The smart collector: Demand usually low for old oak pieces

2013-06-23T00:00:00Z The smart collector: Demand usually low for old oak piecesDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Q: This old oak rocker was painted black. I had it stripped. How can I sell it? It's marked "Wisconsin Chair Co." and "1896."

A: This query marks a first for me! Instead of a photo or image, the reader sent a hand-drawn ballpoint ink rendition of his chair. He's some artist! I doff my hat to you, sir.

Oak furniture was a booming industry in America in the 1870s and '80s, and even beyond, as factories churned out quantities of goods for a growing middle class.

Output spanned several design periods. Solid or veneered oak was used for clock cases to sewing machine tables, massive carved dining tables, office and home furniture and yes, rocking chairs.

Given an orange shellac finish, the wood became "golden oak." Some pieces are highly carved with animal head embellishments, scrollwork, carved arms, etc.

Some products were of good design, others clunky mass-produced utility ware. There are still enough of both types around that collectors can be picky when they buy. Smart collectors know that good design and top condition always sell best.

As with all antiques, the market in golden oak furniture is cyclical. Certain pieces, notably boxy iceboxes, were hot around the 1970s-'90s. Today, oak is a hard sell unless the piece is remarkable.

Without a look at the actual item, we can't assess things like size, overall condition, if the chair is solid or veneer, wear on the rockers, etc.

The chair seems to have a pressed back, but design is not shown. It matters.

What we can make out is a rolled seat, where the front edge of the seat (behind the sitter's knees) rolls under. That, combined with a high back, indicates that the rocker may be of a type made for sturdy use and comfort. Many were quarter-sawed oak veneer, which is OK only if the plys have not warped.

I suggest that the reader check eBay and for results on comparable chairs. We saw prices everywhere from $25 to $250 for a rocker with a highly carved back.

To sell, eBay with local pickup is an option, as is Craigslist. Or try a local auction, but be careful. In a down market you don't want to place it with an auctioneer known for selling low just to move merchandise.

FYI: "Golden Oak Furniture: 4th Edition" by Velma Warren (Schiffer, $29.95) features color photos of almost 700 examples of all kinds.

Q: An aunt left me a 12-place setting of Noritake Rose China Pattern. I also have serving pieces. Value?

A: We've covered this before, but it bears repeating: Complete sets of vintage china are currently a very hard sell. There are exceptions, but this set is not one.

Here are the hard facts: Produced around 1945-48 during the Occupied Japan era, the reader's pattern features delicate raised floral embellishments and a gold rim.

Modern brides and homemakers go for dishwasher-safe, no-fuss plates in modern designs and shapes. Fancy means mix and match. They can't be bothered with high-maintenance "pretty" china.

Inheriting Grandma's china or a family set is another story. Sentiment is in. If or when pieces are missing, buyers turn to a replacement service to fill in the holes.

I suggest our reader cruise the Net for sale results on her pattern. On eBay, we found a cup and saucer sold for $9.99, a covered casserole for $24.99 and a fruit bowl for $1.99. Plates and a 57-piece set remained unsold.

The message is clear: What sells are frequently broken pieces bought to replace holes in an existing set. A perfect example is the casserole lid we found on sold on eBay two years ago for $22.49. Smart collectors know that lids break first.


Plastics used in jewelry are either natural or synthetic. Can you ID the natural plastics here: A: amber, B: gutta percha, C: Bakelite, D: casein, E: horn, F: Galalith, G: tortoiseshell, H: cellulose?

Answer: Nature made tortoiseshell, amber, horn - and insect secretions used in shellac.

Source: "Plastic Jewelry: 5th Edition," by Lyngerda Kelly and Nancy Schiffer (Schiffer, $19.99).

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos will not be returned.

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