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By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant
In the Victorian era closets were not built into homes as a matter of course as they are today. The result was that many pieces of furniture, useful then but obsolete now, came into being of necessity, and then, because they were in plain view at all times, were worked into lovely pieces of furniture that served its purpose and added to the decor of the home.
An example of this I've spoken of before. In the days of the Pioneers, if a table was needed, the farmer went out, cut a tree and built a table. This table was used for dressing the game he killed that day, for sewing by the fire, for children to sit and work their lessons, for preparing the meal of the day and whatever else was needed. The table was practical and functional. Beauty, as this time, was not necessarily added into the equation due to the fact that there was generally only one room in the home.
The hall tree in my foyer is a good example of beauty, and utilitarian purposes. Eight coats could be hung from the protruding knobs that encircle the mirror. The lady of the house could view herself in the mirror before leaving the front door, where it stood. Umbrellas could be deposited in the two receptacles on either side of the tabletop in the center of the stand and there were basins at the bottom of the structure to catch the drip from the umbrellas. The basins were usually made of iron, as are these, and were painted with gilt. Arms protruded in a semi-circle from either side of the mirror to keep the umbrellas from falling over.
The table portion, just below the mirror could be of wood or, as the one pictured, marble. Usually the calling card tray was placed here for visitors to leave visible printed proof of their intentions to visit. Also, any mail that arrived was placed here to be seen immediately upon arrival into the home. Every purpose that the piece of furniture served was centered around its placement in the front hall, right beside the door. Everything you needed or wanted, coming or going, was right here, even to the little drawer under the marble topped surface that served as a table. Here, loose change, gloves and small purses could be stored. In some less grand hall tree stands, there was even a box that opened from the top in place of a table surface and here one could throw galoshes or overshoes.
At the base of the hall stand there is a shelf between the two receptacles for umbrella drippings. Here one put anything one wished, sometimes books and sometimes pretty pieces of statuary.
My particular piece of furniture is made of walnut, with all solid wood except veneer at the base, where the wood wraps around. The marble is brown and is beveled. The reason for noting the brown marble is because those are the most desirable pieces to collectors today and it helps date the stand. Brown marble was in vogue from about 1860 until about 1880, when white marble replaced it in popularity. My hall tree was made approximately in 1865, and is a fine specimen of how beauty and usefulness can be combined in one piece of furniture that remains desirable to own forever.