Q: My parents bought this dining room set in Philadelphia when my dad was in medical school in the late 1950s. They bought it used and were told it was an antique and valuable — although I think they only paid $100 for it back then. I believe it is machine made. It appears to be Renaissance Revival in style and made of oak. Everything is all original and has not been refinished in my lifetime. Sadly one of the chairs has gone missing. So, can you tell me if it is worth hanging onto? Would the value of the pieces be greater together or separate?
V. P. E.
A: We enjoyed your letter and your excellent pictures, and want to answer one of your questions right off the bat: It is always best to keep a set together — be it a set of dinnerware, a set of vases (generally a pair), a set of sterling silver flatware, or an original set of furniture.
All too often we are asked to evaluate sets that have been broken up in the process of settling an estate, and invariably we have to tell the owner that the value of the set was greater than the sum of its parts. Few people want a service for 4 in dinnerware and a pair of vases is far more impressive (and valuable) than a single. So our advice is almost always to keep it together.
This suite of dining room furniture started out with 10 pieces — a china cupboard, a buffet (sometimes called a sideboard) a silver chest/carving stand, a table, a host’s chair with arms and five side chairs (or a hostess chair with arms and four side chairs). It appears that V. P. E. still has the china cabinet, buffet, silver chest, table, host’s chair, and we see 3 side chairs in the photograph.
This raises the questions, Is there another chair not shown in the photograph? Or are there two chairs missing instead of one? For the purpose of today’s answer we will assume that what is shown in the photos is what actually exists and that there is not a phantom fifth chair that is not shown.
Furniture tended not to come in sets until the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, manufacturers began making these 10-piece sets. Normally, customers did not have to purchase all 10 pieces — they could leave out the silver chest (and often did), or any other item that they either could not afford at the moment or did not fit into their dining room space. The idea was they could always fill in the set later).
Ten-piece dining room sets were manufactured in a number of locations around the United States, but many were made in Grand Rapids, Mich. The set belonging to V. P. E. is Jacobean Revival with its melon spacers on the legs and side columns and not Renaissance Revival, which is largely a Victorian substyle.
The refectory table with its pull-out leaves on either end is typical of this time and we feel the set was made circa 1925, plus or minus 10 years. We also feel that much of the wood seen on these pieces is a veneer and the pieces are not solid oak (it would be typical at this time for a furniture manufacturer to use several types of wood veneers on the surfaces of the better items they made).
As for the insurance value of this set, which is incomplete, but still very useable, we feel the set should be valued in the $3,500 to $4,500 range. But yes, the set would be very hard to sell because the tastes of the buying public have changed over the past decade or so and dining room furniture this formal has become largely a thing of the past.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.