Antique Shaker Furniture Identification and Value Guide

Shaker furniture
A shaker-style furniture set with a ladder-back chair, tables, and drawers(Source: Pinterest )

Are you a furniture enthusiast or a collector? Do you have a passion for antique Shaker furniture?

Or maybe you have a collection of shaker furniture and you’re interested in finding out how much it’s worth. If your thoughts and curiosity are on antique shaker furniture, this article is for you!

This particular style of furniture is available in contemporary or a more traditional antique versions. This is why you must be knowledgeable to distinguish between authentic and antique shaker furniture and modern ones.

What Is Antique Shaker furniture?

Antique Shaker furniture is a famous style of furniture created in the nineteenth century by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, also known as Shakers.

Antique Shaker style furniture, like its creators, is minimalist, practical, and clean. This elegant style, which originated in the Northeast, is distinguished by mushroom-shaped wooden knobs and straight, tapered legs.

The furniture style complements both traditional and modern homes, and antique shaker furniture is in demand.

Its simplicity fits right in with contemporary homes. Walnut is the most commonly used wood for this furniture. Shaker furniture was traditionally made from wood obtained from Shakers’ farms. Oak, maple, birch, poplar, hickory, beech, and walnut are all examples of such woods.

Origin of Antique Shaker Furniture

Origin of Antique Shaker Furniture
The Shakers at one of their meetings(Source: HistoryNet )

Shaker-style antique furniture was created by a group of people who shared a common set of beliefs and ways of life. They included about 6,000 people from around 19 separate villages in Maine to the Indiana area.

A small, radical religious sect originating in the 19th century, they were called the “Shakers” or the “Shaking Quakers” because of their frenzied dances and trances during religious services, and they were able to leave an imprint on the sands of American furniture styles.

A small, radical religious sect that emerged in the nineteenth century, they were known as “Shakers” or “Shaking Quakers” due to their frenzied dances and trances during religious services, and they left their mark on American furniture styles.

The Shaking Friends left the Church of England in search of religious freedom in the American colonies.

Shakers were members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and followed the teachings of Prophet Ann Lee, an unusual position for a woman during that time.

After leaving England in 1774, they immigrated to the colonial Northeast of the United States, where they were known for their inventive crafts, strict work ethic, and humble lifestyles. There, they established completely self-sufficient communities.

Unfortunately, by the end of the Civil War, the Shaker order was in a downward spiral, and many of their beloved villages had vanished by the turn of the century. Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, is the only Shaker community that is still active today, where they continue to practice their religion.

Technique for Manufacturing Shaker-Style Furniture

The Shakers identified as believers and preached that sacrificial labor (because they were extremely hardworking), shunning worldly pleasures, and persistent prayer were the keys to salvation.

They used technology to create their pieces because they believed in preserving God’s time. As a result, they were among the first people in America to engage in large-scale production.

Identification of Antique Shaker Furniture

The guidelines for identifying antique Shaker furniture are well known: simplicity and functionality. Since the Shakers were theologically unable to use 19th-century ornamentation, they gave their furniture a natural, yet still beautiful, appearance.

However, the Amish produced similar styles of work during the same period, so how does one distinguish Shaker furniture? Here are some ways you can identify antique Shaker furniture:

● Wooden Knobs

Wooden Knobs
Antique Shaker cabinet knobs in ash wood finish(Source: eBay)

A signature style of the Shakers was wooden knobs. This is because the majority of furniture during that period was made of metal, so they constructed their own out of natural wood, following their principle.

Using wood for the knobs also demonstrates their discipline because it allowed them to use a single material, which gives the knobs a simple look.

The knobs were not only made of wood, but they were also mushroom-shaped. Because many dressers and drawers have wooden knobs, these identifiers may not be key at this time. However, given the period in which they were created, these features were significant.

● Tapered Legs

The legs of antique Shaker furniture are slightly tapered toward the floor. This was intended to increase the chair’s stability. In addition to chairs, this technique was also applied to four-poster beds. It provides functionality and imparts beauty and elegance to the furniture.

● Simple Construction and Design

Simple Construction and Design
Antique Shaker chairs with a dark brown ladder back(Source: eBay)

The most common type of Shaker chair is a ladder-back chair. It’s a chair with horizontal slats along the back that looks like a ladder, as the name suggests. This is an excellent example of a simple chair. These were the only chairs made by the Shakers.

They created slat-back chairs with vertical slats rather than horizontal slats, rocking chairs, and short-backed, single-slat chairs that can be tucked under the table when not in use. All of these chairs are simple and functional, with little to no design.

The Shakers were also not known for using embellishments or ornamentation on their furniture because they believed it encouraged the “sin of pride.”

So, all of their chairs and furniture have a minimalistic design. All of these are consistent with their values and can be used to identify antique Shaker chairs.

● Wood and Paint Stains

The Shakers made use of locally available and indigenous wood. They did not import any wood from other countries. That is why woods like mahogany and rosewood cannot be linked to shaker furniture.

American–grown woods such as pine, maple, cherry, and others are a standard component of their furniture.

To decorate their chairs in a way that did not violate their religious beliefs, the shakers painted or stained most of their furniture in yellows, reds, blues, and greens.

These vintage chairs could be repainted in modern times, so if a hint of these colors is observed on a piece of furniture, it may still be antique Shaker furniture that has been refinished.

● Drawers With Varying Depths

The construction of the drawers on the dressers and chests is a distinguishing feature of antique Shaker furniture. The drawers increase as they progress, which means that the top drawers are smaller while the bottom drawers are larger.

These drawers were also functional, as the smaller top drawers were used to store small items such as gloves and handkerchiefs, whereas the larger drawers were used to store large items such as blankets and linen.

● Identifying Marks

An easy way to tell if a piece of furniture is not an antique Shaker furniture is by the absence of aging marks such as scratches, worn seats, and so on. Aside from that, there are other unique identifiers, such as numbers from the R. M. Wagan Factory, which was founded in 1852.

This factory numbered their Shaker furniture from 0 to 7 according to size. The numbers are stamped on the back of the chairs’ front slats. Another Wagan Factory identifier is a decal on the inside runner of a rocking chair identifying it as a genuine antique Shaker chair.

● Find an Appraiser

A professional appraiser who is familiar with Shaker-style chairs can quickly determine the age of antique Shaker furniture. They also come in handy when buying or selling antique Shaker furniture. They can provide a monetary estimate of the worth of your chair.

Certified appraisers should be sought out from a reputable source, such as a local bank or an estate attorney. They should not be gotten from places with a dishonest motivation, such as auction houses, in a quest to acquire the furniture as cheaply as possible.

Antique Shaker Furniture Styles

Shaker artisans primarily adopted modern Federalist styles, such as those of Hepplewhite and Sheraton, with their ideas of symmetry, proportion, and balance when they began manufacturing furniture, first for their own use and then for commercial purposes.

But in the end, they made these Neo-Classical lines even simpler, almost to the point of being ascetic. Prophet Ann Lee, who was their leader, believed and pushed for their furniture to be because such complexities do not add to their quality or durability.

Shaker design became known for its high-quality craftsmanship, durable materials, and smooth finishes, as opposed to the ornate inlays, intricate carvings, and thick veneers found in other American furniture styles.

Antique Shaker Furniture Collections and Makers

You may have come across some collection names while looking for antique shaker furniture. Many of these collectors were not Shakers themselves, but they made Shaker furniture available to other people and museums.

❖ The Andrews Shaker Collection

Dr. Andrews built a large collection of shaker furniture, which has eventually found its way to museums today.

He wrote several books about shaker furniture, including “The Community Industries of the Shakers” (1933), “Shaker Furniture” (co-written in 1937 with his wife, Mrs. Faith Young Andrews), “The Gift to Be Simple; Songs, Dances, and Rituals of the American Shakers” (1940), and “The People Called Shakers” (1953), as well as many pamphlets and articles on the subject.

❖ Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon

This museum, founded by John S. Williams, houses a collection of bits and pieces of shaker furniture.

Aside from collectors, there are names of Shaker furniture makers whose work you may be familiar with, such as Elders Grove Wright and Thomas Damon, who were known for their woodwork mastery, Tabitha Babbitt, who was a Shaker furniture toolmaker and inventor, and Isaac N. Youngs, who was a Shaker furniture and clockmaker.

There were also craftsmen in the Hancock Shaker community who made furniture unique to their peculiar way of joining wood, particularly drawers.

This was unique to the Hancock Shaker community and surrounding communities in Massachusetts, Tyringham, and Enfield, Connecticut.

Antique Shaker Furniture’s Value

Antique Shaker furniture is causing a stir in the antique furniture world due to its high price. Its unique design and style have drawn attention to it after being used by a select few for so long, and collectors can’t get enough of it.

Antique Shaker furniture such as Shaker chairs, tables, cupboards, and beds are extremely valuable today. The pricing platform you use to determine the worth of an antique greatly influences the value you receive.

This price variation is why collectors conduct extensive research when sourcing Shaker furniture. The research will assist you in determining the process you are willing to go through to obtain your piece as well as the total cost of furniture with Shaker-style characteristics.

Buying and Selling Antique Shaker Furniture

After completing your research, you should be able to determine the price range for the desired antique. Following your personal appraisal, a professional appraisal is very useful for a general overview.

This section will focus on where to look for antique Shaker furniture, specifically online and at auctions.

Trading Shaker Antiques Online

Buying antique furniture online is a quicker method because you will be in direct contact with the seller or buyer. However, you risk losing a substantial amount of money. This is especially true if your antique is complete and authentic.

Looking at listings on an online store like eBay, antique Shaker furniture ranges from $119 to $1,380, depending on the condition and the seller’s asking price.

This is the price range for purchasing antiques from online stores. Here are some more antique Shaker chairs and tables for sale from various online retailers:

Buying Antique Shaker Furniture at Auctions

The best way for antique dealers to determine the value of their pieces is through auctions because they can get their money’s worth.

One of the best ways to determine the value of antiques in the market for a particular style is to look at the prices at which similar antiques were sold at auction.

This rating is determined by looking up items that have been sold in the past and comparing their style and design to the one that you are considering selling or buying. The following is a list of some of the auction prices for antique Shaker-style furniture:

The 1840 Sewing Table:

This 1840 sewing table was estimated to sell for $5,000-$10,000 at the Morphy’s Fine and Decorative Art Auction; however, due to the high quality of the item and the high demand for it, it ultimately sold for $98,400.

The 1840 Sewing Table
A brown wooden Shaker sewing table with seven drawers(Source: Antique Trader)

The 1850 Shaker Cupboard:

This Shaker Cupboard with a chest of drawers was said to have fetched the third-highest auction price for Shaker furniture. It sold at Willis Henry Auctions for $212,750.

The 1850 Shaker Cupboard
A brown, wooden cupboard atop a chest of 12 drawers with knobs for handles(Source:Antique and the Arts Online)

Andrew Shaker Collection:

After being estimated to bring between $40,000 and $60,000 at Skinner auctions, the butternut and pine herb cupboard from the Andrews Shaker Collection ended up selling for $123,000 instead.

Andrew Shaker Collection
dark wooden cupboard over a chest of four drawers(Source: Bonhams Skinner)

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Antique Shaker Chairs Still Sought After?

Yes, absolutely. They are now highly valued in auction houses and other places where antiques are valued. They also complement the minimalist decor trend, and more people are interested in collecting them.

When Did Shaker Furniture Become Popular?

Shaker furniture remains popular to this day and can be said to have always been popular. However, in the 1850s, when people realized the beauty of the simple designs, its popularity increased.

What’s the Difference Between Antique Shaker and Mission-style Furniture?

Antique shaker furniture featured tapered legs, rounded knobs on the arms and ends, and straight lines. Mission-style furniture, on the other hand, can be distinguished by its simple design and square spindles.

Final Thoughts

The antique Shaker furniture stands out for its simplicity, in contrast to the highly detailed and embellished furniture of its era. This is why it complements the modern minimalistic style so well.

Purchasing or selling Shaker furniture will expose you to its high value in the antique market, both online and at auctions. Keep an eye out for the genuine pieces or seek professional assistance.

Your home’s decor or collection could benefit from the addition of Shaker furniture. Please leave any questions or comments you might have in the comments section.

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