An Overview of Weave on Antique Hickory Furniture


old hickory woven settee

A significant dimension of the appeal of certain antique hickory seating, beds and accessories is their woven surfaces. This article provides a brief pictorial overview of the various types of materials and patterns that hickory furniture makers originally used for woven seats, backs and panels.

Weave Materials

Hickory furniture manufacturers used four major materials for weaving from the early 1900s through the 1950s.

1. Hickory bark. The inner bark of hickory trees was the earliest material used on woven hickory furniture in the first decades of the 20th century.  Often the margins of the hickory bark strips on early furniture are wavy and irregular.

hickory bark weave

There was a resurgence of the use of hickory bark in the 1940s-1950s. The edges of the later hickory bark weave were more even than the earlier hickory bark strips, perhaps reflecting the use of improved cutting tools.

woven hickory bark seat

2. Rattan cane. Quarter round strips of Asian rattan cane with a smooth, glossy surface became the preferred weave material of hickory furniture manufacturers in the 1930s.

rattan cane weaving

Although not common, some hickory furniture was woven with a mixture of rattan cane and hickory bark:

mixed rattan and hickory weave

3. Reed.  Flat reed, which is made from the inner core of the rattan palm, came into use for weaving hickory furniture in the 1920s.

This example of woven flat reed has a thick layer of applied glossy finish which masks the texture of the reed:

woven flat reed

Below is an example of woven flat reed that has a thinner overcoat, so its fibrous texture is more visible:

woven half round reed

4. Fiber splint, also called Simonite (named after Luther A. Simons, the owner of Columbus Hickory Furniture Company who is credited with inventing it) was made from wood fiber. It was introduced in the late 1930s when it was hard for U.S. importers to get rattan from Japan and China while they were at war with one another in the years leading up to World War II.

woven fiber splint

A few additional materials that sometimes turn up on original hickory furniture are twine, used only on footstools, and nylon webbing, which was used on limited production designs in the 1940s-50s.

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Bears Hooked Rug


bears hooked rug

For as long has there has been a market for antique American folk art, hooked rugs have been a strong category within it.  Many excellent examples are documented in the 1985 book American Hooked and Sewn Rugs: Folk Art Underfoot by Joel and Kate Kopp.  Hooked rugs that were made for simple household comfort by women who were not formally trained as artists were nonetheless often imbued with artistic expression. Such rugs have always appealed to us, and we have bought and sold many over the years.

The types of hooked rugs we’ve owned fit within three general categories of design: floral, geometric, and figural – meaning that they depict objects such as animals, houses or landscapes. Each category can be further divided as originating from a pattern or from the hooker’s own design.

floral hooked rug
Floral hooked rug
geometric hooked rug
Geometric hooked rug
owls hooked rug
Figural hooked rug

The two bears rug which we are currently offering for sale is an example of an original design figural hooked rug.  It is made of wool fabric strips, measures 53″ wide by 25″ high, and has been mounted on a frame for hanging.

bears hooked rug

The scene shows two bears, an adult and a cub, exploring a fallen tree in the forefront of a hilly landscape at sunrise.  Given how the bears seem to be intently focused on the tree stump, perhaps the creator imagined them raiding a bee hive within it.  The larger bear’s honey-colored, lolling tongue reinforces this impression.

The creator of this circa 1940 rug used two approaches to address the challenge of giving the scene some three-dimensionality despite the limitations of the medium of wool and the technique of hooking.  The first is through the use of color to convey how light falls on contours and illuminates a single color in different shades.  This is accomplished for instance with the gray undersides and the multi-colored coats of the bears, the vertical stripes in the standing tree trunk, and the variety of patterned colors within the background hills.

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Fakes and Forgeries: Fiction Not Far From Fact


Our winter reading of novels, memoirs and trade papers loosely coalesced recently around the themes of fakes, forgeries, thefts and high-stakes collecting.  Although those are not exactly pleasant topics for antiques dealers to ponder, it is wise to be cognizant of them.  So our musings this month meander from one reading source to another to present the reflections they inspired.

The Unwelcome Reality of Fakes

Any antiques dealer who has been in the business for more than a few days has encountered fakes, forgeries, or reproductions that are passed off as being old. You learn quickly how to discern such things and what to be suspicious of (if it is too good to be true…), especially after being burned by finding out that something you’ve purchased with hard-earned money turns out to be worthless in the antiques trade.  A dealer colleague used to quip about lessons learned from buying a fake: “It is cheaper than a college education.” But paying dearly for credit hours in the school of hard knocks is not a winning business strategy. Thankfully, once you develop a field of specialization in the antiques trade, you don’t often get fooled.

In our field we are more likely to run into contemporary items that were made as reproductions, than to encounter fakes or forgeries that are purposely made to deceive. For instance, root burl and birch bark clad furniture pieces made in China for the decorative market (“Chinarondack”) turn up at flea markets, antiques fairs, auctions and galleries where they are being marketed as antiques, usually with the non-specialist who owns or represents them being none the wiser about their origin or age.

Thankfully, reproductions that compete with the antiques we sell are usually so off-kilter in their design and materials (e.g., the chunk-a-lunk “canoe paddles” sold as wall décor in home furnishing catalogs) that they are easy to discern as new. But just a few weeks ago, a dealer whom we respect as a specialist in 19th century formal furniture offered us a great-at-first-glance trade sign advertising a variety of boats for rent.  He doesn’t deal much in signs, but thought of us when he saw this one. Close examination revealed that it was at most 10-20 years old, not 100 years old as he was led to believe. It was a reproduction of Victorian-era signage, probably manufactured by a decorative retail company. We had actually seen another sign of the same design once before in the booth of a nautical dealer at an antiques show, and then later in the home of a collector who had purchased it from that dealer. On both encounters we looked it over carefully, so when the design surfaced again recently our past experience helped us steer clear of it.

But in the fine art market where paintings can sell for millions of dollars, forgery is a high crime that requires more than a trained naked eye to detect. A recent novel, The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2013) explores that fascinating world.


The author crafts a fictional, fast-paced tale around a factual incident – the 1990 heist of 13 valuable works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  She weaves together three time and character strands within the novel – the present day life and fateful encounters of a struggling artist named Claire who is painting legitimate reproductions for a living, a tragic love relationship in the recent past of this artist, and the imagined distant past life of Isabella Stewart Gardner in which her encounters with Degas in France are communicated via letters written to her niece between 1890-98.

Shapiro had plenty of source material for the details of art forgery that she builds her plot upon.  Both the art techniques and the marketing strategies of infamous real-life forgers such as the American immigrant Ely Sakhai (b. 1952) and the Dutch citizen Han van Meegeren (1889-1947) are described in the book.  As Claire, the main character and narrator of the novel, forges a (fictional) Degas stolen from the Gardner Museum, she relies particularly on the intricate processes that van Meegeren used when forging Old Master paintings, such as one that he sold to the Nazis during WWII as an authentic Vermeer.  And like van Meegeren, who had to paint in front of a panel of experts to exonerate himself from the crime of treasonous dealings with the Nazis, Claire, too, is forced to show her painting techniques to experts, not once but twice – to gain the acclaim due to her in one case, and to prove her innocence in another.

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Old Hickory One-Drawer Stand


Every so often we still acquire a piece of hickory furniture that we had seen pictured in vintage catalogs, but had yet to find on the market.  This little stand had caught our eye in the 1935 Old Hickory Furniture Company catalog because it is one of just a few Old Hickory end and side table designs that included a drawer.  We are pleased to finally have an example of this particular form to offer for sale.

Old HIckory one-drawer stand

This stand was produced within a special series of furniture introduced in 1935 that mixed hickory pole frames with distressed pine which, as the catalog relates, “lends its mellow charm to most cases and tables.” To increase the pine’s mellow surface character, workers at the Old Hickory factory distressed (or “antiqued”) the soft wood using chains and nails to impart the impression of a history of use.

Old Hickory one-drawer stand

The physical design of the pine and hickory furniture series also had a historical character, reflecting consumers’ interest in Colonial revival forms during the 1930s.  An entertaining sales pitch and aesthetic rationale for these designs was spelled out in the introduction to the 1935 Old Hickory catalog:

The files of Early Americana and a wide observation in the peasant districts of Europe have afforded many inspirations for the quaint, authentic and ‘true to type’ patterns shown in Old Hickory’s new groupings of rustic furniture…The details of a century-gone craftsmanship, the homely old materials, rope, leather, pine, square-headed nails, have all been faithfully used…There is, in these new patterns, relief from the jangle of cities and the standardized forms of today so wearisome to nerves and eyes.  They carry you back to wind-swept prairies, deep primeval forests, and last and best of all, the men and women who faced this wilderness, axe in hand, with which to new a home.

Some of the designs introduced in the 1935 Old Hickory catalog do imitate true colonial furniture that was built by 17th and 18th century American settlers in New England.  This hutch (historically called a dresser) for example, pictured on page 28 of the catalog, is modeled after 17th and 18th century American dressers that had open shelves above and drawers and doors below.

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Not Obsolete: Five (Plus Two) Popular Old-fashioned Furnishings for Rustic Retreats


We recently came across a blog post listing ten furniture pieces that, in the opinion of the author, are becoming extinct in the wake of modern lifestyles, technologies and tastes – including TV cabinets, roll-top desks, and water beds. This spurred our thinking about how furniture changes with the times – not just the era-specific styles (e.g., ornate Louis XIV or spare mid-century modern) reflected in furniture design, but also the actual pieces of furniture that in some time periods are more central to daily life than in others. Curio cabinets and ferneries were particularly well-suited to Victorian hobbies and décor, whereas sectional sofas and mudroom storage cubbies are popular today.

Much of the antique furniture we sell, however, is placed in rustic retreats where families consciously lead a more relaxed and simpler lifestyle that provides a respite from the normal bustle and patterns of modern everyday life.  So along with rustic versions of the basics that are desirable furnishings in any modern home – dining tables and chairs, upholstered chairs, rocking chairs, sofas, console tables, lamps, mirrors and the like – rustic homes often include types of furniture that harken back to earlier eras.  Here are five such pieces that prove to be ever popular for rustic retreats:

1. Game tables.  Card games and jigsaw puzzles typically happen during leisure hours with family members of all ages. There is not always room in our primary homes to dedicate a table surface to a jigsaw puzzle in progress, but having a table that is always available for and well suited to holding puzzles, board games and card games is a priority in many vacation retreats.

Habitant game table
Old Hickory game table

2. Porch gliders. Nothing quite evokes an idyllic rustic lifestyle like whiling away an evening gently gliding to and fro on a porch with a view of nature.  Rustic gliders, especially versions with seat springs and cushions, are sometimes used as indoor sofas as well.

old hickory upholstered glider
Old HIckory glider

3. Coat trees. In more formal homes, outdoor coats typically reside in a hall closet.  But free-standing coat trees, developed when houses did not have commodious closets, get a lot of use in rustic homes – in bedrooms for a favorite flannel shirt and wool sweater, in bathrooms for towels and robes, and near doors for sunhats and fishing caps, binoculars and creels, jackets and rain slickers.

rustic hall trees
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Owl Bookends


owl bookends

These bookends fit within several categories of collectibles, each with its own world of variation:  figural cast iron, bookends, and owls.  For our audience interested in rustic décor, it is more likely the owl form that will have primary appeal, with their value as uncommon vintage cast iron figures in excellent condition, as well as their usefulness as bookends, being secondary attractions.

owl bookends

For collectors of figural cast iron such as bookends and door stops, condition and rarity are important attributes. These bookends (6” high, 4.25” wide, 2.25” deep) retain their pristine original surface, painted in shades of yellow, green, brown, silver and black.

owl bookends

 The form is a stylized owl rather than a portrayal of a particular species – it captures the essence of owl anatomy including large, forward-facing eyes, a facial disk with shortened feathers, and an upright posture.

(Barred owl photo from

These owl bookends are attributed to the Albany Foundry Co. which was located on Van Rensselaer Island in the Hudson River opposite the city of Albany, NY.  The Albany Foundry was in production from 1897-1932, and these bookends date from circa 1925. The foundry’s model number 79 is stamped on the back bottom edge of one of the owls.

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A Snowy Owl Irruption


It has been an exciting early winter for bird watchers here in Maine and elsewhere in the Northeast, along the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the Great Lakes region, due to a plethora of Snowy Owl visitors.  For our final Musings entry of the year, we are delving further into the owl theme introduced in this month’s Featured Find.

snowy owl

Every so often birds that normally live year-round in the Arctic make their way south in large numbers during the winter months.  This past summer researchers reported high breeding productivity among Snowy Owls in the Arctic.  Their primary food source – the lemming – was plentiful, so adult owls laid as many as 8-9 eggs, about twice their usual clutch size.  But when the hordes of hatchlings became hungry adolescents later in the season they started to disperse southward, presumably in search of more abundant food supplies.

Since Snowy Owls actively hunt during the day and prefer wide-open, tundra-like expanses such as salt marshes, sand dunes and hay fields, they are relatively easy to spot.  When we’ve seen them in past winters, however, it has been across an expanse of estuary where even through a spotting scope they appeared miniscule.

But we recently had the pleasure of watching a Snowy Owl for an extended length of time from only 30’ away.  This was in Biddeford Pool, Maine, an old settlement along a large tidal pool at the mouth of the Saco River in southern Maine, where as many as ten Snowy Owls have been seen at a time this winter. The one we viewed was sitting on the arm of an Adirondack chair, no less.  We were mesmerized gazing through binoculars at its large yellow eyes and swiveling head.  Since we had neglected to bring a camera, we only got a poor cell phone photo taken from a respectful distance, so you’ll have to use your imagination to turn the blob on the right arm of the middle chair into a magnificent Snowy Owl.

snowy owl

Thankfully, other birders at Biddeford Pool and nearby areas have gotten much better pictures of the resident owls.

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Rare Indiana Hickory Steamer Chair


Hickory steamer chair

This hickory chair evokes the leisure lounging of passengers on the deck of a steamship, yet it is much sturdier than traditional steamer chairs which typically had light open cane weave or flat slats on the seat and back, and thin, collapsible mahogany frames.  In contrast, this chair has a sturdy hickory pole frame with solid double stretchers along its length, and a tight herringbone weave rattan cane seat and back.  It does, however, have the basic shape of a steamer chair with a long leg rest and a slightly inclined back rest, as seen in this vintage photo of passengers relaxing aboard a steamship.

passengers in steamer chairs
Photo postcard available on eBay

Despite Indiana’s proximity to the Great Lakes where passenger steamers were a popular means of transportation from the 1890s through the 1940s, these heavy hickory chairs would not have been manufactured with steamships in mind.  This circa 1930 ad for an Old Hickory steamer chair indicates that a more likely target audience for these chairs was institutions such as sanitariums, hospitals, hotels and resorts.


The heyday of early hickory furniture manufacturing from the early 1900s through the 1940s coincides with the establishment of sanitariums for nurturing tuberculosis sufferers, from about 1890 through 1943 (when streptomycin was discovered and used to treat TB).  In fact, during this era Martinsville, Indiana itself had built a number of health sanitariums and resort hotels where guests would visit for mineral bath treatments (see “A History of the Old Hickory Chair Company and the Indiana Hickory Furniture Movement” by Ralph Kylloe, 2002).

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Room Design Tools for Placing Antiques, Part 2


This article is a follow-up to my previous posting on a quest for design software that could easily be used to place footprints of unique antique furniture in two-dimensional room schematics.  While the previous software I reported on fell short of ideal, I have recently found a more useful tool.

It has become common for mega home furnishings stores to provide an on-line tool that allows customers to place footprints of their products in a diagram specified to the size and shape of their own rooms.  But many of these tools only allow a user to insert furniture of the exact dimensions of the products the company sells, so are not adaptable for people wanting to try out unique antique furniture in a virtual room setting.  One tool used by these stores, however, is much more flexible, because it provides templates of generic furnishing (sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and the like) whose exact dimensions a user can specify.  It is room planner software developed by Icovia which different companies customize with their own logos and homepages, but the inner functioning across all of the stores’ applications are the same.

I tried this software as provided by Ballard Designs (download the free app at by first creating an accurate dimensional outline of a recently renovated room in our home that we are ready to furnish.  Although I first tried to use the tool as an app on a mobile device (an iPad) I found that it lacked some key features that function on a standard desktop or laptop computer, which I suspect has to do with Flash not being functional on iPads.

Once I got going with this app on my pc, however, it was quick and fun to use.  I created a diagram of our 34’ x 14’ library, and moved walls to create the fireplace, bow window and entry doors to their actual dimensions.

room layout
room layout

From here, I could begin to play with inserting furniture into the layout using the app’s Furniture Menu.

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Large-scale Birch Bark Canoe Model


Native American birch bark canoe models that were made in the 1800s to early 1900s were accurate replicas of a tribe’s full-size birch bark canoes.  The scholarly book titled The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard I. Chapelle (Smithsonian Institution, 1964) has numerous detailed drawings and descriptions of traditional birch bark canoes and their construction.  The authors document the characteristics of many different tribes’ canoes, which makes it possible to attribute a birch bark canoe model to a particular tribe.

birch bark canoe model

This early 20th century model has the shape and characteristics of an Abnaki canoe. The Abnaki Indians included some Malecites and Penobscots, as well as members of southern and central New England tribes including those in New Hampshire and Vermont.  Eventually this group settled on the St. Francis River in Quebec, so Abnakis were also known as St. Francis Indians.

The various tribes making up the Abnaki group each had its own traditional style of canoes, but by the 1850s when they were living together in settlements along the St. Francis River they produced distinctive canoes that were an amalgam of different tribes’ designs.  Known for their excellent quality, these canoes sold well to sportsmen who used them for hunting and fishing.

Abnaki birch bark canoe
Fisherman and guide in a St. Francis Abnaki canoe (Adney & Chapelle)

Birch bark canoes were made from the outside in, starting with a sheet of birch bark spread out on the ground so that the interior of the tree bark became the exterior of the canoe.  If more than one piece of bark was needed, pieces were stitched together and the seams sealed with softwood pitch, which is visible along the seams in our canoe model:

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