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Thread: Looking for info on I. I. Murray furniture maker, Williamsburg, VA

  1. #1
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    Looking for info on I. I. Murray furniture maker, Williamsburg, VA

    I bought this lovely press in Virginia. It is mahogany and pine. I believe itís Cuban Mahohany- certainly the veneer top and bottom are. I realize that a proper identification requires a sample to be tested, but the aged coloring is very tell-tale. The doors are solid mahogany and I believe also Cuban Mahogany, although they are a bit lighter and Iím not ready to bet my favorite hat on it. I have milled a lot of Cuban Mahogany and restored a lot of mahogany furniture. The construction at first led me to believe it was of Caribbean origin- or I should say very possibly so. The rest of the casing is pine, which is very common in West Indian furniture. Pine was shipped down for making homes but also used in furniture in conjunction with Mahogany.

    Well, I got it home and it is signed ďI. I. Murray, Williamsburgh, VAĒ. The ďghĒ at the end tells me itís not just some recent person staking their claim, but more than likely a makerís signature. Anyone have any history on this guy? Is George Wilson still around? He might know.

    Should I gloat about what I paid, or will that lose me friends? $350 on Facebook Marketplace!
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    That's a lovely piece and regardless of its provenance, it was a steal, IMHO. I hope you are able to get more information about the maker. You might touch bases with any historical societies or similar in the Williamsburg area and maybe even the folks who run the actual historic town.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    That's a lovely piece and regardless of its provenance, it was a steal, IMHO. I hope you are able to get more information about the maker. You might touch bases with any historical societies or similar in the Williamsburg area and maybe even the folks who run the actual historic town.
    I can’t believe (a) I didn’t buy it sooner; I actually sat on it a few days, and (b) nobody else bought it. It’s as beautiful in person as it looks. It’s very large at 52” wide, so maybe folks just didn’t have room for it. Also, sadly, antiques are not as desirable these days.

    I am going to head to Williamsburg soon to see what they can tell me about the maker. I bet they have records of all the makers of the period.

  4. #4
    Malcolm, I would start with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. They have a large collection of furniture in the DeWitt Wallace Gallery. Well worth an afternoon or more.

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    I’m about an hour away, Friday’s forecast is 64 degrees, and the Indian is just begging to be ridden… hmmmmm.

  6. #6
    You might try to find the email or a phone number for Chris Swan in the restoration department a Colonial Williamsburg.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  7. #7
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    Update: I got in touch with Tara Chicirda at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. In less than an hour, she had the following:

    I think the inscription is C C Murray. Williams Whf VA. I know the Cs don’t look like Cs, but that is what I think they are and the writer just didn’t put much curl into the C.

    http://www.moonzstuff.com/articles/oldhandwriting.html

    There is a Williams Wharf in Mathews Co. and there was a Cordelia Cary Williams Murray (1846-1907) who lived in Mathews Co (until the 1860 census) and Baltimore (by the 1870 census when she married). She was buried in Mathews, VA. I suspect this was her piece. If so, given her family history I think Baltimore might be a better origin for the piece than Virginia. The inscription on the back could have been a shipping instruction.

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/...ia-cary-murray


    I was very impressed with the detail of her reply, and the short time it took her to get the information. I had placed this in the mid-19th century due to construction and hardware, so I am pleased that I was right about that. I'm still interested in the origin of this piece, but I won't pursue it further. Something to note: When going through the piece, I found both pine and western red cedar in the joinery, which certainly suggests it was made in the states.

  8. #8
    My guess would be itís Virginia cedar. There was plenty of it , and all of the Western cedar Iíve used was pretty acrid and only used for
    exterior stuff.

  9. #9
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    That was a great response from Ms Chicirda! There really are folks out there that know their stuff and even more importantly, have experience accessing information resources that can lead to answers.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  10. #10
    Just did some google info on cedar. The Virginia cedar is the most fragrant and the most durable of all the cedars. Oops…did not look for
    info on how many states have those trees, could be a “bunch”.

    Latin botanical name is : Juniperus virginiana,
    Jim, thanks for reminder.
    Last edited by Mel Fulks; 12-01-2021 at 8:15 PM.

  11. #11
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    Mel, make sure you're looking at the scientific name when making comparisons. As I'm sure you know, common names for wood species could possibly be something like names of colors. The same actual scientifically named species often have multiple names and live in a broader area as you note.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

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    I've worked a fair amount with western red cedar for soundboards and I always thought it smelled nice, but I guess fragrance is in the nose of the be-smeller.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Zachary Hoyt View Post
    I've worked a fair amount with western red cedar for soundboards and I always thought it smelled nice, but I guess fragrance is in the nose of the be-smeller.
    Itís OK in a shop setting , and I didnít say itís horrible, just acrid, and I think thatís the most accurate description. But women have the
    the ď superior schnozes ď. I would not be surprised if Western Cedar chips and saw dust strewn under a house made visiting rats
    move on .

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm Schweizer View Post
    I was very impressed with the detail of her reply, and the short time it took her to get the information. I had placed this in the mid-19th century due to construction and hardware, so I am pleased that I was right about that. I'm still interested in the origin of this piece, but I won't pursue it further. Something to note: When going through the piece, I found both pine and western red cedar in the joinery, which certainly suggests it was made in the states.
    Malcolm, I hope you can find time for a ride over to their gallery. I think you would very much enjoy it.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    My guess would be it’s Virginia cedar. There was plenty of it , and all of the Western cedar I’ve used was pretty acrid and only used for
    exterior stuff.

    In this period of time, western ceder would not have been available. Atlantic ceder would have been. It was used for everything from buckets to shingles, including ships masts. Research "Kings Trees" for more info.

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