Q: I have this sideboard I am trying to identify. I have been told it is “Early American,” “Georgian” and one other thing I do not remember. It is 61 inches long, 18 inches deep and 361/2 inches high. The top is red leather trimmed with embossed gold, as well as oval glass convex mirrors on the front. My mother gave it to me years ago, but she is now gone and I never asked for the details. Any assistance you can provide would be appreciated.
A: There is a great deal to like about this piece. The gold convex oval mirrors are an unusual touch, and the long “carved” feather detail between the doors and the display shelves is a rather nice embellishment. Unfortunately, upon close inspection, we do not feel that this piece is an antique (over 100 years old).
“Sideboards” can be traced back to medieval times, when they were used for storage and to create a splashy display of silver and glass. In a work titled Direction to Servants, which was written in the 1730s, it is suggested that the servants set up the glassware near the edge of the sideboard.
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The idea was to place the breakables close to the edge so they “will cast a double Lustre, and make a much finer figure, and the consequences can be at most the breaking of half a dozen, which is a trifle in your master’s pocket.” Initially, sideboards may have been small cupboards, called “court cupboards,” kept in a bedroom for the storage of food and drink that might be needed for refreshment during the night.
When Thomas Chippendale designed a sideboard in the 1760s, it was just a fancy table used for arranging meals in the dining room, but by the mid-18th century, drawers had been added to sideboards that were made on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The two terms mentioned in P. H.’s letter, “Early American” and “Georgian,” do not mean much in this instance. “Early American” may refer to U.S. colonial-era furnishings, but this is more an out-of-fashion decorating term than a descriptive expression that means something specific.
“Georgian,” on the other hand, refers to furniture made in England during the reign of one of the 18th and early 19th century English kings using the name “George” (i.e. Kings George I, II, III and IV). But the piece belonging to P. H. is really a sort of mishmash of Georgian and English Regency styles that is more a mongrel than a purebred.
The red leather top with its gold embossing is a feature that we associate with 20th century furniture (1930s to 1960s), and an antique piece would not have display shelves on the sides. The gold convex mirrors in the doors are very unusual, and we do not believe that we have ever seen this embellishment on a sideboard.
In short, we believe this sideboard is no older than 60 to 75 years. Still, the embossed leather top, the mahogany wood used to make the case and the ornamentation make this a piece that modern homeowners would find both useful and attractive. For insurance purposes, this piece should be valued in the $600 to $750 range.
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.