Furniture changes with technology


Technology has changed the furniture we live with. Tables and desks had to change to accommodate modern, large and often clumsy electronics.

At first a radio or radio-phonograph combination was kept in a cabinet that resembled a piece of early William and Mary furniture. It was a boxlike two-door cabinet with long legs. The radio and phonograph were hidden behind the doors.

Television sets required a rearrangement of chairs. The first sets were small and sat on a table. The screen was so tiny it required a magnifying-glass insert so more than one person could see the picture. When screens got larger, the TV set sat on the floor in a corner and chairs were arranged so the screen was easy for all to see.

Soon, televisions were sold in attractive cabinets in reproduction furniture styles. Only the daring in the 1950s were buying modern furniture and leaving the television in plain view. Today’s television is thin and often hangs on a wall.

Through the years, desks have changed, too. Early desks had myriad drawers, shelves and doors so they could be used like a filing cabinet. The famous and very large Wooten desk was made with doors that could be locked.

Computers made 18th- and 19th-century desks obsolete. Early personal computers had large boxlike monitors and separate keyboards that had to be at “writing” height. The “brains” (CPU) usually were kept on the floor nearby. Useful, but not attractive.

As computers grew smaller, screens grew flatter. Now a laptop or tablet can be kept on any shelf or table and blend in with any furniture style.

Although prices for early desks have fallen, they still sell to those who like a period look. Exotic woods, marquetry, brass or gold trim, and carvings make an antique desk an attractive addition to a room, but not a great spot for a computer.

Today average wooden desks from the past two centuries are a bargain, often selling for $300 to $1,000, much less than many new modern desks. And an antique desk is always in good taste.

Q: Back in the late 1980s, I bought an oak roll-top desk from someone who had owned it for years. On one side of the desk there’s a bronze plaque that reads “Oak Creek by Riverside.” Please tell me about the desk and if it has any value.

A: Riverside Furniture Corp., based in Fort Smith, Ark., was founded in 1946 and is still in business. So your desk, in Riverside’s Oak Creek line, is not an antique. But Oak Creek is not among the furniture lines the company still is manufacturing. Reproduction roll-top desks of solid oak, like yours, sell for $250 to $650, depending on style and condition.

Q: I inherited a silver hand mirror that belonged to my grandmother. The back of the mirror and handle are decorated with repousse (raised) flowers and leaves. It’s marked “Sterling 4000” and “R. Wallace &Sons.” What is it worth?

A: R. Wallace &Sons was in business from 1871 until 1956, when it became Wallace Silversmiths. The company made silver plate and sterling silver.

It became R. Wallace &Sons Manufacturing Co. in 1871. It made silver pieces for several other companies and didn’t mark them with the Wallace name until 1897.

Hand mirrors with silver backs and handles were very popular around the turn of the 20th century. Your sterling silver mirror is worth $250 to $350.

Q: What is pearlash? I have a cookbook from the 1840s and many of the cake and cookie recipes call for pearlash.

A: Pearlash (purlash) was a lye-based chemical used in baking from about 1789 to 1840. A cook added pearlash and an acid like citrus to dough so that when it started to cook it released carbon dioxide, which made bubbles in the dough.

This made the dough rise and the cakes light. It was replaced in our century by baking powder.

Q: I have an unopened 18-ounce beer bottle shaped like a baseball bat. The glass looks like it’s wood-grained and the “handle” is painted to look like it’s taped. It has the “A. Coors” signature and is labeled “Coors Light” and “The silver bullet.” What would six of these be worth?

A: Baseball bat bottles were a big hit when they were introduced by Coors in 1996. The limited-edition bottles of Coors and Coors Light were first sold on March 1 at a Colorado Rockies exhibition game held at the team’s spring-training facility at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz. The bottles sold out quickly in the Tucson area because would-be collectors thought distribution would be limited to their area.

But Coors introduced a “Signature Series” of baseball bat-shaped bottles in 1997. Each bottle featured an autograph of either Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson or Willie Mays, Major League players who had hit more than 500 home runs.

The sale of these limited-edition bottles helped support the Coors Light USA Softball World Series, but the bottles were prohibited in some states. State laws also govern the sale of beer, and you can’t sell full bottles without a license. Empty baseball bat bottles sell for a dollar or two.

Tip: The old cord on a vintage phone adds value. Green cords are best. Other old styles are twisted cords, brown cords, and patterned cords called rattlesnakes.

Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

 

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