Marriage can be challenging, but going it alone can be pretty tough too. The couple in this story needed one another to be of use in this world by serving an owner, providing a useful source of critical self-evaluation or reinforcing unmerited narcissism.
Marriages in the world of antique furniture are are often greeted with mild contempt to outright horror, usually proportional to the market value of the piece. These are usually seen on large and potentially expensive case pieces, such as an 18th century chest-on-chest or highboy. They make for great drama on antique valuation TV shows. Some are created simply for use (a marriage of convenience) and some to deceive (A confidence game of a marriage, deliberate and sly). Fortunately, our subject is a humble late 19th century dressing mirror, and the offense, if any, seems to have been a purely practical matter, endangering no one’s fortune.
I didn’t consider this mirror as a marriage when it first arrived at the shop, I was just focused on the immediate task. Like its larger sibling the Cheval Mirror, the frame pivots on knobs with threaded stems that pass through an upright on either side of the mirror frame. Tightening these threaded knobs can lock the mirror into place at an angle convenient for a particular use. On this object, one of those critical knobs had its stem broken off and poorly replaced by a length of dowel extending at an odd angle from the knob. Not being threaded, the mirror frame could no longer be locked into place; it still worked as a mirror of course, but it might as well have just hung on the wall. So the job was to replace the damaged threaded knob.
I’m a lathe user by necessity rather than enthusiasm. I learned the skill because I had to in order to complete jobs, and I didn’t want to pay someone else to make the parts. Once I became tolerably good, I began supplying others with replacement parts for those that were missing or broken beyond repair on their projects. I like turning, it’s pleasurable, but I am seldom on the lathe if its not for a paying job.
Once the knob was formed it was time to thread the stem:
Above are comparisons of the grain texture, molding details, color and surface finish characteristics that led me to the conclusion that the frame was made of mahogany and the uprights from walnut. These can be subtle to someone not accustomed to looking at these details; indeed it is sometimes a struggle to tell which wood is which on older more patinated pieces.
I must admit that it is certainly possiblethat they began their lives together when parts from two models were assembled at the manufacturer although I do not believe that. They do compliment one another enough to be tolerable. The pieces are well made and sturdy, and far better in practical use than in a heap somewhere without function…I am happy that they found each other.
Hey, why didn’t you just replace the stem?
Wood expands and contracts over time. what was once a nice round knob turned on a lathe around 1875 has now become something more of an oval, and I have experienced this many times with breaks of this nature. So, I need to drill straight into it, dead center. I have tried a number of ways to grasp and center aged components on the lathe to prevent them from oscillating wildly, with little success. You can see that there is a fairly narrow neck on the lower hollow of the knob, not much wider than the stem that would need to go through it. Between that, the oscillation, and the force needed to execute the work I felt pessimistic. I know with confidence that I can make a solid replacement. I do give repair a go every time just in case there is a minor miracle, as I had with this job too, and yet no divine reprieve.
Mirror example: Crescent City Auction Gallery New Orleans, LA March 25, 2018