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Classic Widdicomb furniture pieces are sought-after collector’s items, so it’s worth knowing how to date Widdicomb furniture.
While the famous company produced some of the most renowned bedroom furniture globally, it has a slightly confusing history that can make identifying the date of work challenging.
Fortunately, there are a few relatively easy ways to verify both the authenticity and time period the furniture was produced in.
Here we will go through some of the best methods to date your piece, although it would be prudent to seek appraisal by an expert before making large monetary transactions.
Authentic Widdicomb furniture can be accurately dated by examining: wear and tear, hardware, label design, and the specific name used.
In 1858, George Widdicomb founded the John Widdicomb Furniture Company.
Mr. Widdicomb initially intended to produce only cabinets, but a short time after the company’s inception, they expanded their reach into other furniture markets.
This expansion eventually led the company to produce popular bedroom items. Circa 1863, the company briefly disbanded while George Widdicomb’s four sons served in the Civil War.
After the war, the Widdicomb sons reopened the doors to the family business at a scale beyond what their father started.
They changed the company name to The Widdicomb Furniture Company in 1873. At this time, the company had multiple prominent locations and over 150 employees.
In 1915, the Mueller Furniture Corporation acquired the business when it bought out the Widdicomb family.
The Mueller company continued to produce the same furniture style under the Widdicomb name. The Widdicomb Furniture Company officially closed its doors in 2002.
A short time later, the Stickley Company purchased the name and design rights. The Stickley Company continues to produce Widdicomb pieces under a designated collection.
A straightforward way to date any piece of furniture is to examine the wear and tear; this can also help point out fraud.
Historical Widdicomb pieces are going to have normal wear as they were typically used daily.
You can also look at the methods used to construct a piece and what materials the maker used.
Wear and Tear
For example, there are several things to examine when determining the date of a clothes dresser.
These drawers would have been pulled in and out regularly over many years.
The best practice is to remove one or two drawers. First, examine the inside and outside walls of the drawer. An old piece is going to show its age.
Be cautious if you see a polished finish. A glossy finish would indicate that the entire work is most likely a recreation or has been refurbished.
In an old drawer, the edges of the wood running the length of the sides should be worn down due to constant pulling in and out.
A uniform length would indicate fraud or a much younger item.
Tip: Polished and unworn wood is not old!
The term dovetail refers to triangular-shaped grooves that are used to interlock all sides of the furniture.
Traditional dovetailing incorporates a thicker tail and a smaller pin portion.
This should be free of any additional screws or nails used to hold it together. Well executed dovetails are an indication of quality old furniture.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend breaking out the tool bag at an auction house to disassemble their furniture, but it can be helpful if you have the opportunity to examine any screws used.
The use of standard Phillips head screws will immediately indicate that the piece is new.
If you are looking for a classic item, you want to see a flat head style screw. That’s not where the show ends, though.
Ideally, you will find a thicker, flathead screw with deep grooves and a dull point.
Get excited if the piece is constructed with this type of hardware because it generally means it was produced before 1890.
Pointed screws were not commonly manufactured for use until after 1890. Keep in mind that real Widdicomb furniture was still produced after 1890.
Just keep these things in mind if you are searching for pieces from the company’s origin.
Tip: Be careful not to damage precious wood when examining hardware.
Cold Weather Cherry Wood
The Widdicomb family typically utilized solid cherry wood to craft their furniture.
Any composite type materials would not align with a piece well into its matured years.
Composite material is common in cheap modern furniture.
Utilizing any labeling to date a piece of Widdicomb furniture is an effective tool to add to your journey as a furniture detective.
You can extract a good deal of valuable information from furniture labeling.
Contained within a label, the insignia of the Widdicomb furniture is arguably the most effective method when dating Widdicomb furniture.
In the 19th century, paper labels were one of the first methods used by furniture makers to identify their work.
The label would generally contain information regarding the name of the company and the location the piece was manufactured.
In addition, a paper label is an excellent way to determine the age of a piece.
Keep in mind the wear and tear aspects discussed above that should be readily apparent on a paper label.
The Widdicomb brand insignia changed multiple times over the years.
When in doubt about how to identify Widdicomb furniture, relying on the differences between the various labels is a great way to narrow down its date.
Around 1920, the company used a decorative vertical oval, with many similarities to an antique picture frame that contained “JWCO” in scrolling letters.
The 1920 logo is exquisite and distinct. The Widdicomb Furniture Company kept this logo until the early 1930s.
Circa 1930, the company made some modifications to its emblem.
The 1930s logo contains the “JWCo” letters within a circular pendant. Surrounding the pendant are leaf clusters that meet at the top.
In 1942, the company again changed its logo. They utilized a stamp-style logo resemblant to an old-school movie ticket in this version.
Inside the bold borders rested the 1930s logo on the left side with the words “Made by John-Widdicomb Co.” to the right of the pendant.
From 1956 through 1959, the Widdicomb company took a far more modern approach to its logo departing from the elegant styles in the ’20s and ’30s.
This revision consisted of a simple blacked-out rectangle with “John Widdicomb” written in a modern font.
The year 1974 had two different brand logos. First, the company used a grid of horizontal lines with the initials “JW” on top of the grid.
The horizontal grid reminds me of something out of an old-school Microsoft Windows advertisement.
The final label used came in 1990. It consisted of simple and clean “JW” initials with the two letters connected at the top and finishing in a sharp point on either end.
Many examples of these different brand variations can be found online. When dating Widdicomb furniture, use validated photos for comparison.
Tip: Become familiar with the Widdicomb furniture labels.
After you have confirmed aspects from the previous sections, refer back to the history of the Widdicomb name.
This provides a roadmap of how to identify Widdicomb furniture.
There is a good chance that house fittings bearing the “John Widdicomb Furniture Company” name were produced between 1858 and 1873.
Don’t forget there was a short period where the company was disbanded due to the Civil War.
The name “The Widdicomb Furniture Company” was used between 1873 and 1915. After 1915 the company operated under the umbrella of the Mueller Furniture Corporation.
Anything clearly new could have come from the Stickley Company using the Widdicomb name for modern production.
Tip: When shopping for authentic Widdicomb furniture, keep a list of names and date ranges for reference.
Learning how to date Widdicomb furniture doesn’t have to be complicated.
The previously mentioned methods are tried and true ways to place your furniture piece in history.
Utilize each technique when possible. Combining all these methods ensures reaching an accurate and reliable determination.