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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/colonial revival chest??


Front of Chest
Front of Chest  

Chest Top
Chest Top  
Dear Mr. Taylor,

I purchased this chest for $40 on Craigslist.  I see no maker's mark anywhere.  It is fairly lightwieght and has many chips and scuffs, especially on the sides and top.  I want to use this piece as my first attempt at refinishing.  I plan to sand, stain, and refinish everything except the drawers, because I am not yet talented enough to tackle the drawer fronts.  

Questions:  do you agree this is the right piece to on which to experiment?  Is it colonial revival?  Year?  Can you tell me anything about the manufacturer or ways to identify?  Kind of wood on tops, sides, drawers?  How was the design on the drawers created?  Any tips if I would try to tackle refinishing the drawers?  I am afraid sanding would remove the interesting designs.  

Is it worth anything as it is or if it were refinished by a professional?  Really, I don't mind if it's worth exactly what I paid or less!  This is just a fun project.  

As you can see, I am an absolute newbie.  Thank you so much for your time.


Jennifer – That is not a Colonial Revival piece. That chest is what is called “borax” furniture. This is how Robert Swedberg described it in his book “Furniture of the Depression Era” in a photo caption.




“Borax was the name that was applied to the mass-produced, lower priced, poorly made, showy furniture of the 1920s and 1930s. Some say this moniker was derived from the premiums given with a cleaning compound containing borax. Others claim it is a foreign word corrupted. The illustrated chiffonier is an example. It is made of inexpensive hardwood, but with the aid of staining and artificial graining, it became a marketable product. The background caramel tone was permitted to dry before dark colored details were rolled or stamped on. This was a quicker process than cutting, matching and gluing veneers to a surface. The center of the second drawer was stained walnut. An imitation graining on the decorative panel was added and outlined by black router lines. Brown router lines separate a section of artificial graining from the walnut-stained space at the edge. When all the drawers were decorated in this manner, a showy chest was created. The plain drawer that shows was stripped with a water-wash paint remover, leaving the light colored hardwood base exposed. The construction of this chest fits the characteristics of cheap furniture found in the outline, entitled "Characteristics of Quality and Inexpensive Veneered Furniture" that follows later.

It is possible to finish this piece in a number of ways. Restore it with staining and graining. Stain it. Leave it light in tone with the surface protected with coats of varnish. Paint it or antique it.

A borax (cheap) chest of drawers with artificial graining stripped off one drawer to reveal the gumwood base. Note the router lines, applied decorations, and the burl walnut veneer panel on the bottom drawer, 34"'wide, 18" deep, 52" high, late 1920s.”

You can find this most interesting book at

The short answer is that is not the piece to begin a refinishing project with. You will be greatly disappointed and it may ruin you on refinishing. Don’t do it with this piece. It is cheap junk and can’t be made better. Lots of good Depression era furniture is out there for very little cost. That is what I began my restoration career with. I used to go to Goodwill and buy the worst piece I could find to take home and learn on. I suggest you buy the Swedberg book to learn what is out there. I also suggest you buy my book “HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE” (found on my website) to learn what is the real thing and what is not.

I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for writing.

Fred Taylor  

Collectibles-General (Antiques)

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Fred Taylor


I will attempt to answer questions about American antique furniture, including construction details, style, period, manufacturers, care, repair and storage. I do not have any background in appliances, musical instruments, sewing machines, trunks, lighting, clocks or children's and baby furniture and will not respond to questions about those items.


I ran an antique furniture restoration business for twenty years. I am a nationally syndicated columnist on the subject of antique furniture for such publications as Antique Week and New England Antiques Journal. I have produced one video on the subject of furniture identification and my book "HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE" is now available.I have also published articles in Antique Trader, Chicago Art Deco Society, Northeast Magazine, Victorian Decorating and Lifestyles, Professional Refinishing, Antiques and Art Around Florida and Antique Shoppe. You can visit my website at

BSBA Finance, University of Florida, MBA Finance, University of Florida

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