Wallace Nutting Furniture

Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) is probably best known to the general collecting public for the millions of hand-colored platinotype pictures he sold during the early 20th century. Nutting was also a widely published author, authoring nearly 20 books between 1918 and 1936. His widely renown 10 volume States Beautiful series was surpassed in public recognition by the books that he wrote on his true passion…Early American Antiques. It was the search for attractive and authentic backgrounds for his popular colonial Interior scenes that first started Nutting in his quest for antiques. Over a 16 year period, Nutting published some of the best books ever written on early American Antiques, including American Windsors (1917, the first definitive book ever written on the American Windsor form); Furniture of the Pilgrim Century (1921; revised and enlarged in 1924); The Clock Book (1924), and his most famous book of all…Furniture Treasury (Volumes I & II: 1928; Volume 3: 1933) which was so highly regarded that it can still be purchased in bookstores today.

It was Nutting’s love of antiques that led to his least profitable, but perhaps most important business venture of all: Reproduction Antique Furniture. Even as early as 1915 when many people were just beginning to actively collect American antiques, the finest examples were frequently unobtainable, having already been gathered by wealthy individuals, private collections, or public museums. He was quick to recognize that if he was having difficulty locating certain forms of furniture, so too were other collectors. Many could not afford the finest examples and quite often, those that could afford them simply could not find them. So Nutting decided to reproduce them himself. This article will introduce you to Wallace Nutting’s Reproduction Furniture.

Beginning in 1918, just one year after he published American Windsors, Nutting began reproducing Windsor Chairs. Not a craftsman himself, Nutting had his most talented employees take the original chairs apart very carefully and measure each leg, stretcher, spindle, and seat. They would analyze its special features and then reproduce each piece line-for-line, turning-for-turning. Nutting would always try to locate what he felt were the best examples of any form…having the correct height, proportion, shape, and appeal…and combine them into the perfect piece. Bulk Nuts

Although others were reproducing colonial American furniture during this period, Nutting sought to be the very best. He expended a great amount of time, energy, and money trying to have his reproductions resemble the original as closely as possible. His Furniture Shop used only the best woods available (e.g., his mahogany was imported from the Caribbean), where possible, all work was done by hand (“If the work can be done better by hand, do it that way…If the old method is best, use it“), and his pieces were hand-finished not once, but 5-7 times. Most furniture was finished in a light maple or darker mahogany natural-wood color. Some colored paint washes in black, red, yellow, and green were also available, but rarely used, as few such surviving examples are known today.

The earliest Nutting Furniture from 1918-1922 was marked with a Paper Label (These labels were around 6″w x 4″h, so you won’t miss them) which clearly identified the piece as an original Wallace Nutting reproduction (and also served as a form of advertising for his furniture business). These Paper Labels was quite large in size (4″x6″) and were placed in an out-of-sight, yet still easy-to-find location (underside of a Windsor seat; inside of a drawer, or back of a case piece). Nutting’s reproductions were considered so good that a few unscrupulous individuals were known to remove the Nutting Paper Label, loan the item to a family having many children (to accelerate the aging process), and then sell the reproduction as an original antique. And they usually got away with it. A piece of Nutting furniture was reportedly quietly removed from an exhibition at Winterthur after being identified as a Nutting reproduction.

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