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Celebrating in Style When the United States Hit 100
What are the ingredients for a birthday celebration? Certainly a cake, perhaps a party, probably some presents. But how about some Centennial furniture?
That's one of the ways the United States commemorated the 100th anniversary of its birth in 1876 - with Centennial Furniture. A century after 1776, a burst of patriotic motifs - eagles, American flags, images of Columbia, George Washington - were slapped onto prevailing furniture styles, whether those styles hearkened back to the early days of the republic or not.
Although a bit of an aesthetic mishmash, it was true to tradition in one sense. During the Federal period, the imagery of eagles, stars, and flags was often added to contemporary furniture, to make English designers such as Sheraton and Hepplewhite seem more "American."
An eagle's wingspan becomes the arm of Renaissance Revival récamier. A crest featuring the head of George Washington, crowned with American flags and flanked by the dates "1776" and "1876" (lest anyone miss the point) tops an elaborate side table like the one shown above.
Proud commemoratives back then, precious collectibles today: the birthday reference adds a unique touch to these pieces, whose short lifespan means they can easily fetch four to five figures when in good, original condition.
About the Table Shown Here:
Selling for $8,438.75 (including 25 percent buyer's premium) on iGavel.com, this table exhibits Centennial furniture quite well. It has American Renaissance styling with inlaid bust of George Washington surmounted by eagles and two American flags, and is flanked by roundels with the dates "1776" and “1876." It was crafted of ebonized and gilt-edged walnut by Kilian Brothers, New York. Features include a conforming apron, trumpet legs, incurvate stretcher centered with a finial, and turned feet.
Continue to slide 2 to see the detailing of the tabletop and learn more about Kilian Brothers furniture.
Special thanks to contributing writer Troy Segal for her assistance with this feature.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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Detail of American Centennial Table Made by Kilian Brothers
The photo above shows the top detailing of the table manufactured by Kilian Brothers, New York, featured in slide one. What makes Centennial furniture so unique is that the styles are often in keeping with the furniture popular of the day, but patriotic motifs were added to mark America's 100-year celebration. The inlaid profile of George Washington, flanking eagles, and American flags are typical of patriotic motifs used during this period. The dates "1776" and "1876" further solidify the identification of this piece as American Centennial.
According to iGavel.com, "Kilian Brothers competed with large New York cabinet makers like Pottier and Stymus and Herter Brothers by creating ... accent furnishings such as pedestals, side tables, reception chairs, easels, and music or folio stands. Designs generally employed a juxtaposition of machine-made walnut and ebonized structural elements with incised gilt decoration and black ground inlaid panels."
Many Kilian Brothers pieces include Neo-Classical styling, and they are one of the most popular makers of collectible Centennial pieces. However, their work is far from plentiful and thus prized by antique furniture collectors today.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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Another Type of Centennial Furniture
The United State's year-long birthday bash, spearheaded by the 1876 International Centennial Exhibition (or Exposition) in Philadelphia, also inspired a resurrection of 18th-century furniture designs, which eventually blossomed into the Colonial Revival movement. This amazing table available through Piraneseum (piraneseum.com) was one of those pieces made for the Philadelphia Exposition.
The seller describes it as a "very rare micromosaic and specimen marble tabletop" made in Rome. Surrounding a central micromosaic medallion bordered in green malachite and giallo antico marble are six oval micromosaic panels picturing Rome’s most famous ancient monuments, including the Pantheon, Forum, Colosseum, Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Campidoglio, and Temple of Hercules.
What connects it to America's 100th birthday is the building pictured in the tabletop’s center – Memorial Hall, from the 1876 Exhibition. American buildings are rarely, if ever, featured on 19th century Italian work like this whether in furniture or micromosaic jewelry. The skill this table exhibits indicates it was made by a very skilled Italian craftsman. Piraneseum adds, "The Exhibition hosted three well-known, highly-skilled Roman micromosaic studios – Rocchegiani, Moglia, and Gallanett – and this tabletop was likely crafted by one of these workshops."