shellac to bring out the "fire" in wood grain. It makes it come alive. Poly, etc should never be used on antique pieces. One other thought, some wood grains were actually rolled on to "faux" a more dramatic/expensive grain look. If this is the case, then you would be removing the graining on the front drawers along with the shellac. Your front drawers have a very expensive grain look to them, a more expensive cut in the wood which produced a lot of waste. However, this practice was usually on cheaper pieces, used to deceive the consumer into thinking they were getting more than they actually were.
  • Heather Heather on Mar 21, 2015
    @Gilded-LilyHistoricalFinishes Please do send the link! I'd love to see it. I don't think the finish is original based on there being many drips inside from too much stain being applied. I think the piece is made of quarter sawn oak & I know that is definitely a more expensive (& wasteful) milling method. That grain look, I have verified, is a veneer that was applied to the front AND back of the drawers. Why it is on the inside of the drawer as well, I have no idea. Do you know? Thank you SO much for your help!!
  • GLHF GLHF on Mar 21, 2015
    One more thing regarding the Knapp joinery, in 1870, Mr. Knapp sold the rights to his invention to some investors. They in turn sold the machine under the name "Knapp Dovetailing Company" located in Northampton, Mass. By 1871, Furniture companies on the east coast mostly were using this machine to further speed production of their goods. Etsey Manufacturing started in 1871, out of Virginia. Not saying the piece is ca. 1871, but perhaps Etsey took the technology with him when the company moved to Michigan.
  • Cherie Cherie on Mar 21, 2015
    That's called curly oak! And it's a real piece of wood veneered onto the drawer. Mine has a straighter grain but I like yours a little better, I think.
  • Hope Williams Hope Williams on Mar 21, 2015
    I agree, it's not an antique per se. However, the runs of colored schlleac are proof of mass production. I see it all the time and it's usually thick too. Just lightly sand if painting, otherwise it will bleed through badly. If it bleeds through your first coat, it WILLBLEED through EVERY coat!
  • Hope Williams Hope Williams on Mar 21, 2015
    Let me add this; antique = 100 + years old. Otherwise it's considered vintage.
  • Elaine Elaine on Mar 21, 2015
    I am not a fan of painted furniture but it is your piece! I personally would clean it and use it unpainted. I think the wood grain is more beautiful than paint. But again, what do you like to look at every day?
  • Swan Road Designs Swan Road Designs on Mar 21, 2015
    We have several pieces in our home that are nearly identical to yours and I have a hunch that the drawers are solid wood rather than veneered. It's easy to determine if that's the case. Just pull out the drawers slightly and look at the top edge of the drawer fronts. If veneer has been applied, you will see a thin change in color along the entire length of the front, both top and bottom, and along the sides. A lesser secondary wood, such as poplar, would be used as the foundation when furniture has veneer applied to it. Poplar has almost no grain at all. If it is not veneered, you should be able to see the grain of the oak both front and back of the drawer faces. My late husband was as cabinetmaker and furniture restorer and we had many pieces like this in our shop. Looking at the photos of yours, even the back is oak, which leads me to believe the whole thing is oak.
    • See 1 previous
    • Cherie Cherie on Mar 21, 2015
      @Swan Road Designs I guess some were made with veneer and some without! Mine has no veneer but doesn't have the curly oak fronts either. And I know mine is solid oak. I love mine and wouldn't touch it!
  • Herman Tudor Herman Tudor on Mar 21, 2015
    It would be a crime to paint over quarter-sawn oak, in my opinion. Isn't most of your house painted already?
  • Mijackson48 Mijackson48 on Mar 21, 2015
    You have several options if you decide to paint it. 1) You could paint it on the bottom, and leave the top unpainted. This would give it a country farmhouse table look. 2) paint it all over with regular paint or chalk paint. Once painted, put on a soft, clear wax and buff it. This wax is intended for use on painted furniture. 3) Paint it with chalk paint or milk paint, distress it, then apply a soft dark wax to darken the color and age it a little. This technique is called 'antiquing'.
  • Teri Tripp-Lanciault Teri Tripp-Lanciault on Mar 21, 2015
    I have a VERY similar piece I bought at an antique shop 12 years ago that we made into a bathroom vanity. Since, I had found that using hairspray cut the finish on the top and fearing water damage, I had a slab of granite cut to fit the top (following the curves of the piece) It turned out beautiful and I get so many compliments on it.
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    • GLHF GLHF on Mar 23, 2015
      What a great option! I love the vanity...and no paint!! The original beauty of the piece shines. Wonderful job.
  • Cherie Cherie on Mar 21, 2015
    I have the mirror and it hangs on the wall above my dresser. What I don't have is the stand to affix it to the dresser - or I DO have the stand but one leg is broken and can't be fixed! I've been on the lookout for one since 1975 or so! Mine looks fine the way it is but I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to some things, and I guess this is one of those things! Crazy, huh? But I really love yours!
    • Teri Tripp-Lanciault Teri Tripp-Lanciault on Mar 21, 2015
      @Cherie Thanks again! Keep just never know when it will wind up in front of you at some old junk shop! Good luck!
  • GLHF GLHF on Mar 22, 2015
    Heather, follow me so I can msg you the link privately. thx.
  • GLHF GLHF on Mar 22, 2015
    Actually, Google Estey Furniture, should come up for you.
  • Carol Lander Carol Lander on Mar 22, 2015
    This is definitely a candidate for Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Google that and you will see so many ideas. Go to Pinterest and search for it. It's amazing paint - no sanding, stripping, no priming. Just decide the look and colors you want and do it!