Q: I am looking for information about a set of chairs I purchased a few years ago. They were found in a barn, covered with layers of dust, and the owners sold them to me. The seats appear to have been recovered at some point. One is a captain's chair, and there are five others without arms. There is a paper label on one that reads, "Square Brand, Burlington, Iowa." I would like to know when these were made and their monetary value.
A: Sets of chairs can be very attractive to buyers looking for something old that is also useful. We applaud you for looking past the dust and the grime and seeing something that can be cleaned up a bit and used as an attractive addition to a modern home.
The chairs were probably manufactured in the 1930s, so they are not yet "antique." They are a 20th-century interpretation of several different styles from the past. We see "melon" spacers taken from Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture that have been shrunken to anemic swellings on the legs. We also see back splats derived from Queen Anne pieces, only these are not nearly as gracefully silhouetted.
These chairs were once part of a larger dining room suite that had a table and a matching china cabinet plus buffet and maybe even a silver chest. But the history of the company of the chairs really starts with a writer and politician named G.M. Todd and a dentist named H. Bailey, who formed H. Bailey and Co. in Burlington, Iowa, in 1866.
Over the next two decades, the company went through several partnerships and name changes, but in 1875, Henry W. Chittenden became part of the company. In 1880, the company introduced the Square Brand mattress, which was advertised as being the "cleanest, most healthful, most luxuriant mattresses ever made."
The company also made furniture. It is said they were big with the covered wagon trade going west through Burlington, which was just across the Mississippi from Gulfport, Ill. In 1882, Chittenden was the only surviving partner. The company name became H.W. Chittenden until Edward P. Eastman became a partner in 1883, forming Chittenden and Eastman, which made Square Brand furniture until 1982.
Chittenden and Eastman also produced upholstered furniture using the Perma-Rest and Permalux brand names. They issued hardcover product catalogs that included goods such as fabrics, bird cages, ironing boards, vacuum cleaners and myriad other items. Crittenden and Eastman gave copies of their catalogs to the Burlington public library, and you might contact the reference department and have them check the various catalogs for the chairs (be sure and send photos and any style numbers found on them).
As a general rule, chairs such as these have a wholesale value of around $50 per chair, but for insurance replacement purposes they should be valued in the $500 to $750 range for the set.
Q: I purchased this boxed set of six pairs of cutlery (six knives, six forks) in England around 1986 at an antiques store in Sheffield. It is sterling silver with hallmarks and pearl handles. The hallmarks are on the blades. I was told at the time this was a fish set used for eating the fish course. Can you tell me about this type of set and what mine might be worth?
A: Dinner could often be a formal affair in many upscale British homes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To begin, the table might have been set with very fancy place plates that were whisked away when the hors d'oeuvres were served. This part of the formal meal was served on a more utilitarian, course-specific plate, which in some instances was placed atop the service or place plate.
After this came the fish course. With this portion of the meal, fish plates might have been laid down, and the star of the course would have arrived on a special platter designed just to hold the fish. There would have been a matching sauce boat, and vegetables might have accompanied the aquatic offering, sometimes in a matching tureen. There might also have been bone dishes at each place to accommodate these pesky obstructions to eating.
With the special plates, platter, sauce boat, bone dishes and tureens would have come specialized utensils. These so-called "fish sets" might have had handles made from ivory, bone, celluloid, sterling silver or silver plate. The blades of the knives were almost always silver-plated on nickel or some white metal to withstand the wear they would receive.
The handles of your set are most certainly mother of pearl, but the blades are clearly marked "EP," which means they were electroplated. There may be sterling silver ferrules between the handles and the blades, but we could not see a sterling mark in the photographs.
The sets are rather commonly found even in the United States, and most complete sets are service for 12. Many (not all) come with a large, fancy, broad-bladed fish knife and matching large fork to facilitate moving portions from the serving platter to the individual plates. We feel your set is only a partial set, and originally, there may have been at least six more knives and six more forks in the box.
To conclude a formal meal, there would have been a main course after the fish, followed by a salad course (simple greens and a vinaigrette), a cheese course (in Britain served with fruit and condiments) and a sweet dessert course, all served with specialized utensils and dinnerware. Your six fish forks and six fish knives with the box are worth no more than $100 to $150 at retail.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.