Antiques & Collectibles

No Standard Definition For ‘Victorian’ Furniture

"Victorian" furniture consists of many varying types and definitions.
Terry Kovel, December 2017

Many authors define American Victorian furniture in terms of one of the many design types used from 1840 to 1900, but all of them are Victorian. Federal furniture, inspired by the French Empire style, was going out of favor and the heavy square look with straight backs, hard seats, black wood and fabrics was being replaced by ornate carvings possible because of the jigsaw. Variations in designs continued until art nouveau and arts and crafts appeared during the 20th century.

There was the Gothic Revival style, inspired by church chairs and stained-glass windows; Rococo Revival featuring scrolls, flowers, leaves and shapes possible because of the first laminated wood; and then there was the larger and fancier Renaissance Revival. There was even a Greco-Egyptian Revival with sphinx heads, obelisks and hieroglyphics. By 1900, the Eastlake period, based on simpler designs used by Midwestern furniture factories, ended the Victorian era.

Most expensive today are Renaissance Revival pieces by famous makers like John Henry Belter, Herter Brothers and Alexander Roux, all from New York. But less-famous furniture made in other cities sells today for much lower prices. H.B. Mudge Furniture Co. of Cincinnati made a sofa with scroll arms and tufted upholstery that sold for only $492 at a Cowan’s auction in Ohio. There are other makers, like Mitchell & Rammelsberg or Berkey & Gay, which made attractive Victorian pieces that sell for less than today’s reproductions.

Q: Is there an easy way to date Coca-Cola trays? I know there are a lot of copies.

A: Original trays are decorated with women dressed in the clothing of the day. Dresses, hats and hairdos are a good clue. The trays also often picture celebrities of the day. The shape of the tin tray has changed. The first ones, from 1897 to 1910 were round. Next came ovals from 1910 to 1921. The trays were always rectangular after that. Reproductions were first made during the 1970s.

Q: I’d like to know the value of a crocheted bedspread my great-grandmother made around 1910. It is made of squares with a rose in the center of each square. I realize that everyone has handmade items that are only worth sentimental value, but this spread is in perfect condition and is exceptionally beautiful. What do you think it’s worth?

A: You can sell the bedspread to a dealer or online. Size, condition and design will affect price. An old double-bed size spread, with old thread and old design, might sell for less than $100.

Terry Kovel writes about the latest news of the antiques market. Her website is


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