What did I buy?
September 24, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Special snowflake thrift store furniture question! Identify our new dresser!

We just got a new dresser at the thrift store. It's made of solid wood [pine?] with a wooden veneer. It has a curved front with five curved drawers.

The back is stamped "540" and there is a paper tag under a layer of varnish. The tag reads:

"United Furniture Corporation Manufacturer of Bed Room Furniture. Lexington, N.C. C.G Franklen [sp?] WHSE Detroit"

We would like to know how old the dresser is and maybe a little bit about it. I wasn't able to find anything with a date on it but the tag is pretty brown and worn. It is also heavy as sin, which makes me think it might not be made out of pine wood.
We got it for 35 dollars at the thrift store and were just hoping to find out as much about it as we could. Its a really neat piece of furniture.
posted by shesaysgo to Home & Garden (21 answers total)

That looks like oak to me.
posted by ellF at 6:06 PM on September 24, 2012

It would be helpful to see it with the drawers in.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:08 PM on September 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think you did well. Its nice to have a dresser with the dividers between the drawers, and dovetail joints. Don't think its maple, probably oak. I'm a big fan of older furniture. Nothing today is made near as well and Lord knows if it was you wouldn't get it for $35!
posted by PJMoore at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2012

I have a mid-century chair with a maker's mark that also specifies Detroit. My guess is that what you just bought is good quality All-American furniture. The kind of stuff that was made to outlast a nuclear attack. Nothing special. Not famous. Just furniture. Maybe with a little bit of style. But mostly just A DRESSER.
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I found a couple sources that say United Furniture Corporation manufactured furniture during the 1920s and 1930s, and burned down in May, 1936.
I suspect "WHSE" means warehouse.
posted by gingerest at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The rounded front suggests deco, 30s or 4os. Gingerest's reference suggests pre-1936. It's nothing amazing or unusual, just a nice mass-manufactured all-wood American-made dresser of the kind that was super common before the advent of beaverboard. This isn't something to take to the Road Show, but it was probably a good ourchase for $35. I really like stuff of this vintage, as it's well built and solid and attractive but not cool enough to be pricey.
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd also like to see the dresser with the drawers in it. It looks like maple or golden oak.

But in any case, you have a nice piece of mass produced furniture for a really nice price. Take care of it and it'll last forever.
posted by deborah at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2012

yeah, the drawer hardware could be enlightening. If it's those round knobs it kinda cinches it for the 30s. But if you can take another pic, do. Looks like 20s or 30s based on more Googling; there are some mentions of the company in Google Books from that period.
posted by Miko at 9:30 PM on September 24, 2012

I'm leaning towards midcentury rather than deco. Wild guess is that it's from the early 60's.

The back panel is a softwood plywood, used because it's normally out of sight against a wall. The drawer sides and backs do appear to be oak, but again this is used because oak is inexpensive and works well for drawer sides. Can't see the drawer bottom, which is something else.

None of your pictures has a clear view of the outside veneers that would be visible when the dresser is assembled; even the one where the drawer front is visible at the bottom of the pic is too dim and blurry to identify the wood with any confidence. Could easily be teak or walnut.
posted by jon1270 at 2:21 AM on September 25, 2012

I'm with jon1270, looks mid-century and may even be teak (although I'd expect it to be darker and a hair more orange/red looking.)

I grew up surrounded by Danish Modern Furniture and I believe that you have a beautiful specimen there. You got a steal at $35.

Is the wood rubbed, or is there a clear coat on it? If it's 'raw' then you probably have a teak piece. You can take a drawer to your local Danica or Copenhagen and ask them, they'll have a guy named Horst in the back room who can tell you for sure. If it is teak, buy some teak oil and rub it down every so often and for chrssake DON'T use Pledge on it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on September 25, 2012

I really do hope you post a picture of the front, which would clarify completely. I'd be really shocked if this was midcentury, especially coming from that particular company, in Lexington, NC. They did make modern style furniture, but almost all of it was flat/recessed front, according to what I'm turning up.

I mean, look at the skirt board between the two front legs in the full picture. A graceful Chippendale-y swag shape; pure Colonial Revival, same era as this, not likely modern at all.
posted by Miko at 6:50 AM on September 25, 2012

Wow, thanks for all the great input Metafilter! I took a few new pictures to show the drawers. Strangely enough, there isn't any hardware nor are there holes where it might have been- there are these little handholds at the bottom of the drawers instead.


The dresser had been sanded, but you can see a little of the original finish to it- it's a warm honey color. You can see some of it on the side of the drawers. We were planning on painting it before I saw the interesting tag on the back. The original finish seemed to be a thin, clear coat of varnish- it was pretty easy to sand through. I don't think it's teak, since it has kind of a smooth feel to it, but I don't know my woods all too well. It is ridiculously heavy, though, especially since it reaches to about 5'6''.
posted by shesaysgo at 12:26 PM on September 25, 2012

I would peg that as an early deco dresser. The no handles part is typical.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on September 25, 2012

Oh, much nicer with the drawers. They're called "inset pulls" or "recessed pulls" and yes, that's a modern feature, but I agree, early modern/deco, because that holdover of the colonial-looking skirt is kind of funny and not a modern detail. A nice find for $35 which will look really nice once spiffed up. Too bad about the sanding but if you take it down evenly, and it was just varnished and not veneered, maybe you can bring it back looking good rather than painting it.

It might be some kind of mahogany, given the weight. There are hundreds of kinds - it just means 'tropical hardwood', it's a catchall - but that was a common enough material for mass market furniture.
posted by Miko at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2012

With the better pics that does look like Mahogany, but it's veneer, which is far too thin to have any noticeable effect on the weight.
posted by jon1270 at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2012

Really think it's veneer? No closeup of the cross-section of drawer front, but with the recessed handles, it could be the entire drawer front is mahogany. also, if the fronts were veneer I would expect to see a whole lot more splintering out at the edges, especially after all that sanding.
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on September 25, 2012

Wait, on this one I do think I see the thin strip of veneer. Veneer on a hardwood then maybe.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on September 25, 2012

It's definitely veneer. (I build furniture, BTW -- sorry that site is very outdated).

They didn't cover the top and bottom edges of the drawer fronts, so you can see the edges of the face veneers there. The drawer fronts are almost certainly solid wood under the veneer, which facilitates dovetails and the machined-in finger grips. Also, if you were to cut curved drawer fronts from solid stock then the grain pattern would arch up or down depending on the angle of the annual rings. That the lines in these drawers are fairly straight is just further confirmation.

The carcass would've destroyed itself within months of manufacture if the sides weren't veneer over a stable substrate -- plywood or particle board. If the carcass sides were solid planks then they'd get wider and narrower with the seasons, which would bust them loose from the interior drawer support frames which are (relatively) dimensionally stable. On deep casework like this, unless the sides are frame and panel, they're basically always going to be veneer.
posted by jon1270 at 2:09 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The veneers, BTW, do look fairly thick, in contrast to the barely-even-there stuff you might see on newer or less expensive furniture. I don't think the sanding was very heavy, as the light and dark areas visible across the drawer fronts suggest remaining remnants of the original finish.
posted by jon1270 at 2:17 AM on September 26, 2012

That thickness would explain some of the lack of splintering. It is remarkable, though. I have a bunch of 1920/30s waterfall pieces, and though of course that type of veneer is busier and more tiny pieces are jigsawed together, the veneer just wants to bubble and raise at the edges so badly, and over time a lot of the edges have chipped. Nice to see it in such good shape here.

Thanks for the explanation of the clear sides. Something I never thought much about, though my older oak dressers are all frame and panel so that totally makes sense.
posted by Miko at 7:12 AM on September 26, 2012

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