One way of telling the age and place of manufacture of a piece of furniture is to look at the way that the drawers are constructed. The dovetail joinery on the sides where the front of the drawer meets the sides can tell you a lot. for instance, if the piece was made in the U.S. or England. Also a hand cut dovetail usually points towards an older piece. Most modern joinery is done with a machine.
Creating a machine to cut those joints was not an easy task. During the 19th century, as furniture production became more and more mechanised, furniture companies tried frantically to create a machine that would cut dovetail joinery with limited success.
One of the people working on this was Charles B. Knapp of Waterloo, Wisconsin. What Mr. Knapp did was to question the form of the dovetail and opted for an entirely new design. Called the Knapp joint, the joint consists of integral dowels and half round mortises in the face of the drawer and a half-round "tail" with a hole drilled out to receive the dowel on the drawer sides. Below is a photo of this joint: Mr. Knapp completed the joint making machine in 1867. In 1870, he sold the rights to some investors who sold the machine under the name "Knapp Dovetailing Company" located in Northampton, Mass. By 1871, Furniture companies on the east coast primarily were using this machine to further speed the production of case furniture. Nearer to the turn of the century, the furniture this was used on was cheaper and by 1900, the machined dovetail was in use. This information gives a very specific window of time when dating Victorian furniture. Most Eastlake period case pieces will have this style of joinery. I will say this, I find that if I need to disassemble a drawer made from this joint, it does a pretty good job of staying together!
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