This blog has dovetail content but is not about dovetails. Dovetails are only used to illustrate the construction of the furniture in question. No dovetails were harmed in the production of this blog.

If you look at enough furniture you see things that defy expectations. Not wrong. I try not to be too judgmental. But things that not consistent with most other things I’ve seen. I always try to understand what they did and why they did it.

I really need to get a life.

Take this antique Empire chest of drawers:


American Classical Figured Maple Chest of Drawers This lot has sold for $1050.

The auction listing states:

Description: Attributed to Ohio or western PA, cherry top, mahogany and bird’s eye maple veneers with poplar secondary, upper projecting drawer supported by fully turned columns above three graduated cock-beaded drawers, tiger maple paneled sides, ebonized turned feet.

Simple enough. The form and wood selections are typical, nothing out of the ordinary. Do an image search for antique Empire chest of drawers and find many similar chests.

The variation is observed when you open a drawer and examine its construction:


A veneered and cock-beaded drawer.

(Cock-beading is a decorative bead added to a drawer, typically a thin strip of wood with a bead on one edge, set in a rabbet around a drawer front. These strips may be purely a decorative or may also be used to protect and conceal the edge of a veneer.)

A closer look may be required to see what caught my interest:


If you still are at a loss, I will explain.

What is unusual to my eye is the use of a dark wood as a secondary wood in a veneered and cock-beaded drawer. The wood looks like walnut although it could be something else. Usually when the wood is being covered and concealed, a cheaper secondary wood is used as in this example:


The drawer front (substrate) is a secondary wood covered with the expensive stuff.

I just wonder why. My first thought was that it was initially a walnut chest that had been remodeled to appease a client or respond to changing tastes. Furniture does get rebuilt with some regularity.

I am not entirely comfortable with this answer having had some time to consider it. Look at the columns in the above pictures. They look too good to be rework. Or do they? It certainly is an odd collection of woods. Maybe walnut is just what the maker had. There was less of the ability and opportunity to go out and get wood as needed. They often just had to make do with what they had.

Impossible to know but interesting to speculate…