39th Annual Meeting-Wooden Artifacts Group, June 2, 2011. Beautiful Brass: A Fresh Look at Historic Furniture Hardware, Joan Parcher

Backplates, ca. 1750-1780, image courtesy Joan Parcher

I was pretty excited when I saw this presentation listed in the program. Not only were we going to learn about an area of furniture that doesn’t have a whole lot of coverage in the literature, but the person presenting the material was a craftsperson and collector who potentially could offer a slightly different viewpoint on the subject. Joan Parcher is a jeweler and metalsmith whose work is in the collections of a number of museums including the Victoria and Albert and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Additionally, she’s made replacement hardware and repaired furniture brasses for 25 years.

Joan didn’t begin collecting furniture hardware until 2004 when, at a local junk store, she overheard two people, looking at a period Chippendale brass, considering turning it into a Christmas ornament. Since then she’s amassed a study collection of about 10,000 pieces of furniture hardware, ranging from iron nuts to gilt cast brass.

Drawing on Don Fennimore’s scholarship, information gleaned from patents, 18th and 19th century brass founders trade catalogs, and her own observations of tool and makers marks on  knobs, back plates, bails, casters, posts and nuts from her own collection, Joan treated us first to a conventional presentation focused on the connoisseurship of old and reproduction brass hardware. She shared her observations about ways to distinguish Federal-era plates from reproductions (reproductions probably won’t have wrinkles from rolling on the backs and thick square iron nuts are found with earlier brass hardware) and where one might find makers marks on various kinds of hardware. She highlighted some marked pieces in her collection, made  by late eighteenth-early nineteenth-century Birmingham, England makers Thomas Hands and William Jenkins. She also offered suggestions about the kind of tools to use to make new plates look old, bringing examples from her own collection.

Knobs, late Federal period, image courtesy Joan Parcher


Following her slide talk, Joan allowed us to look at her tools and examples of old and reproduction hardware from her own collection that she had brought with her and laid out on a table. After a day and a half of looking at slides, what a pleasure it was to actually look at stuff. She’s keen to continue this conversation and invited the audience to email (joanparcher[at]cox[dot]net) her images of interesting brasses. Ultimately she’d like to present this collection of hardware photos on a website. What an amazing resource that’ll be.