Chippendale Authentic and Reproduced Furniture
John Swahn (pictured in the Philadelphia Inquirer's "Fresh, Affordable Home Ideas"), owner and master craftsman at Pennsylvania's Niki Francis Antique Restorations, shares his expertise on Chippendale furniture. He tells me there is some confusion stemming from Thomas Chippendale's 1754 book, "The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director". This volume was the first of its kind on furniture manufacturing ever to be published. The book was purchased and widely used by furniture makers all over the world. Complete with drawings and designs, it became a guide to furniture building. Furniture makers were now able to reproduce Chippendale's furniture. The book greatly affected the years 1750 to 1790 and created what is known as the Chippendale period for furniture styles.
John believes that the best way to recognize the Chippendale style is simply to look at the man's work. The Chippendale Society, founded in England in 1963, displays pictures online of various Chippendale designs and pieces from their collection. Thomas Chippendale's taste for Chinese and Gothic as well as Louis XV rock and shell work show in his drawings and in pieces he has crafted. Although the Chippendale form is more masculine, the style shares the sweeping lines found in Queen Anne furniture. This is most recognized in the cabriole legs which are curved and usually end in a distinctive foot such as the lion's paw or the ball and claw. Chippendale employed straight leg designs as well.
Mr. Swahn believes that Chippendale is one of the most reproduced styles on the market today. It is also most commonly misidentified by dealers. They seem to call everything Chippendale. However, many pieces are just Chippendale style, not original Chippendales. According to The Antiques Almanac, it is difficult to verify authentic pieces. Since Chippendale never employed a maker's mark, the only way to know if he authored the piece is to find the original bill of sale in estate papers. Even then, a buyer can't be certain that Chippendale himself worked on the piece.
Kevin Roberts, independent antique dealer and lecturer, says that a buyer can obtain a Centennial example of Chippendale (a piece made during its revival period in the third quarter of the nineteenth century) for as little as a few hundred dollars. Authentic Chippendale pieces are in the four-to-six figure range. A written guarantee and a detailed description of the furniture's origin should always be provided. A desirable authentic can bring millions. Kevin tells me the record sale is $12.1 million, set by the Nicholas-Brown Desk-and-Bookcase.