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Atlanta Appraisers - Betty Wilson Appraisal Firm - Atlanta, Georgia


By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant

The Victorian Parlor Tables

A friend of mine asked me about Victorian Parlor Tables. So I wrote this as a primer. Furniture is one of the most difficult items to appraise as well as collect. If you think about it, the Victorian Period alone comprised over 60 years of different styles. Most people refer to this period as "Victorian" but it is also known as the "Revival" period.

The Victorian Period began, roughly, about 1840. At this time many new techniques were developed that enabled mass production and also innovative and decorative styles began to be produced that had a distinctive flavor.

The parlor was the forerunner of the "living room". In this room, the beaux were entertained, tea was served and Sunday afternoons were spent visiting with callers. For the heretofore rather rowdy middle Americans, there was now a touch of the opulent that had long graced the homes of the upper classes. One of the extravagances was the little rectangular, marble topped table which held tea and pretty what-nots plus lamps. Let's describe a table for an example: one (1) rectangular walnut parlor table with a brown, beveled, marble top. It has a plain drop skirt with inverted tear drop finials on each corner base. The legs and base are of high quality burl walnut veneer.

Styles during this period often overlapped in design an what was "going out" was combined with the newer designs "on their way in". Renaissance Revival style is reflected in the teardrops at the corners of the top of a table, while the simplicity of the four legs reflects the later Charles Eastlake designs concept of Medieval simplicity. The style he initiated has come to be referred to as Eastlake Victorian and was noted in various forms until about 1868. The Renaissance Revival style was "in" from about 1850-1875. So you can see how easily styles could overlap. This table has a white marble top (in the photo). Mine has a brown marble top and that further complicates dating. It has a beveled top. Until after 1850, there was little brown marble used in the South. It was all quarried in the Northeast with the exception of a few small quarries. And then not much was produced for the home until the late 1800's. This table has to have been made in New England around 1860.

The walnut legs and base are decorated sparsely with carvings and veneer of high burl quality. The table was manufactured by machine in pieces but decorated by hand and the veneer was carefully chosen for the burl decorations from one area of the same tree. You can identify this by looking at the pattern of swirls. If several small pieces match exactly in design, they are all shaved from consecutive cross cuts of the same knot on a tree.

Identifying and dating furniture is an exacting and fascinating study. One must learn history and woods and lifestyles. Indeed, a piece of furniture can tell you a great deal about the people who owned it.

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