Notice

I have made some changes in the format of the web site, while retaining all of the content and photos, mainly so that it does not take so long to load. In order to do this, I have put photos and ads into sections.

A Willett Ad

Photos Gallery of Cherry Dining Room furniture

Photos Gallery of Maple Dining Room furniture

Photos Gallery of Bedroom furniture

Photos Gallery of Other pieces

Willett in Solid American Black Walnut !!

New: Photos of Willett "Countryside" cherry collection

New: Photos of ultra-rare Willett "Crotch Mahogany" collection and other rare pieces. These photos are courtesy Barry Goodall. If you are looking to buy or sell Willett pieces, Barry is the one to contact. Barry knows a lot more about prices than I do and owns a shop in the Historic District in Middletown, Kentucky. The name is:

Goodall's Pearcy House Antiques
11611 Main Street
Middletown, Ky.
40243

Hours;

Mon. - Friday 10:00 - 5:00
Sat. 10:00 - 4:00
Shop phone 1-502-244-4409
Home phone 1-502-245-9841
Fax number 1-502-244-4955
e-mail b.goodall@insightbb.com
The shop carries a large inventory of Willett furniture including dining room, bedroom, and miscellaneous tables, chairs, etc. Please feel free to contact Barry and he will be glad to discuss this marvelous furniture with other interested parties. We also have a digital camera and can take and send photos on request.

Price Guide

I am working up a price guide for the more common Willett pieces. Since prices vary a lot at auctions and between auctions and retailers, these numbers are at best educated guesses on my part as to value. But that is true of any collectible price guide. If you have comments on the prices or additional information about prices of specific pieces, please drop me a note at DLDebertin@aol.com and I will try my best to incorporate your information into the guide. This price guide is stored as a Microsoft Exel spreadsheet (file type xls), so you will need a copy of Excel or another spreadsheet program that can read Exel files in order to view this. Download a Willett price guide

The above photo shows the original box in which the leaf for the Willett drop leaf table was shipped and stored including the company logo. The owner was admonished to retain the box to store the table leaf (see box edge). (Only a true collector would put a photo of a cardboard box on the front of a Web site containing photos of beautiful hardwood furniture)

The Consider H. Willett Company of Louisville, Kentucky

When have you ever made a better investment?--from a tag on a Willett furniture piece

I am a Kentucky Transplant and what I know about Willett furniture is based on what local people have told me.

The Consider H. Willett Furniture company was located in Louisville, Kentucky, and I believe made furniture from the late 30s into the 60s. The furniture was at the peak of popularity from the late 40s into the early and mid 50s.

Deep cherry furniture never seems to go out of fashion in the Southeast. A lot of Willett furniture was sold in Central Kentucky, and it sold quite well in the comparatively wealthy Bluegrass region, At Central Kentucky auctions, the name Willett is well recognized, and the pieces probably command higher prices than in states further north, where the furniture is not as well known and there is less of a following.

The furniture was never cheap. It was manufactured furniture rather than hand-made, but the pieces were always very carefully crafted, and were made of solid hardwoods, most often cherry but sometimes in maple as well. A piece of, say, cherry furniture from Willett was made of solid cherry inside and out--no veneers, plywood, particle board or any other cheap material even in interior places like drawer pieces. They were also famous for their hand-rubbed finishes, particularly on cherry, which often gave a glass-like polished but almost three-dimensional transparent depth to the wood, rather than appearing as a finish on the top of the wood, unlike many of the finishes now appearing on newly-made cherry furniture.

Many pieces have a pressed metal medallion on them identifying them as Willett and what particular design line they are from, for example, my buffet, drop leaf table and chairs are from the "Wildwood" line, which, if the pieces coming up for sale are any indication, was by far the most popular, and became the "trademark" collection. Some of the maple pieces apparently were also tagged. The "Golden Beryl" marking was often used on the maple pieces.

The "trademark" cherry line featured what is often referred to as a "rope" motif, which was a spiral carving that appeared on drop-leaf table legs, as trim on the sides of buffets, chests and vanities, and even on horizontal pieces on poster beds, dining chairs and benches. The vanity illustrated in the photo below illustrates the many different ways in which the spiral rope motif appeared on some furniture pieces. I am convinced that early on, this was basically the only design Willett used for their cherry furniture pieces, and these pieces are generally tagged as "Wildwood." Wildwood pieces with drawers (buffets, dressers and similar) often have a metal plate with the Wildwood name attached to the inside of one of the drawers. Some of the pieces also have the Willett name stamped with red ink as illustrated here. My dropleaf table has a large Willett Wildwood marking stamped with red ink on the underside of the center of the top. Chairs often bear no marking at all. Upholstered chairs probably had a paper tag stapled underneath, but these tags were usually removed when the chair fabric was changed.

Later on, into the late 50s. the company added other collections with some different styling themes. These moved away from the rope motif. But the rope motif furniture was still being manufactured, and that furniture ultimately became the "Wildwood collection." But the confusing part is that some of the pieces that do not have the same trim details as those that used the rope turnings still were labeled Wildwood and some even have the metal Wildwood tag (see photos of markings below). In cherry the other collections included Elswick, Marblehead, Transitional, Trans-East and Countryside. There were a smaller number of collections in Maple, the Golden Beryl, Brownleigh, and the Lancaster County Collection are mentioned in advertisements. There are fewer pieces of Willett furniture now coming up for sale in these other designs in part because they never reached the popularity of the original rope motif design, but also because these other collections were manufactured for a much shorter period of time, late in the history of the company. For example, an ad below introduces the new "Transitional" collection in a 1957 Better Homes and Gardens. By 1964, the company was out of business. In contrast, the company was producing the rope motif design with the Wildwood logo basically from the start (1934) to the point in time when the company was liquidated. Also, given the relative numbers of pieces now up for auction, the maple furniture was never anywhere near as popular as the cherry pieces.

But the labeling becomes even more complex. Rebecca Beatty tells me that her newly-acquired pewter cabinet, photo below, despite not having the rope design trim, and having a different style of door panel (I call it the sway-top design) than the rope motif pieces have, still is labeled "Willett Wildwood." My guess is that this piece was made sometime between 1952 and 1956. Apparently it was only rather late in the company history that the Wildwood name became one specific collection with the rope motif.

Ladies from well-to do Kentucky families( and throughout the South) in the 40s and 50s loved to buy Willett pieces to blend in with antique and family pieces passed down through the generations and the cherry pieces were the logical choice. Kentucky women (and for that matter, many women in the South) have long favored dark cherry furniture in traditional styles, even when it was out of favor in other parts of the country, and so that often constituted much of their business.

The pieces today aren't ultra expensive, but prices appear to be rising. A few years ago I purchased the large sideboard/buffet with the "rope" motif at a local antiques dealer for $750. When I got it home and could look at the condition and construction quality I concluded that I had gotten quite a bargain. Rebecca Beatty tells me she saw the same buffet at the Louisville Antiques mall in excellent original condition. The asking price was $1995. In October, 2001, I completed a deal with a lady in Fort Wayne Indiana for the drop leaf table with the rope legs, 4 side chairs and two arm chairs, for $1,400. The table and chairs are also in excellent condition and the finish is so close to the finish on the buffet, it could have come out of the factory on the same day, This lady also had a china cabinet that is wider than the tall hutch, which is also cherry and marked Willett. Its design, in a photo below, does not have the rope motif but is consistent with one of the other collections.

Just before this, I went to the local auction house, where the drop leaf table also in excellent condition was bid to $1,000 and 6 roseback side chairs went for $225 each. They also sold the rope motif tall hutch which was bid to $1,200. What is interesting is that the auctioneer estimated the drop leaf table to bring $500-600 and each chair to bring $125-$150. He was off by a factor of almost 2!

Swains Furniture in southern Illinois (a company that sells on ebay) has a Wildwood cherry rope motif set consisting of the drop leaf table, 6 side chairs, two arm chairs, the tall hutch and the buffet identical to mine that they would be willing to sell for $3,500 tho as of the last auction there have been no takers at this price. The pieces appear to be in good but not excellent condition.

Another ebay seller in New England recently had a very beautiful pristine arch window cherry corner cupboard, marked Willett Wildwood. This sold on ebay for $860.

The cherry rope-leg drop-leaf tables must have been very popular with buyers and apparently more of these were made than any other Willett item. A drop-leaf dining room table should bring between $500 and $1000--perhaps even more--at a sale depending on whether the finish is original or not and the overall condition of the table. Willett was a master finisher of Cherry, and a considerable portion of the value of any Willett piece is in this original finish. If the finish is not original, the value would be in the lower end of this range, perhaps $500-$750. An original finish table in near-pristine condition should be worth at least $1,000. Regardless of the piece, having the original finish represents perhaps 40 % (maybe more) of the value of the piece. Small nicks and scratches on the original finish do not seriously detract from value, but a non-original finish does.

The fact that many antique dealers buy Willett pieces at estate sales tells something about what is happening with respect to collector interest. I have seen Willett Cherry finished in a lighter cherry finish that is more golden rather than deep red. I am not certain if this was a factory finish, however.

My drop leaf table and the one on Swains has a 15 inch leaf and a cut in the middle of the table to accept the leaf. The leaf I have for mine is still in the original Willett cardboard box with a large Willett logo on it. The table auctioned locally had a one- piece center and no leaf, but otherwise are identical in size and in design. These tables without he cut for the leaf have also been regularly auctioned on ebay.

So far, I have seen or heard of six or seven different chair designs as illustrated in the photos below, and I am interested in learning if there are others as well. The back designs differ considerably. Most of them are of modest size, with fairly low backs. Some of the chair designs have the rope motif--others do not. The chairs at the local auction were the so- called "rose" chairs, with a large carved rose an the top of the back. My chairs look more contemporary and have no carving or rope trim, but the center slat is in the shape of a vase or urn. The arm chairs have curved arms, with a spiral. The backs on the Swain chairs appear to be more of a lyre shape--with a decorative hole cut in the middle of the center slat. I would describe this as a decorative "Lyre back" I am confident that all of these chair designs are genuine Willett (see photos below).

There are at least 3 chair designs that feature the rope motif. One has the rope pattern on the top horizontal slat. Another design features a small padded back, with a horizontal slat featuring the rope motif below. Still another design features the rope motif on the legs. These chairs are illustrated in the photos below. These were undoubtedly the chairs designed to go with the drop leaf and other pieces with the rope motif. But interestingly, most of the buyers appear to have chosen one of the other chair designs as they are more often seen at sales.

Apparently, buyers, having chosen the table, would then choose from a number of different chair designs to suit their particular preferences. I am wondering if there are still other chair designs out there that were sold with the drop leaf table. A photo below shows a chair design with a mixture of Windsor and Early American influences, and the owner claimed that these chairs were also manufactured by Willett. Another writer tells me that she also has Willett chairs of a very similar design. These may be part of the Marblehead collection as illustrated in the brochure, below.

Sue Hayes writes

"I bought a table (does not accept an extra leaf), a sideboard/buffet (without the rope inserts) and a piece that was described by the sellers as a Jackson Press. It has the rope inserts on each side and doors toward the bottom with drawers above. I also bought a serving cart and a wall mirror that has Willett Wildwood cherry on the back. There was a printed card in one of the buffet drawers that had Consider H. Willett, Inc., Louisville 11, Kentucky on it. It described a little of their manufacturing process and the care that should be given to the furniture. It ended with the question 'When have you ever made a better investment?'... I have been able to verify that the table and all of the chairs are indeed stamped "Willett" and the name of the grouping is 'Countryside'. "

And, from the new owner of the coffee table pictured below

"I recently purchased a Willett cherry double size poster bed in Colorado through a classified ad. I liked the quality and workmanship and looked for the brand when I was on ebay one day. I am the one that purchased the drop leaf coffee table from Cairnes that you have on your website. Also, I was very close to bidding on the corner cabinet.

Comment:I suspect that the coffee table, the Windsor/Early American chairs and the Oval Drop Leaf table are all from the "Countryside" collection which was a different collection from the furniture that used the spiral "rope" motif

While the pieces can't be classified as antiques, they still are very fine and functional pieces of furniture and worthy of passing through the generations. The furniture seems to be acquiring its own collector-following--people who are not concerned that it isn't old enough to be considered antique, and who simply value the furniture for its beauty and construction quality.

A Little Willett History

I am indebted to Charles Hudson of Nicholasville, Kentucky, who has provided some details about the history of the Willett Furniture company in Kentucky, based on clippings from Louisville Courier Journal Newspapers during the era.

From the August 8, 1947 issue:
Consider H. Willett and his brother W.R Willett were in the lumber business when in 1934 Consider H. founded the Willett Furniture Co. They were at the time of this writing the largest maker of cherry and maple furniture in the US. the article gives a profit for the year 1946 of 2,600,000. dollars.

By 1947 standards, this would have been a very successful company in terms of size, earnings and profit.

In 1949 they bought a plant in New Albany, Ind. for the manufacture of Kitchen cabinets. These were done in birch. Charles says he has only talked to one person who had these. and he doubts if there are very many left intact. Apparently, the kitchen cabinet business was less successful than the furniture business.

Charles indicates to me that the firm got into serious financial difficulty in about 1960, and between 1960 and 1964 the company changed hands in an effort to save the firm.

Assets of the Willett firm were auctioned in June 1964 and the firm ceased operation at that time. Charles indicates that the furniture manufacturing equipment was simply sold off to bidders at the auction, and that the detailed production drawings for each furniture piece were also auctioned off. He believes that the drawings ended up in the hands of a furniture manufacturer somewhere in the Eastern United States, but so far as anyone knows, no other manufacturer has attempted to continue to produce any of the pieces.

At least as of the year 2000, the old Willett factory is still standing. It is on the corner of 30th and Kentucky in Louisville, The Willett name was still legible on the side of the brick.

Charles also says... The tag that came on our buffet says that it is "My Old Kentucky Home" group. This is the one with all the roped legs and turnings on the sides. The 1948 book lists three groupings of Cherry: 'My Old Kentucky Home',(Dining Room);'Sallie Ward Group' (Living Room ) and 'The Kentuckiana Group' ( Bed Room) The Maple is not named in groupings. In the dining room grouping there are four styles of chairs.

I suspect what brought Willett down was a combination of several factors--like many family-run businesses there might not have been another generation committed to keeping the business operational and as the company changed hands, new owners may not have fully appreciated what was involved. Though manufactured, the furniture pieces required careful craftsmanship with lots of skilled hand work by what must have been becoming a very well-paid work-force.

Perhaps The careful craftsmanship, materials & finish became less and less competitive price-wise with cheaper furniture constructed less carefully (often in other countries with cheaper labor costs) and of lesser materials, and this could have led to a decline in sales. Finally, by the late 50s the trend was definitely away from heavy dark traditional furniture, as many people were tossing traditional furniture in favor of simple new contemporary designs with blonde finishes. Time- wise, the early 60s was certainly a low point in interest in traditional furniture with a lot of detail. Somehow, the attempts to contemporize the furniture by eliminating details never quite worked with customers (see photos of Transitional and the somewhat oriental-looking Trans-East line, below). The company still really wanted to make traditional furniture like they had in the past. The late designs came off as neither traditional nor contemporary, but some place in between. Perhaps the pieces were too modern looking for the traditional buyers, but not contemporary enough for those who were purchasing new furniture in the late 50s and early 60s.

Another clue is that the ads for Willett furniture that are showing up at auction are almost always from the late 50s, as the BH&G ad introducing the Transitional line. I think this says something. Previously the traditional furniture may have been so popular that the company's major problem probably was keeping up with the demand, especially given the complicated multi-step finishing process that required skilled labor. Word of mouth worked better than any print advertizing campaign. By the late 50s, sales of the traditional pieces were declining--hence all the new almost contemporary designs that appeared in the late 50s. But the company also found it necessary to advertize in national magazines in an effort to boost sales-- something they had hardly done in the 40s and early 50s

I had the following note from Margaret Willett Ernest, a relative of Consider H. Willett. ====================================================

From the book, "Abraham Willett of Onondaga County, New York" by Albert James Willett, Jr., on p. 212: "The Willett Furniture Company was eventually sold out of the family, but continued under the Willett name until at least 1959. It went out of business in the 1960s."

Earlier, on the same page, the author said that it was a going concern in 1941. Consider Heath Willett, Jr. died in 1944.

Sincerely,
Margaret Willett Ernest
===================================================

I'm still trying to determine if the person who died in 1944 was indeed the founder or perhaps instead a son who could have died in World War II, and if anyone has any more information on this I would appreciate hearing from them.

From owners of Willett Golden Beryl Maple pieces

Chuck Holm in Green Bay, Wisconsin writes

Greetings, David - I just discovered your website and am so thrilled to find other collectors of Willett! I am of the "other" family - I have Golden Beryl Maple. I grew up with this furniture, and was always told of it's quality. I have redone my family room to look just like the living room of my childhood - with all the 1949 maple. I have the long drop dining room table, hutch, corner cabinet, coffee table, dropleaf end table, and have just found a wonderful little writing desk. My dining table and end table are in mint condition - not a single scratch. I have a clock shop in Green Bay, Wisconsin we sell Restore-a-finish products by Howard - I love them - better than Old English Scratch cover. I have many collector cars and have a professional buffer, and I took this to the top of the tables - they came out beautiful - a mirror finish - hard to believe for 50 year old pieces. The coffee table was another story - really in bad shape - was in the basement for kids to play on with their toys. I had to refinish it - but spent many hours using red oak stain and sprayed coats of hand rubbed lacquer to get it to look like the original finish. It isn't easy!

Anyway, I would appreciate any information or leads on the Golden Beryl Maple - I saw two '40's Willett catalogs go on Ebay last year - was that you who got them? I was hoping that someone would have the same information on the maple as you have on the cherry.

I would love to communicate with you more on the Willett - it has been a hobby of mine for many years to search it out in the antique malls, auctions, etc. It would be fun to share "stories" with others. And thanks for your wonderful website- Chuck Holm, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Connie Conley Noyes writes ...
I recently discovered that the beautiful table set my husband's grandmother gave us was made by Willett. I searched the internet for information on this furniture brand and your informative page came up. The set has a total of 6 chairs, Grandmother still has the two that she calls Captain chairs as she is using them. The set is made of Solid maple with golden beryl stamped under the extra leaves and the chairs. When it is all put together it makes a very large table to accommodate several people, however, long legged people complain about there being too many table legs; they can't comfortably fit their legs underneath. The total counted is ten legs! I can't find any stamping that will provide information on the style. I will take a photo of this furniture and once the film is developed, forward you the picture via email.

I am writing to thank you for the help you have provided me with the background of this furniture company. I intend to clean and polish it by the directions mentioned in your web page. Thank you very much for them. I was concerned about some nicks, it had been stored in the attic of a house in Illinois that my husbands grandparents lived in.

It was very exciting to learn that it was crafted in Kentucky. My paternal line comes from that fine state, for several generations.

Jackie Whitney writes ...
I recently purchased a dining set at a resale shop with the Consider H. Willett label. It is a drop leaf table with 6 chairs one with arms. I was concerned with the fact that there is a cigarette burn on the top. Should I try and remove it or just leave it? I think it has its original finish. All the pieces have labels and are numbered. I am sending pictures feel free to display them on your site. Thank you for your time.

The pictures of the dining set are in the photos below.

I reply...
There are antique furniture restorers who specialize in dealing with small problems such as nicks, scratches and cigarette burns. I do not view these small problems as significantly detracting from the value of the piece if the finish is original and overall is in good condition. If you do decide to have a repair made, what you want is someone who can make a small repair to just the immediate area of the cigarette burn without altering the finish on the rest of the piece. Check your phone directory for furniture repair people particularly people who specialize in repair of antique furniture, and see what type of repair they might suggest. Remember that as much as 40% of the value of your furniture is in the original finish, so you will want whatever repairs are made to not affect the finish on the rest of the piece, even if the spot from the burn cannot be completely eliminated.

I had a nice phone visit with Barry Goodall, who is one of the dealers who buys and sells Willett furniture at the Louisville Antiques Mall (http://www.louisvilleantiquesmall.com) He reinforced a couple of points with me:

1. With Willett furniture, condition largely determines value, and having the original finish in nearly unblemished condition makes a piece much more valuable than having a non-original finish, even a non-original finish in good condition.

2. Maple pieces are worth considerably less than cherry pieces of similar condition. There is less Maple out there, but there are far fewer buyers looking for maple pieces. A Dropleaf table in Maple might be worth $4-500 retail whereas the same table in cherry would likely bring $750-$1000 retail.

Barry is always interested in buying and selling Willett furniture, or just visiting with people about Willett furniture. He has a number of the old Willett dealer catalogs, and can identify many of the pieces with respect to what collection they belong and He can be reached at (502) 245-9841.

Cherry Collections

I know of the following cherry collections built by Willett. Each differs in some details. Wildwood:
This collection was built for a very long time and, as a result, the pieces are among the most readily available. The most distinguishing feature is the rope, or spiral, rather than turned design that appears on table legs, as trim on buffets, dressers, and as a feature on beds and horizontal chair slats. It's the design most commonly thought of as "Willett". The drawers in this design features brass handles with backplates and the doors have panels with a single curved arch on the top.

Marblehead:
The rope motif in this collection is absent, and the door panels are square rather than cathedral. I'm still trying to determine for certain if the fingerboard trim appears on Marblehead buffets where the rope trim would appear on the Wildwood collection. Legs on tables are ordinary-- not spiral--turnings.

Elswick:
The large breakfront in the photo below was identified as being part of the Elswick collection. The design is similar to the Transitional line, with rectangular panels in the doors. One difference is the queene anne foot on the buffet, whereas the Transitional buffet had a short turned leg with a taper. There are handles with backer plates on the drawers. Interestingly, a grooved fingerboard-like piece appears in place of the rope trim on the buffet.

Transitional
This is the collection illustrated in the BH&G ad, above. The legs are a simple variable radius turning, and round pulls are used on both drawers and pulls.

Trans-East:
A recently had a call from a man in Louisville who owns Trans-East pieces, and the photos are now on the Web Site. The design is similar to the Transitional, with different, somewhat Oriental-looking brass pulls and trim.

Countryside:
I have no information on design features of this collection.

In the photos below, there are two mystery designs that are likely from one of the above collections. The table and Jackson Press owned by Sue Hayes features a leg and trim design that is somewhat like the rope leg, but is different too. This is sometimes referred to as button trim. Further, the Jackson Press has a rectangular flat rather than a raised-panel door.

The other design features what I call the sway-back door panel. The top of the panel is curved but like the sway-back of a horse. I suspect all of the pieces featuring this design belong to another of the above collections, but which one, I don't now know. Please e-mail me if you know anything about this. Obviously, all of the pieces that have the door panels with the double sway.

Maple Collections

I know of the following maple collections (see photos below).

Golden Beryl

Lancaster County

Brownleigh (no photos, yet)

A Sales Brochure

Here is part of a sales brochure from the Marblehead collection identifying various pieces.



More Willett ads

Here are some PDF files of Willett ads to download, sent to me by Jim Morrow. Jim writes..."In November 1956, my wife and I were in the market to purchase furniture for our apartment which we had rented furnished with rental furniture. Our tastes were different, but after looking around we both agreed that we liked the Willett Transitional Cherry. We purchased living room, dining room and bed room pieces which I still have in my possession. Only one piece that we purchased has been disposed of in over 52 years. I was in the military and we made numerous moves over the years both during and after my retirement. Aside from short moves of 400 - 500 miles, it has been shipped to Puerto Rico, England and back, and from East to West coast and back, and is still in great shape with only minor scuff marks and dings. None of it has ever been refinished. I consider it a real tribute to the manufacturer that it has held up so well, and to the movers for the care they showed in handling it."

"In 2000, we downsized from a large home to an apartment and had to dispose of some furniture. We disposed of Willett Piece No. 557, a 62" x 20" Coffee Table - Bench which came with three cushions so that it could be used as a coffee table without the cushions, or a cushioned bench for seating. Disposal was through an auction house. The bench without the cushions went for $5.00. The cherry wood in the piece was worth more than that, and it would have still been an excellent piece of cherry furniture with very little work."

"After Willett went out of business we were forced to get our cherry furniture from Harden Furniture and Pennsylvania House, but the Willett has always had a special place in our home."

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Caring for Your Willett Furniture

I am getting questions on how to care for Willett Furniture, in particular, how to deal with chips and scratches.

Appreciation is extended to Sue Hayes of Dickson, Tennessee, who also supplied me with a copy of the original care tag from a piece of her Willett furniture. Below are the actual care instructions from the company when the furniture was delivered.

The first paragraph talks a bit about the manufacturing process that resulted in the famous Willett finish, which is a hand-rubbed finish. Perhaps most interesting is the admonition to use a paste wax, rather than an oil-based polish. Undoubtedly a paste wax was used in the final stages of finishing at the manufacturing plant.

The problem with paste waxes is that they can build up over time,and collect grime, leaving a sticky residue that must eventually be removed. A lemon oil polish or similar furniture cleaner will remove this buildup, and i have not observed any harm to the underlying finish. The factory finish, being 50 years old, has had lots of time to harden and cure, and the prime condition of many Willett pieces attests to the long-tern durability of the finish even for those who failed to heed all the advice in the above tag.

Remember that Willett was a master furniture finisher, and the envy of many other manufacturers in this regard. Thus, a considerable share of the value of your Willett piece is in the original finish, which would be difficult for a refinisher to duplicate.

Furniture that is 50 years or more old should show some evidence that it did not just come out of a furniture store. This means that small nicks, scratches and other wear marks accumulated over time do not detract from value, at least not in any significant way. As a general rule, the older the piece of furniture, the more wear marks will have been accumulated. Many furniture manufacturers today are trying for the look that their recently manufactured pieces are not new but instead have been passed down through the generations.

Often times, furniture accumulates grime, oil and wax that gives the wood a dingy appearance. I would suggest using a good quality oil-based furniture cleaner applied with a soft cloth as a starting point for removing this grime. I have had good luck with a furniture cleaner from Holloway House I found right at the grocery store. If you have particularly tough-to remove grime, try a product called DeSolveIt available at Lowes--again apply a little to a soft cloth.

Once you have used the furniture cleaner, a light coat of a liquid lemon oil applied with a soft cloth may be all that is needed.

If scratches are still visible, try a light coat of the old English furniture polish that has the brown dye in it. (Yup, the same product your mother used is still readily available) It works quite well on a lot of scratches in terms of hiding them

If you have larger nicks and scratches, I like to work those over with a product from Minwax called Wood Sheen in one of the darker colors. This comes in various colors though I tend to favor what they call Colonial Walnut which seems to work well on most darker woods. I think there is a mahogany color that might work well on cherry furniture as well. This is a tung oil based colored gel-like product. Just put a little on a soft cloth and rub it on the scratch or chip and the area around it. Let it dry for an hour or so and buff out the area. If the chipped area is not dark enough you can apply more coats, allowing 24 hours drying time between each coat. This goes right over the old finish.It's possible to refinish larger areas with this product too.

For circles left by glasses, try rubbing out the area with a cloth that has some silver polish on it--then polish with lemon oil. I've also had good luck with the product they sell in the automotive parts places for polishing alloy wheels. It's a very fine polishing compound. Some people swear by toothpaste too. The Willett finish tends to spot and dissolve with alcohol. These types of spots can often be buffed so that they are less noticeable with any of these products, followed by a coat of lemon oil. Professional furniture restorers sometimes use a few drops of alcohol on a soft cloth and lots of rubbing to "melt" some of the original finish into the damage spots, but this is not a technique for amateur to attempt

None of these techniques remove any of the original finish. I would consider refinishing only if an entire section was peeling or otherwise in very bad condition, and even there I would think twice before refinishing the entire piece.

Once the wood is free of grime, I wouldn't discourage anyone from following the manufacturer's recommendation to apply a light coat of a top quality paste wax, buffing out with a soft cloth.

And, don't worry if you can't get a completely like-new look. If that is the look you wanted you probably should have purchased new furniture. Part of the charm of owning older furniture is that the pieces have picked up some nicks and scratches over the years--a finish that you can't buy in new furniture. It's only when the condition of the finish severely detracts from the beauty of the piece that this is any big deal.

A Note from Bernard Z. Lee

Consider H. Willett Company and its kitchen cabinet operation in New Albany was bought by a Houston, Texas investor named Irvin D. Kaplan, in the early 1960s. It was his intention to continue the operation of both companies.

However operating costs at the furniture company had gotten out of hand and the company was losing money. In an effort to cure the problem, negotiations were begun with the union seeking some concessions and cost reductions. Those efforts were getting no where and a decision was taken to liquidate. The plan included the termination of manufacturing by completing whatever was in process but starting no new product.

That procedure took some weeks during which time the union continued negotiating, but it was too late. The plant and its operations had, for all practical effects, been shut down. Assuming a successful arrangement with the union could have been reached, the cost of restarting manufacture was prohibitive and the liquidation was completed.

This is of a cherry wood night table/end table. We have a pair, which I believe were some of the last items to come off the line. They are stenciled on the bottom:

WILLETT
34
55-92

The photo below is of the desk that was used by the CEO of Consider H. Willett Company when Kaplan bought the company. He was a dear friend and gave me the desk.

May, 2009,
David Debertin