Are you looking to fill your home with wooden furniture that is high quality and elegant in its simplicity and clean lines? Then look no further than antique Shaker furniture. Shaker furniture is known for its minimalist design and functionality, and these pieces are sure to add a touch of class to any room in your house.
The Origin of Shaker Furniture
The Shakers, also known as members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, are a religious group who believe in Christ’s second coming and live in self-sufficient, communal societies.
They began in the late 1700s, and reached a peak of 6,000 people strong across nineteen communities in the northeastern United States. Some of those states included Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Unfortunately though, by the end of the Civil War, the Shaker order was in a steady decline, and by the early 1900s, many of their beloved communities had dissolved. There is currently just one active Shaker community in the world, living out their beliefs in Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine.
Despite their small number of followers, though, collectors highly appreciate and seek out the Shaker-style furniture.
Shaker Furniture Characteristics
Something Shakers are known for is their hard work and honesty. Their furniture reflects these values. As we mentioned, Shaker furniture is characterized by its simplicity and clean lines. This style of furniture was made into the late 19th century and is still popular today.
There are a number of antique furniture styles from this same time period, including Shaker and Amish. So, when you find a piece of antique furniture at a flea market or auction, how do you know it is indeed from the Shaker movement?
Here are a few ways to identify furniture from the Shaker style:
Shaker furniture typically has wooden knobs or handles instead of those made from metal. Not only does this allow a furniture maker to continue using one material source to create the entire furniture piece, but also it holds to the Shaker’s guiding principles of simplicity.
When Shakers constructed furniture, they would use the type of wood that was naturally around them. They most commonly used oak or maple, but they also used cherry, pine, walnut, hickory, and poplar.
Another notable aspect of their material choice is that they avoided any inlays or veneers. They used a single type of wood, rather than mixing woods, as is the practice of some furniture makers. The idea was that the furniture should be honest and not pretend to be something it’s not.
One of the most popular pieces of Shaker furniture is the ladder-back chair. These chairs have horizontal slats across the back, much like a ladder.
The Shakers also created other types of chairs, including the slat-back chair. This chair is similar to the ladder-back, but with vertical slats rather than horizontal.
The Shakers also made rocking chairs and short-backed, single-slat chairs that fit beneath a table when not in use.
Following in the footsteps of their founder and prophet Ann Lee, they believed there was no need to adorn and embellish their furniture when it did not add to the goodness and functionality of the piece. Embellishment only encouraged the sin of pride, which was in complete opposition to their way of life.
Rush or Cane Seats
Another identifying factor of Shaker furniture is the type of seat used. Many chairs from this era have cane seats or use Shaker tape to weave the seat together.
The Shakers also used rush, which is a type of grass that grows in wetlands. This was an especially popular material for seats in the northeast United States, where the furniture was originally made.
Shaker furniture has legs that taper slightly towards the floor. This was done to give the chair more stability. They also used the tapering technique on furniture like four poster beds.
Tapering provides utility as well as simple beauty in that it shaves weight off the furniture, making them easier to move and use.
One of the most notable characteristics of Shaker dressers and chests is the drawer configuration. The top drawers are small, while the bottom drawers are much larger. This was another way that the Shakers achieved utility in their furniture design.
The smaller, upper drawers were perfect for items like gloves and handkerchiefs, while the larger, lower drawers could hold heavier items like linens and blankets.
Types of Antique Shaker Furniture
There’s no doubt about it, quality craftsmanship is inherent in every piece that the Shaker community creates. Antique Shaker furniture is highly sought after because of its unique style, simplicity, and utility.
As such, the most popular types of furniture you’ll find from this religious order are pieces that smartly improve one’s efficiency and gratitude in life.
This includes pieces like tables and chairs, dressers and chests, rocking chairs, bed frames, benches, step stools, and any other utilitarian piece of furniture that aids in the everyday function of life.
How Do I Know if My Shaker Furniture is Valuable?
You may have inherited a beautiful Shaker style bedroom set from your grandmother, or perhaps you come across what you think is an 18th century shaker chair at a flea market, but how do you know if it’s an antique and, more importantly, valuable?
The value of Antique Shaker furniture depends on a number of factors. There are a few key things to look for that will help determine what your piece is worth.
In the 1800s, the popularity of Shaker furniture began to spread throughout the country. Many furniture dealers and stores began crafting Shaker furniture copycats in order to cash in on the trend.
To protect their work, in 1875 the Shaker community created a trademark. It was an image of their signature ladder-back chair that includes the word “Shaker” around it.
They purchased gold transfers from the Palm, Fechteler & Company of New York and Chicago in order to mark their work with their unique marking.
This is a great way to identify the piece as authentic and research its value.
Age and Condition
Of course, the age and condition of the furniture will play a role in its value.
One way you can know that your furniture piece is not a reproduction is by the condition of the wood.
For example, newer wood will likely have perfect cuts and carvings, suggesting that it was cut and assembled by machines. In older pieces, you’ll find their dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints cut by hand or at least with some level of imperfection.
Old wooden furniture will also show signs of wear–things like seam separation, splitting, or wood shrinkage.
As all things antique, authentic Shaker furniture that is in good condition and has been well-cared for over the years will be worth more than a piece that is damaged or has been heavily used.
The value of Antique Shaker furniture will also depend on its originality. A piece that has all of its original parts and hasn’t been modified or altered in any way will be worth more than a piece that has been changed or updated.
The rarity of the piece is also a factor to consider when determining value. If you have a common piece of furniture, it’s not likely to be worth as much as a rare piece.
Do Your Research
Not surprisingly, authentic Shaker furniture can be worth quite a lot of money. Even one original dining chair could cost around $275 to $1,000. Larger pieces can be worth a lot more than that.
When trying to determine the value of antique Shaker furniture, it’s important to do your research. There are a number of resources available that can help you learn more about the piece you have and what it’s worth.
The best way to get started is to consult with an expert in the field. Antique dealers and appraisers are a great resource for information on Shaker furniture and can give you an idea of what your piece is worth. When buying Shaker furniture, be sure to ask the seller questions about the piece so you can determine if it’s the right piece for your collection.
There are also a number of books available on the subject. These can be found at your local library or online through retail sites like Amazon.com.
Finally, there are a number of quality websites that specialize in antique Shaker furniture. These can be a great resource for information on value, history, and more.
By doing your research and getting an expert opinion, you can get a good idea of what your antique Shaker furniture is worth.
If you appreciate minimalism and clean lines in your aesthetic, then antique Shaker furniture would be a perfect fit for you. The wonderful thing about this type of furniture is it can be used in any style of home, from traditional to contemporary.
Indeed, authentic Shaker furniture is a valuable investment. Be sure you are getting a piece that is worth the money you are spending, and then enjoy your purchase for years to come!
What do you like best about Shaker furniture? Let us know in the comments below.