Sunday, February 3, 2013

everything has a story: ivory escutcheons



When I showed the South guest bedroom I mentioned that there was a story having to do with the antique chest-of-drawers that would convince you (if you weren't already;) of Dan's talent as a craftsman!

When we found this antique English chest-of-drawers in Dallas many years ago it had a big "HOLD" tag on it.  It was also missing one knob, an ivory escutcheon and another knob was badly broken and not usable.  (For those not familiar with the term, an "escutcheon" is a protective or ornamental plate or flange- as around a keyhole.) 
I loved the chest, the price was right and I didn't concern myself at the time at how we (i.e. Dan ;) would remedy the missing knobs and escutcheon.  I was more concerned with the big, ole "HOLD" tag that meant I couldn't buy it!  It was on hold until the next day at 5 p.m.  So, the following day we arrived at the antique shop at 4:45 and waited!  5 o'clock came and went and we asked the staff to call the person to see if they were going to take it.  The person decided against it because the width didn't fit their space and we snapped it up!  




Replacing the missing knobs turned out to be fairly easy.  As is often the case on antique chests, the hardware has been replaced over the hundred plus years of its life to what was the latest "style"- yes, they even had trends back then!  For example, when this chest was initially made it was designed to have brass pulls.  It later became fashionable for chests to have "wooden" knobs, so the brass pulls were removed, the holes plugged/patched and new holes for the wooden knobs were drilled.  It is rather rare to find an antique chest that didn't go through this type of modification over the course of its lifetime.
When we bought the chest there was a wooden knob in the top center drawer.  In this photograph you can even see the indentation from the knob around the ivory escutcheon.  It took a while to figure out that the reason this knob wasn't in line with the other two top drawer knobs (which can also be seen in this photograph) was because originally this drawer didn't have a pull of any kind and was only opened using a key. When we removed the knob in the center top drawer we found the hole that outlined where the original ivory escutcheon had been, but the escutcheon was gone.  They had used that hole to place the wooden knob which is why it didn't line up with the other two drawers.   So, now we needed to replace not one, but two escutcheons.  We removed this knob with the intention of leaving the center drawer accessible only via a key as it had been originally designed, and used the knob as the replacement for the one that was broken.  We then went to our go-to place for miscellaneous antique parts in Dallas: Uncommon Market  and found a replacement for the missing knob.  




In this close-up photograph you can see where the holes for the original brass pulls were patched- probably 100 years ago!  The other telltale sign that the knobs weren't original is how they overlap the ivory escutcheon- it would never have been designed that way.




  Replacing the ivory escutcheons proved to be more difficult. For the next month, or so, we discussed all the possibilities of what we could use to replace the missing escutcheons.  We had several antique ivory billiard balls that we had found in France, but if you've ever priced them they can range, on average, from $95-$195 each, so no one was going to cut up an antique billiard ball!
About this time our next door neighbor who had just retired and was preparing his home to sell called and said he was cleaning out his garage and asked Dan if he would like some boxes of old tools that had belonged to his father.  Well, of course Dan would like some old tools! 
The boxes contained years of accumulated random odds and ends, some wonderful tools AND
(now, hold on to your hat ;) 
as luck would have it.....

half of an antique ivory billiard ball!   

I can hear you saying "Get out"!!  No, you get out!!!! :):)
 Our neighbor had no idea why his father would have had an antique billiard ball, but you can imagine our surprise and delight upon finding it!  Something like a needle in a haystack, only better!




Then began the process for Dan to try to figure out how in the world do you get a paper thin escutcheon out of a round ivory ball?!  
Since each escutcheon was initially hand cut, no two of the shield shapes were alike.  Dan started by tracing the shield outline from the holes in the drawers on paper (those are the two paper samples on the left) and then transferring the pattern onto a piece of cut ivory (the two cut ivory samples are on the right).  But, that all makes it sound too easy- this is  not an episode of "This Old House" where everything is perfect the very first time!!  First he had to figure out "how to cut" the ivory...



  Keeping in mind that he only had so much material to work with, (i.e. only a partial billiard ball) there was no room for error.  Dan quickly found out that because the ivory was so brittle the cut couldn't be too thin or it would break the second he started working on it.  Just when he thought he'd have a perfect piece a chip would break off and he would have to start over .  After several failed attempts he realized to prevent breakage he needed to cut the slices thicker than what would fit flush in their respective drawer holes.   He made the initial slices using a coping saw (that's for all you men out there reading;) and then used a Dremel drill with a sanding attachment and a utility knife to gingerly shape the shield design.  Next, he turned a belt sander upside down and held the escutcheon down with his finger to get the shield down to the proper thickness so it would fit flush on the drawer front.  The last step was cutting out the keyhole in the now paper-thin center of the ivory piece.  Using the Dremel drill and making many small drills he eventually made the opening into the shape of a keyhole.



The finished product, though this was one of the culls that didn't quite make the cut!



After gluing the new escutcheons in place they were just a little too white, so I lightly oiled them in Old English (Dark) to age them and they were perfect!  So much so, in fact, that to this day neither Dan, nor I, can tell you which one (other than the top drawer) is the one he made!



(To read other "everything has a story" posts click HERE)

83 comments:

  1. Beautiful dresser, lovely story. I think you did a lovely job. Wow!
    Lisa
    Leeshideaway.blogspot.com

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  2. Wow! is all I can say. I don't think I have that level of perseverance. The chest is beautiful-I love the color and warmth of the wood. I'm glad you are back-I live your blog.I live in RI in a little old house built in 1860 and love everything old.

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    1. That means we're neighbors then! We love old too!

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  3. Wow! It looks great. Your husband is a patient man:)

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  4. Somethings are just meant to be! Love stories like this!

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  5. What an exciting story of antiques and inventiveness, and a great looking piece of furniture. If that dilemma had been mine, I would have no trouble finding the material. A long time ago an antique piano (way beyond rescue) with real ivory keys was being junked, so I rescued all the little ivory slips (the ebony sharps, too, for that matter) that would be the perfect thickness for inlay.

    If you need similar inlay in the future, you could ask a piano repairman, who probably has lots of little extra pieces around.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. That is a great suggestion! Will keep that in mind if ever the need rises again.

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  6. Replies
    1. Oh, good....I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person who read this posting and immedaitely thought nothing beyond "Dan is the MAN...."

      As for ivory-objects? My french mother-in-law, having seen me admire some 19th century serving pieces at the house in Tours, has recently scoured Parisian antique shops and subsequently given me the most daunting Christmas present.....an entire set of mid 19th century ivory serving-utensils equipped with repousse silver handles. I'm assuming these cost about as much as a medium-range, new car.

      They've been exiled deep-deep into a drawer far-far away from the kitchen/dining-room. I'll unearth them when the in-laws come for their yearly, month-long visit, but otherwise I'm haunted by nightmares of having to tell the inlaws that the things were put through a dishwasher during some late-night, fairly-drunken clean-up after a raucous party....or that one or several of my rowsty terriers spied them and thought they looked like good chew-toys.

      Basically?....all the ivory in this particular old house is definitively Not On View.

      Your own house is lovely, by the way. So.....organized. I bought and moved into this 220 year old, rambling house (wings and additions built between 1800 and 1830) in late June. I've spent the past weekend drearily switching all the library furniture (and the accompanying 1000-or-so books) with the furniture in the supposed master bedroom all the way at the other end of this big joint.

      Suffice it to say that, in a fit of civic-mindedness, I hired two crews of recovering drug addicts from TROSA to pack&move the contents of our two houses (twelve miles up the road, for the previous twelve years) into this one house. they were all very sweet. predictably polite fellows, but furniture ended up in ALL the "wrong" rooms (no matter what I shouted or how much I waved my arms as it all came piling in) when the three vans pulled up into the driveway on the same afternoon.

      It wasn't really the movers' fault. This is essentially three different houses, and the floor-plan is about as discernibly schematic/organized as Lindsay Lohan's career-plan. Among other charming but impractcal aspects of the house?....there are three 1790-1830 staircases leading to various rooms on various floors....none of which connect to each other once you get up there. For the house's first fifty-some years, the owners simply seem to have, from time to time, tired of the house they were living in, built another house RIGHT next to it (cheaper than buying a new lot, right?), and abandoned the old wing to maiden aunts and servants.

      Not surprisingly, it occurred to me, as I put the silver/ivory pieces away, that I might not recall where I put them when the in-laws return.

      I'm glad you've kick-started your blog back into action, by the way. It's lovely.

      sincerely,

      David Terry
      www.davidterryart.com

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    2. David- Just read your comment to Dan and we both thoroughly enjoyed the story! When your French in-laws come to visit (a month of in-laws puts you in the "Saint" category btw ;);) just email me and I'll remind you where the fabulous Christmas present is stashed!!

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    3. That is too funny(: and my husband will put up with in-laws for almost 2 months... What does it make him? God in my mind((: ciao z

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  7. Fabulous! I must say, when I thought of possible replacements for the escutcheons, I thought of piano keys, NOT antique billiard balls!

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    1. As I mentioned to P^ that is a great suggestion!

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  8. much older sister SusanFebruary 3, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Our Dan is a master! And to think you married him just for love. You got more than you bargained for. So did all of us!

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  9. Amazing! I would never have guessed an antique billiard ball, I also thought piano keys. Sometimes having a well supplied workshop is very important. My husband calls it inventory, never know when you will need something. Well done Dan!!!

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  10. Joan,
    What an interesting and great story. Dan is a renaissance man...so many talents. You two were meant for each other, the two of you create such magic within your home! I love reading about the pieces with stories.
    Karen

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  11. I love it when a piece of furniture has a good story - and this one is very good. You'll have to make sure the chest holds a copy of this story.

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    1. I love this suggestion so much! I am going to print out a copy and tape an envelope in a drawer. Thank you for the idea!

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  12. What I love about you and Dan is that you 'get it'. We live in such a disposable society and very few people take the time and patience to restore pieces. This is where true craftsmanship is reborn.
    Every time you tell a story of how you happened upon something on the property that was a missing piece to the puzzle, I can't help but think that you have Angels following and guiding you.
    And that my friend, is why your house is a home filled with heart, warmth and love.

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    1. Thank you Katherine- Such a lovely thing to say.

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  13. It is such a beautiful dresser and Dan is definitely a keeper.
    Best...Victoria

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  14. Joan, Dan, and Ella: What a great story! I usually have so much to say, but tonight, "wow" seems to fit! (I love your sister's comment.) Cindy

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  15. Wow Joan Dan is the Man!! My husband is a contractor and a craftsman...there is no way I could get him to do that. That is extremely impressive!!

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    1. Thank you Cindy! Sometimes the promise of chocolate chip cookies does the trick;)

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  16. What a gorgeous piece !!! Have a great start to your week

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  17. All I can say is wow! Great story! I love pieces that have a personal story, and now you and Dan have added to it! ;)

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    1. I couldn't agree more about pieces with a personal story;)

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    2. I was rereading this post, and was suddenly struck by the beauty of the lamp! Love the coloring! Is there a story there too?? ;)

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  18. Three good things happened today. The Ravens won, it's my husband's birthday and your post! Thanks for sharing....I have loved antique wooden knobs and escutcheonsfor as long as I can remember!

    Mary, Ruth's sib.
    Fairfield, CT.

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    1. Mary- Happy Birthday to you husband and congrats on the win! Oh, and hi to Ruth too:)

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  19. A true 'labour of love' and what a beautiful chest. You have a very talented husband Joan!

    Sophia

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    1. Thank you Sophia. The funny part is that when I "got him":) he didn't know he was so talented. I had champagne taste on a beer budget regarding house projects and we couldn't afford to hire the projects out, so Dan had to teach himself all sorts of skills! I'm always asking if he needs any more tools?! As I know that will only benefit me and the house!!

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  20. wow. that is really nice. very creative!

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  21. I love the stories behind things...and am with you that everything has a story! I hope your husband feels 10 feet tall after this post! We're all admiring his handiwork!

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  22. You guys are so cool and so deserving of the many kinds of good luck that you always seem to come into -- half of an antique ivory billiard ball!! But you and Dan do such wonders with it all and that's a testament to your hard work, perseverance and eye for what can be! Beautiful chest of drawers, perfectly restored! Thanks for sharing the story and how you did it!

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    1. Thank you Diane, that is such a nice thing to say. I do believe in the power of the universe- if you put your attention to something it will manifest in some way!

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  23. Ivory is beautiful! I can't help but ask, do you have the key for those drawers?
    sincerely,
    Silly & obsessive reader

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    1. Dear Silly & obsessive;)- that is a very valid question! Sadly we do not. We have a small collection of antique keys, but none that fit the chest. To open it you have to either carefully use you fingernails to pull the trim :( or take out one of the drawers on either side to push the center drawer out. So, suffice it to say- the drawer is empty!

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  24. Seriously...that is such an incredible story! But, having followed you for a while, I think you and Dan not only make your own luck, but it is drawn to you!!!

    Happy Monday!
    xoxo Elizabeth

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  25. Your guest room it fabulous as is ur house! The dresser is well done by you and hubby, you are a team! Hugs z

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  26. That makes the chest even more special and beautiful. And that's how things used to be done...repair it, not toss it. How wonderful that Dan has the talent and patience to do such a great job.

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  27. I am simply amazed..my first thought was a piano key..I had no idea billiard balls were so worth having

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    1. Yes, the antique ivory ones are really expensive.

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  28. Joan, the chest is beautiful and knowing how Dan worked on it must make it even more special to you. I hope you'll share the story about your antique verdure tapestries. If I remember right, I think you said it was your best antique find ever. Considering all the wonderful & beautiful things in your home, that must be quite a story.

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    1. Good memory Terri- Yes, I need to tell that story too. Thank you for the reminder;)

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  29. how utterly flippin cooooooool is that? i love it. you were meant to have that chest, that's all there is too it. and it's also a lesson in patience, oui? i am so glad i stuck to the reading of this post despite breaking out in a sweat when i saw the word escutlk;lj;gf because it's enough to give me a panic attack as a writer since it's a word i'll never spell right!

    smiles to you.

    michele

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    1. oui!!And yes, thank goodness for spell check!:)

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  30. All I can say is "wow"! That is one talented (and lucky) guy you got there! What a great story, and a very beautiful chest. Beth

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    1. I tell him all the time how "lucky" he is Beth.... oh, wait- you probably mean he's lucky for finding the billiard ball:):)!!

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  31. Genius! You two are amazing.

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  32. I'm amazed at the creativity, patience and sheer ingenuity of everything in this story, from the initial find and waiting until the clock ticked over to 5pm to the final product. It would never have occurred to me to use an antique ivory billiard ball. And then for you to actually find one when you weren't specifically look for it - wow! Then the saga of the knobs, piecing together the history, reusing the "misplaced" knob - an adventure. And then the piece de resistance - the ivory escutcheons. Not one, but two, carefully handcrafted after much trial and error with various tools and techniques. Utterly amazing. This should be a magazine article. People would be enthralled.

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  33. I read this post as soon as you wrote it, but the story was so unbelievable that it took me this long to find the words!
    I am quite in agreement with everyone who has said, "Dan is the man!", and I love the comment your sister made! Too funny how things come together...you and Dan (& Ella!), this beautiful chest of drawers, and your wonderfully antique home (both the house AND the furnishings). Isn't life glorious?? :)

    Best,
    Tim

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  34. You two are nothing short of amazing, it must have been fate that put you together and allowed you to compliment each other so well. Very impressed with Dan's abilities, he is a true blue craftsman!

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  35. Nice scoop on the chest! My husband and I made a similar move on a pair of bachelor chests! Nice work Dan!

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  36. hehehehehe GET OUT!!!!! love it - it was serendipity at its best. Good cutting by Dan too!

    thea.
    (spoonfuline)

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  37. Your husband is a legend, Joan... This is amazing... and how delicate a process to shave and shape that billiard ball... The chest is beautiful... and I am sure when you look at it you both remember all the effort in restoring it... and also the joy... Happy weekend... xv

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  38. Are you, Dan and Ella snowed in? How were the cookies? Ohio lucked out this weekend. Clear and in the 40's tomorrow! Sara

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  39. Awesome! You both know how amazing you really are right?

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  40. Well, I'm astonished at how handy Dan is! I would never attempt doing that in a million years. Bravo! So now I"m curious, do you remember what shop you found this at in Dallas? I'm heading back there in a few weeks to visit and I'm hoping to do a bit of buying while there.

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    1. Meghan, the shop was in Preston Center, but it is long gone... sorry.

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  41. I love this story! Absolutely perfect...isn't it always a thrill when something just works out so wonderfully well. xo Lidy

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