Tales from a Sideboard Sleuth

I’ve previously written on these pages about Pittsburgh sideboards known to have been made in Pittsburgh and some that could have been made in Pittsburgh. Just recently a reader sent in photos of another sideboard. The question of whether it originated in Pittsburgh may never be answered, but its one that’s fun to ponder. What we do know is Pittsburgh was a furniture-producing center when this style was in vogue. We also know the known examples of sideboards produced in Pittsburgh have heavy carving, as does the one in the reader’s photo.

The reader says the sideboard was purchased at an estate sale near Scottdale, Penna.  Before that, the reader says he was told it came out of a home in Greensburg, Penna. Both are Southeast of Pittsburgh. There is some case to be made for the present location of an object providing clues to its origins. Particularly for a heavy object like this, there is some weight to the fact that an object found here is slightly more likely to have originated here than say Buffalo. But remember, stuff is moved all the time and even heavy objects get moved around. The location might improve the chances of being produced in Pittsburgh a little, but there is still a multitude of possibilities.

Of the known Pittsburgh sideboards by different makers, one thing noticeable is the similarity of the carving. My theory that they were carved by one hand was independently supported by others who had reached the same conclusion. From the photos, it does not appear the carving in our reader’s photo was from the same hand. There’s a sideboard in storage at the Heinz History Center that has similarities to the one in the photo. It is said to have once owned by Revolutionary soldier James O’Hara, who died in 1819. That would be an early date for the sideboard of this style. The records date the sideboard at 1810 and in one case its given Philadelphia origins and other Swiss origins! Secondary woods are pine and poplar and the notes also indicate it arrived on ox cart from Philadelphia. But the proof of that is not available.

The date would suggest Philadelphia to me too, but bringing this by ox cart would be no easy feat (the easier route was from Baltimore). The furniture industry in Pittsburgh got its start precisely because of the difficulty of traversing the mountains.

There are similarities of shape, placement of carvings and a likeness in the shape of the door panels with the sideboard in the photo from our reader. That, however, could mean little more than the cabinetmakers had seen the same pattern book. The carving on the sideboard at the history center is much deeper than the one in the reader’s photo.

It’ unlikely we’ll ever have concrete answers to these questions, but the pondering of the where who and how of their origins is a large part of what makes antiques collecting fun.

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