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Depression Era Furniture

Pieces of the 1920s and '30s Share the "Antique" Limelight

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Depression Era Furniture Vanity

Depression Era Vanity

-Pamela Wiggins

Quick Facts About Depression Era Furniture

  • In furniture terms, Depression era means a piece dates to the ‘20s, ‘30s or early 1940s. Technically it’s not antique, since it’s not more than 100 years old yet.
  • Occasional tables from the Depression era are popular with collectors and decorators, but only if they are offered for sale in excellent condition.
  • Depression era furniture was once shunned, but demand and steep prices on other types of antique furniture have made it more popular with decorators and dealers alike during the recent past.
  • Fortunately, there isn’t much of a problem with reproductions in this area. The price of this furniture has not risen high enough to warrant that type of attention.

Defining Depression Era Furniture

How do you define furniture that’s not quite antique by the traditional definition, but it’s far from new? It’s not a cut and dry definition by any means, but lots of pieces falling into this category were made during the Depression era. And in furniture terms, that constitutes the ‘20s and ‘30s spilling over into the early ‘40s.

Even though lots of hoity-toity antique sellers treated it like an ugly stepsister just a few short years ago, Depression era furniture is managing to hold its own now days. More and more dealers have started to notice and carry furniture made during the Depression years.

A Glut in the Marketplace?

While the market isn’t quite glutted with Depression era furniture just yet, the increase in pieces available can be attributed to more and more pieces coming into the marketplace through estate clearings as opposed to meeting secondary market demand. But even so, demand does make up part of the equation. After all, this furniture is still affordable in most cases. It fits in with lots of different decorating looks. And, many times, has a curvy deco appeal that isn’t overly ornate. In other words, the furniture itself doesn’t compete with the decorative accessories and accent pieces used with which they are used.

A Study Resource for Depression Era Furniture

If you want to study up on this type of furniture before you head out shopping again, look for a copy of Furniture of the Depression Era by Robert W. and Harriett Swedberg for Collector Books (now out of print but available through online booksellers). In addition to a price guide, which may or may not be accurate depending on where you’re doing your furniture hunting, this illustrated reference includes a wealth of information on dating, manufacturers and the identification of wood veneers used during the period.

Let’s Talk Wood Veneers

Yes, Depression-era furniture makers employed lots of veneer work. And no, it shouldn’t be too surprising. Not all veneer furnishings are low-end by any means. Some produced 100 years prior to the Great Depression are fine quality and highly desirable. But during the Depression era, manufacturers had to make furniture appealing to consumers while keeping costs down during lean financial times. Layering a thin slice of ornate veneer over wood of lesser quality offered a way to accomplish this objective.

According to the Swedbergs, actually identifying what types of woods and veneers were used during the depression era can be complicated by the fact that many different kinds of bleaches, stains and fillers were used to change the characteristics of the wood. And, many styles were copied from those popular in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries throughout the Depression years. Some are exact replicas, which can only be identified by closely examining the woods used. Others have slightly modified characteristics that make identification somewhat easier.

The Depression Era Look

Most of the furniture we generally associate with the Depression era has a distinct look, however. Some pieces are more popular than others. China and curio cabinets, many with nicely curved fronts and glass panels, seem to sell more readily than buffets, for instance. People seem to want more functionality in furniture pieces today rather than larger items that just take up space.

In the bedroom, ladies enjoy owning the vanities and dressing tables with benches that were very popular during this period in furniture history. They tend to prefer those with three mirrors instead of just one since the two side mirrors can be adjusted to show the face, profile and the back of the hair. Small occasional tables from this time period might be the best bargain of all. But only the ones with fancy inlays and veneers in excellent condition command the highest prices.

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