How to Identify Victorian Gothic Revival Furniture Antique Collectibles & Historical Stories

You might think Victorian Gothic Revival furniture was made for Halloween. The sculpted, devilish heads on the chairs are downright spooky. However, this is a far cry from what their designers and collectors thought when the coins were created in the mid-19th century. The designs were actually the result of a growing romantic era, created by novels such as those by author Sir Walter Scott. His novel “Ivanhoe” is an example.

Historically, Gothic carved designs on furniture originated in Rome, with the folding chair known as the “Dante” or “Savonarola” chair. It was named after Gerolamo Savonarola, a priest known for his outspoken opinions in the 15th century. Reproductions have never ceased to be made.

The neo-Gothic aspect of furniture and architecture began in England in the second half of the 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century. It was an outgrowth of furniture and architecture made in Europe from 1150 to 1500 for churches.

A Savonarola style chair.

Victorian objects can be recognized by their painted arches, heavy fabrics and wood. The furniture has detailed carvings with elaborate decorative paintings and intricate carvings.

The neo-Gothic movement spread all over the world, including in Asia. In America, prominent cabinetmakers from Pennsylvania created everything in the style, from living room sets to cabinets, headboards, and dining room tables. Among them were Gustave Herter, John Henry Belter and Robert Horner.

Another influence that popularized the Gothic look was the Industrial Revolution. Mass-produced furniture made quality pieces affordable.

There was a resurgence of interest in Victorian Gothic Revival furniture in the 1960s. Reproductions and copies flooded the market. Authentic period pieces made by major manufacturers, such as Belter (1804-1863), became rare. At a 2012 Neal auction, a Belter table sold for $27,060.

The problem for interested collectors is that few Belter pieces were signed. They can be identified by the use of rosewood and the carvings of poets, statesmen and Gothic creature heads. They can still spawn anywhere.

About Oscar L. Smith

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