Once shunned, painted ladies of Americana prized


For the past quarter century dealers and collectors have acknowledging the importance and value of painted furniture as part of Americana and these objects have become a prize to collect.

Years ago, dealers in their zeal to sell would strip painted surfaces, thereby destroying many worthwhile specimens, stripping them of their historical identity.

Of great interest today is the 19th century painted furniture of New England.

Prices can equally as high as older painted furniture, from $200 to as high as $10,000, depending on the finish and decoration plus manufacturer.

Imaginative designs.

Because they were using pine wood, requiring several coats of paint, and because there was a desire to liven somewhat the usual dark and drab interior of early American homes, furniture makers often used their imagination. They decorated pieces to their own whims as well as to customers’ desires.

The years of this decoration was the 17th through the 19th centuries. Both cottage (crafts persons who worked out of the home) and itinerant painters enriched pieces of furniture with painting and other decor. Utilizing any and all available catalogs and pattern books, craftsmen emulated other artisans, creating furniture that resembled the more expensive articles produced by renown craftsmen.

For less well off.

The well-to-do still choose richly carved and exotic wood, such as rosewood, over painted furniture, however American colonists of lower means who, as is still true today, comprised over 90 percent of the population, choose the painted items of household furniture.

Around the 1820’s to the 1850’s mass production almost eliminated home-crafted painted furniture.

The painted furniture can be allotted to three geographical categories – Pennsylvania German, New England, and Hudson Valley Dutch.

Combining old world designs and styles and American innovation, these craft persons developed a distinctive and attractive form of folk art.

Dutch fracktur.

Although many decades ago most people considered “Pennsylvania Dutch” painted furniture rather common, this is not quite the fact. The style employed by these industrious folk is termed “fracktur” and mostly used religious themes. This form of decoration can be found on many articles from certificates to crockery to furniture.

New England craftsmen applied a more diverse type of decoration than the more conservative Pennsylvania Dutch. Most were expressions of the craftsman’s own likes and admirations.

Although New England painted furniture is more commonly located on the market, prices are somewhat higher than the more rare Pennsylvania Dutch articles.

Earliest pieces.

The articles produced during the so-called “Pilgrim” era of the 17th century bring the highest price and are most sought after, especially those pieces made in Guilford, Conn.

The Guilford articles transcend the era of painting surfaces for added ornamentation. On articles made in Guilford, the decoration itself became the main concern.

Hudson Valley Dutch painted articles are even more rare than Pennsylvania Dutch. After the mid-18th century, very few pieces were produced. When they are located, however, prices are still often much lower than for Pennsylvania or New England articles, due primarily to the wear and tear of usage and time.

During the early mid-19th century, painted furniture enjoyed an active market. By then experience, trial and error, and the developed level of skills had created craftsmen who were very accomplished at duplicating Federal and Greek Revival styles, and at imitated a wood grain effect or the even more precious look of tortoise shell and marble.


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