Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Small Print Of The Contract

So, why do I think you are not ready to sign my simple contract?

Well, as you can imagine, I go into/have been into TONS of antique shops of "knowledgeable" dealers and have attended/attend multitudes of auctions. Many (heck, MOST) of them were/are held by long time auctioneers, and some of them are 2nd and 3rd generation auctioneers.

 Sadly, way too many of them (including the 2nd and 3rd generation auctioneers) all too often have items mislabeled, misidentified, etc, and usually those terms and descriptions are what I have always felt are pretty basic terms and definitions.

Think of the things you learned in grade school, the first things you tend to remember learning. Might not be something you think of as a “building block,” but you do learn the definition of “CAT”, and those very important things like crayons, paper, paste, nor boogers are things that are acceptable culinary choices…at least not for public consumption, anyway.
 In my opinion, many commonly misused terms are “basics” that any intelligent person who has been in the “old junk business,” even for as little as a year, should get down pat quickly, even after handling only one or 2 pieces related to those terms.

The misuse of one term in particular has become a real pet peeve of mine. Plus, it drives me crazy that people can not figure out for themselves that they are misusing the term.

What is the term?

Fumed Oak.

Now, I admit, I misused it myself for the first number of months I was seriously buying items for resale. I tossed it around a bit, as it just seemed like a cool term! Sounded like I knew what I was talking about.

Little did I know, I was clueless!

However, the thing is, I learned right after I handled my first piece of  "fumed oak" that what I had was not fumed oak, and that what I had was essentially an early 1900s, Wal-Mart-esque piece of furniture. It was a compressed-crap-board entertainment center of the period, so to speak. Well, it was actually a 3 drawer dresser, but you get my point.

 Along with that knowledge I learned what fumed oak really was, and what it looked like.  For the life of me, I wish I could remember who set me right, or how I figured it out, but I can't. Must have bumped my head on too many low hanging pipes and attic rafters over the last 20+ years. 

They say memory is the first thing to go, but that is a good thing...then you can't remember what else has gone.

So, here are 3 important things about anything made of fumed oak:

#1  It is always made of OAK.  

Surprise, surprise, fumed oak is made of, omigawd, wait for it….OAK! Sufferin’ suckotash! Who woulda thunk it?!??

#2  Just because it is old, and it is made of oak, does NOT mean it is "fumed oak."

Less obvious, but stands to reason, no?

#3  Just because it looks like a dark, oak grain does not mean it is "fumed oak."

Ok, now, if you stumbled on number 3 and/or are a little confused, you need to read that closer.

Lemme help you...…I’ll set it up differently this time.

Fumed oak is always oak. Just because the piece has a black, oak-like grain does not mean it IS oak.

Still confused?

Ok, here is the scoop....and this scoop is sugar free.... and booger free, too!

Did you know that back in the early 1900s they made cheap, crappy furniture, too?

And they put a fake, wood grain on things that made them appear to be something they were not?

Kind of like that "oak" laminate flooring made of compressed moon dust or whatever that crap is (could be just that, actually….who knows the source...maybe horses, bulls, whatever). Yes, that “board” with a photograph (of real wood) that is glued on.  

Or think of that inch thick compressed sawdust board that was so popular in the 1960s, 1970s, 80s...oh heck, they still sell TONS of the stuff.  (You can usually date it by how easily it falls apart. If it was made last year, dropping it causes it to crumble into at least 20 pieces. If it only breaks in half, you likely have a 1970s piece! ) 

Yep, they did similar things over a hundred years ago.  

When money is involved, copies are always something that sell well to the masses who have no idea what "quality" looks like.  That is why people will buy some compressed-chemical-and-camel-crap piece of junk for $1500 in a furniture store and then poo-poo the quality, cabinet maker designed and hand built antique furniture in your shop.

Anyway, fumed oak has a dark grain.  We established that. And it really IS oak.

you see, to get a dark grain on oak you need either one of 2 things.

#1) Time. And lots of it. 

#2) Ammonia.

The grain of many woods will darken with time, and exposure to the air.

But, to replicate this darkening of the grain, you can also expose the wood to high levels of ammonia.

This is no longer something that is done:

(a) Safely on a large scale 
(b) Economically on a large scale.

Furniture makers and woodworkers who do single/small numbers of pieces, reproductions, repairs to antique furniture (etc) still will do this sort of thing on a very small scale, but it has essentially been long abandoned by furniture makers for over 80 (or more) years.

 However, during the late 1800s/early 1900s, true craftsmen like Gustav Stickley, and other furniture makers who made quality oak furniture (though of many of lesser quality than Stickley's work) did use this process to emphasize the quality of their pieces, an nod to the true antique oak furniture that was visibly dark, made that way by the passage of time, with its exposure to the air for 200 years or more. 

Stickley likely was the main influence of others when it came to the use of this chemical darkening of oak’s grain, but I will not get into history…this is just a touch on the background of the origin of the term.  Do some research if you want to know more of the history.

Google (or other search engines) will/can help you…but, be sure to read my next blog post before digging too deep, and absorbing too much of what is out there.


You might just be “learning” from someone’s writings who misuses the term FUMED OAK.

SO, Did you catch that veiled picker tip?

Here it is, spelled out:

Know what you are researching in the first place, so you can discard/ignore the misinformation you come across, instead of unknowingly spreading more misinformation.

Oh, and beware! In the next blog post you will have to take a TEST! Get out that bottle of hard stuff again!

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