Fascinating Facts – Signatures on Furniture

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In furniture from the 1700s and early 1800s, it’s not often that you’ll find a maker’s signature  – it’s even more rare to find a signature on Shaker pieces. When you find a signed name, there are no set rules as to what medium was used and where the signing is located.

I’ve heard you can find names in chalk, usually white but sometimes in red or other colors. I have seen pieces signed in white chalk, but I cannot recall ever seeing or reading about a signature in red, blue, green or yellow chalk. Additionally, you’ll find names written in pencil or ink, and paint.

Other ways makers “signed” pieces during the period were with printed labels (which can be easy to fake), ink brands, impressed-iron and heated-iron brands. After 1825, stencils became a popular way to mark furniture.

It’s not so rare to find drawer sides marked with chalk or pencil in some way, but that was probably a way to keep the parts organized while working on the piece. Sometimes, however, you’ll find a signature there, too. I’ve also seen names painted across backboards, but that is rather bold and may have come later when a family was marking its property.

Other places to search for signatures are on drawer bottoms and inside the piece, most often on the case sides.

Have you seen signed furniture? No. Not yours, or a friends.

— Glen D. Huey

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5 thoughts on “Fascinating Facts – Signatures on Furniture

  1. In a similar way, articles published in journals and periodicals in that era did not provide the author’s name. It wasn’t until about the 1850’s that you begin to find the author’s name provided either in the table of contents or attached to the article they wrote. Perhaps it all stemmed from a wider cultural standard of humility on the part of the maker?

  2. Never a makers Sig, but at least three pieces (late 1800 to early 1900) that had client info name, address, sometimes custom dimensions our other order info. A mix of chalk and ink. All were from major furniture producers in the Carolinas and Virginia.

    1. Nice. When you say “major furniture producers,” are you referring to companies or well-known individuals?

  3. I just got a few pieces of furniture from my grandma and one of them is signed via a printed label on one of the drawers. However, Glen, you say that those can be easy to fake. How can I know whether or not the label is truly legitimate?

    1. Research. You need to be able to research the company. And it would help to understand how furniture was put together during the period. The easiest example I can pass along is to consider dovetails.

      In period work dovetails were hand cut, so look for variations in the lines and angles of the pins and tails. Look for over-cut saw lines on the inside face of the drawer fronts, and if there is differences in the size of the two parts of the joint. During the William & Mary period, dovetails were generally even in layout. As we move into Queen Anne the size of the tails widened as the pins became more narrow. Through the Chippendale and Federal periods, pins became even thinner, occasionally just thick enough for a saw blade to pass.

      Another thought is to evaluate the label paper and make-up; that’s more scientific than most can tell from simply looking.

      If, however, you’re talking about furniture from the last 50 years or so, then I wouldn’t expect that those labels would be faked. There’s little need to do so in my opinion.

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