American Victorian furniture

Wisconsin State Farmer

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 and perhaps gold trim 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 the even larger and fancier Renaissance Revival. And there even was 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 sell 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 have my mother's Bye-Lo doll and wonder what the value might be. She is 12 inches long with a bisque head, cloth body, cloth feet and celluloid hands, which are in excellent condition with no cracks. There is a voice box in the body, but it doesn't work. She has open and close eyes and painted eyelashes, hair and lips. The back of the head is marked "1923 by Grace S. Putnam, Made in Germany." Who was Grace Putnam? It doesn't sound like a German name.
A: Grace Storey Putnam (1877-1947) was a California sculptor who modeled Bye-Lo Baby's features based on those of a three-day old baby she visited in a nearby hospital. She received her first copyright in 1922. After trying several manufacturers, she took her designs to George Borgfeldt & Co. in New York City and they became the sole licensee. Putnam intended the dolls to have cloth bodies, but gave Borgfeldt permission to use their "stock bodies." Dolls that cried were made by 1926. Bye-Lo Baby dolls were until about 1952. They were made in bisque, composition, celluloid, cloth, wax and wood in nine sizes, from 9 inches to 20 inches. The bisque doll heads were made by several German companies. You didn't send a picture and the value of your doll depends on its condition, head and body type, size, and age. Some Bye-Lo Babies sell for a few hundred dollars and others for over $1,000. The fact that the crier isn't working lowers the value.
  Q: Where can I get my Vaseline Depression glass collection appraised? I may have to sell some pieces because we are downsizing.
A: You can find a local appraiser by contacting a national appraiser group, like Appraisers Association of America (, American Society of Appraisers ( or International Society of Appraisers ( Ask what it costs for an appraisal. If you have some very expensive pieces, you may want to sell them at auction. If you want to know what you can sell your collection for in your area, contact a local antiques dealer, auctioneer or consignment shop that carries glass like yours and see if anyone wants to buy it for resale. You also can check prices online on sites like, and listings online. If you collected the glass, you must have some idea of the price. A dealer can pay only about one-third to one-half of the retail price.
Q: I'd like some information about a pitcher I inherited from my aunt. It was her favorite thing. It's pink with swirled ribs and a white-and-black-spotted cat climbing up it. The pitcher is about 10 inches tall and is marked "Erphila Fayence Germany" on the bottom.
A: The "Erphila" mark was used on pottery and porcelain imported from Germany, Czechoslovakia and other countries by Ebeling & Reuss, a giftware company in business in Philadelphia from 1866 to at least 2002. Some of the pieces are very collectible today. The mark combines the company's initials, "E" and "R," and "Phila," the first letters of Philadelphia. It was used after 1920. Erphila whimsical cat figural pitchers, with orange and black Art Deco designs, sell for over $1,000. Pitchers like yours sell for about $30.
Tip: Wash silver before you clean it with polish. The washing will remove gritty dust particles that will scratch the silver.
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Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
         Fur earmuffs, headband-style, cream color with burnt orange patches, bendable band, 1950s, 17 inches, $20.
         Wendy doll, Madame Alexander, St. Patty's Day parade, red curly hair, freckles, green iridescent dress, top hat, pot of gold, box, 8 inches, $70.
         Lithograph, wall hanging, Scene from old testament, Noah's altar to the Lord, burnt offering sacrifice, color, c.1905, 16 x 19        inches, $115.
         Belt buckle, brass, embossed peach blossoms, coral and lapis cabochons surrounding center turquoise, square, Chinese, c. 1905, 3 1/2 inches, $205.
         Copeland Spode, platter, pagoda and trees, butterfly border, cobalt blue &andwhite, octagonal, 1870, 11 x 15 inches, $350.
         Planters Peanuts, stringholder, cylindrical, Planters Cocktail Peanuts, figural Mr. Peanut, chalkware, turquoise and yellow paint, 1950s, $455.
         Music Cabinet, mahogany, mirror, carved crest, oval top, scroll supports, shelves and cupboard, splayed legs, c. 1900, 58 x 33 inches, $800.
         Wood carving, Dewi Sri, Goddess of fertility, bust, nude, reticulated crown, relief-carved flowers, 1930s, 15 inches, $945.
         Apothecary cabinet, hutch, dental storage, wood, ivory paint, glass knobs, etched glass cupboard doors, c. 1910, 58 x 36 inches, $1,250.
         John Rogers group, The Village Schoolmaster, plaster, three men in discussion, square base, signed, 1862, 9 3/4 inches, $1,800.
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The carved-leaf crest, scrolled arms, castors and tufted upholstery are seen on mid-Victorian furniture. This sofa was made attributed to H.B Mudge Furniture Co. in Ohio, an important furniture company working in the 1880s.