Wallace Nutting is best known for his hand-colored photographs depicting bucolic settings and scenes of early American life, but he was also an important maker of American reproduction furniture-pieces that are highly collectible today.
Once credited with saying, “Whatever is new is bad,” Nutting was the foremost authority on Early American furniture for the first half of the 20th century, and he played a critical role in reviving an interest in Colonial ideology and home fashions.
Born in Rockbottom, Massachusetts, in 1861, Nutting was a Congregational minister-turned-author, photographer, and entrepreneur who, through his idealization of the Colonial era, practically invented what he called “Old America.” Nutting began his business by reproducing pieces from his own collection and selling them in department stores across the country.
Many of Nutting’s designs are particularly desirable because they are faithful reproductions of Early American furniture designs. Most other reproduction furniture available in the marketplace is not true to period. Designers, often succumbing to commercial pressures, combined elements from different time periods and different forms to create new and improved designs suited for the era rather than keeping to authentic forms.
Made between 1917 and 1941, Nutting furniture is, in most cases, clearly marked, utilizing one or a combination of brands and paper labels in five different designs. His early pieces are marked with paper labels, the later pieces with a block-letter branded mark. Rarely do pieces exist that are unmarked.
One of the best ways to identify Wallace Nutting furniture is through his furniture catalogs. Three of his eight catalogs are available in reprint and provide an invaluable resource for collectors.
“Their high quality and authentic forms make Nutting’s furniture designs wildly popular with auction goers,” notes Kerry Shrives, generalist appraiser and furniture expert at Skinner. “His large case pieces command the highest prices-chests of drawers or large-scale tables sell at auction for $1,000 to $3,000, with the best examples fetching far more.”
The auction record for a piece of Wallace Nutting furniture was set in 2002 when a nine-shell Goddard-Townsend-style secretary sold for more than $35,000. Examples of occasional furniture and chairs, as well as accessories such as footstools and mirrors, can still be found quite reasonably, many for less than $1,000.
This column is produced for Yankee by Skinner, Inc., Auctioneers and Appraisers of Antiques and Fine Art. skinnerinc.com