Tag Archives: furniture

In the Studio: Restoring an Ebonized Elephant Table

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Vintage mahogany table with elephant base, before and after treatment.

Recently we received a call from a new client with a furniture problem. She had inherited a table with a base carved in the form of an elephant. The finish was black and badly damaged. I went up to meet the lady, her table and, it turns out, her dog Sadie.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie has no idea how all those scratches got there.

Sadie is a charming young dog with good taste in furniture. She adopted the elephant table as her own with visible consequences. She even chewed the tail off the back of the elephant. Now, we TreasureTrackers are highly dog-friendly so this was not shocking. Sadie helped me examine the table, I took some photos, then I took the table back to Center Art Studio for treatment.

When I inspected the table closely, I found some surprises. First, I noticed that the eyes and tusks were actually ivory even though they were now black. I also saw strange drips in the black finish under the top. Clearly someone had painted over the ebonized mahogany to “restore” the black. Remember that “ebonizing” is not the same as painting wood black to resemble ebony. Proper ebonizing is done with black or brown-black stain (nowadays we use aniline dye – I get good results with Solar-Lux by H. Behlen). This produces a thin but strongly colored finish that allows some sense of the wood grain to show through. I determined to remove the black housepaint with solvent to expose the wood, allowing me to then recreate a proper ebonized look.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

Left: after removing black housepaint. Arrows show ivory details. Right: the black aniline dye is applied, yet the mahogany shows through slightly.

For the top coat I chose amber shellac, applied with a brush. The first coat was very thin, to soak deeply into the wood. The final coat was applied more thickly, then lightly sanded. Then paste wax applied with steel wool and buffed with old rags, and I was ready to return Sadie’s table.

Sadie was out, but the family cat took a test drive.

Sadie was out, but Baby took a test drive.

As it turned out, Sadie was out but the family cats, Baby and Angel, took advantage of her absence and inspected my work.

Happily scratches in an ebonized finish are easily touched up with a Q-tip and some aniline dye (available at a paint store). Some people use black shoe polish, but I recommend trying to find the dye (or contacting us!).

I may see this table again.

Advertisements

Madison-Bouckville: What We Bought

Iliana and I arrived on the field with different goals: she was shopping for specific projects, with defined needs. I was poking around, looking for the unusual (and cheap). We both lucked out.

Soon after we arrived, I saw this beautiful Aesthetic picture frame with cattails in relief on the vertical sides. These frames were made in the 1870s and 1880s. Frames like this, which have ornament running all around the corners – not interrupted by a miter cut – are more desirable. My find is a good size (about 22″ by 12″ wide) and in great condition. I will give it a light cleaning back in the studio, but not too much – this surface is fragile. Not bad for $60!

Aesthetic frame with cattails in relief, made circa 1880.

Aesthetic frame with cattails in relief, made circa 1880.

Country bench with worn green paint and tenoned legs.

Country bench with worn green paint and tenoned legs.

Iliana is designing a general store in the Catskills, so she needs tables, chairs and display furniture. She found several old painted country benches with legs joined to the top by tenons rather than nails. She will use these on top of tables and counters to form additional display shelves in the store.

Choosing from a large selection of affordable, sturdy 19th c. country chairs.

Choosing from a large selection of affordable, sturdy 19th c. country chairs.

For seating indoors, Iliana chose a variety of 19th century chairs with caned seats and various backs – turned spindle, stick-and-ball, carved, etc. She also found painted metal tables with wood tops and chairs to match, suitable for use outside (these were already with the trucker by the time I caught up…Iliana wastes no time at an antique fair).

Iliana closes on an Empire chest.

Iliana closes on an Empire chest.

Iliana bought this Empire chest for a client. She liked that it was lighter in color than many Empire pieces we see (the result of a recent refinish, and the use of bird’s eye maple as well as mahogany).

Three panel folding screen frame with old crackled blue paint.

Three panel folding screen frame with old crackled blue paint.

Last but not least, I spotted this painted oak screen frame. The frame, which is in great condition, was probably made around 1890. It has a nice, deeply crackled pale blue painted surface. I think it will work well with some French wallpaper I have back in the studio. I was very happy with the price ($40). Thanks Brian!

So we all came away with something, and I stuck with my budget for once. Even Milly got an ice cream on our way out of town. I’m looking forward to next year’s show!

Next post: back in the studio

Show Report: Madison-Bouckville

This show, billed as “New York’s Largest” just finished a three-day run in the Utica-Syracuse area.

The entrance was quiet at 8:30.

The entrance was quiet at 8:30.

We arrived Saturday at 8 AM and made a full inspection of the dealers on the fair ground (I didn’t count, but “1000 dealers” sounds about right). Many of the exhibitors were from the New York-Pennsylvania region. On exhibit were a lot of middle level objects from the 19th century, with the occasional standout piece of painted furniture or folk art. There were less paintings than I expected, and not a lot of textiles, although a few very good quilts were available.

Four great pieces from Ponzi's ANtiques. My favorite: the red-painted box with lack spots, from about 1840.

Four great pieces from Ponzi's Antiques of Trumansburg, New York. My favorite: the red-painted box with black spots, from about 1840.

Attendance on Saturday (admission $6 per person) seemed low in the morning, but by noon the aisles were full. Dealers said that Friday, the Early-Bird Buying Session (tickets at $40 per person, $75 for two) had a low gate but good business, with the early buyers taking home a lot of stock and leaving some good money behind. By the time we left on Saturday afternoon, the fair grounds and the surrounding area were packed.

The show provides handlers who will gather your purchases from the different booths and bring them to you when you are ready to leave. This is a great service, especially on a hot day like yesterday.  There is a shipper on the fairground who will arrange to deliver large purchases. Iliana was shopping furniture for clients, so she arranged to have all her finds trucked back home. I found two things, both easily portable, so I carried mine back to the car.

Helpful porters with wagons pulled by tractor will gather your purchases from the various dealers and bring them to you or the shipper's booth.

Helpful porters with wagons pulled by tractor will gather your purchases from the various dealers and bring them to you or the shipper's booth.

Check our upcoming posts for more details about the show.