September 28, 1897 – April 2, 2022
We went on a furniture run to the KC area on April 2, 2022.
Along the way, we stopped in Lawrence, KS to look at a “antique vanity” advertised on Facebook Marketplace for $25.
The ad read:
Antique vanity with mirror. One of the legs broke the last time I moved it so I tried to glue it back on and I used some tape just to keep it secure so I could still move it around without having the fragile leg break. The mirror is probably the only part worth anything because of the damage but if someone knows how to rehab antique pieces like this it may be of more value. Two of the little drawer pulls need to be put back on as well but all the pieces are there. Pick up in Lawrence.
We couldn’t resist stopping to see the piece on our way to KC.
The owner said the leg had broken a year before when she moved from St. Louis, MO to Lawrence, KS.
It had originally belonged to her stepmother who lived in Denver but she did not know where her stepmother got it.
It was a Louis XV style piece with delicate legs. The filigree on the mirror and the mirror brackets looked hand-made and very ornate.
We purchased the “vanity” and, when I carried the mirror to the van, I noticed three things:
My first thought was, “This is really old and it was expensive”.
When I removed the tape from the leg, I saw that the break was more like a compound fracture with pieces missing. Oh, well. $25.
I removed the tape and pulled out the drawers so I could flip the piece over and remove all the glue from the previous repair.
Dianne came out to the garage and asked me, “Did you find any markings inside that would help date this piece?” “Nope!”, I replied.
I proceeded to sand the bottom of the drawer guides to collect enough sawdust to make filler for the parts of the leg that were missing.
Dianne stopped me and said, “Hey, look at this!”
Someone wrote, “Color for Mrs. Merrill. Chiffonier. September 28 / 96 then 97 over the top. 31 Hereford St. Back Bay.”
Wow! Now we have a name for this piece. We started calling it “Mrs. Merrill”.
I finished the leg repair while she researched the writing.
I didn’t take before -pictures but the piece was in pretty bad shape. I was concerned that I would never be able to strengthen the leg and hide the massive gaps. I drilled the leg and inserted square dowels to strengthen the joint. The piece is not stained and the natural color of the wood made it very difficult to hide the repair. I had to use sawdust form the original wood and glue to fill in the missing pieces. The largest fill is darker than the original finish but it should lighten over time.
The casters were made of rubber so we assumed they had been replaced at some point. When we looked closer, they were filed to fit the leg profile and they said “IR Comb Company Goodyear 1851” on the side.
But Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company wasn’t founded until 1898.
A quick Wikipedia search showed that Goodyear Tire and Rubber was named after Charles Goodyear who invented vulcanized rubber. Charles Goodyear died in 1860.
We found an article about a comb that is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY that says, “This hair-comb is made of vulcanite (India Rubber that has been treated with sulfur) … The back of the piece is marked I.R. COMB CO GOODYEAR 1851. … The process of vulcanizing rubber was discovered by Charles Goodyear and patented in 1844. By the 1850s vulcanite had become a popular substitute for more expensive materials.”
Charles Goodyear had a factory in Springfield, MA in 1851 (about 92 miles from Boston).
We found a web page with the Genealogies of Back Bay Houses. There is a page dedicated to 31 Hereford St. here.
This is an excerpt from that page:
On March 26, 1896, 31 Hereford was purchased from Elizabeth Sprague by Hannah Brown (Wattson) Merrill, the widow of Joseph Warren Merrill, and their daughter, Lillie Edith Merrill. They previously had lived in Manchester, Massachusetts, where they continued to maintain a home.
Lillie Edith Merrill married in September of 1896 to Rev. Wilford L. Hoopes. He was assistant rector of Emmanuel Church at 15 Newbury. After their marriage, they lived at 31 Hereford with Hannah Merrill.
They continued to live at 31 Hereford during the 1897-1898 winter season, but moved thereafter to Providence, where Wilford Hoopes became rector of Calvary Church. He resigned in 1902 and by 1904 he and his wife and Hannah Merrill were living in Cambridge. Hannah Merrill and Lillie Edith Hoopes continued to own 31 Hereford and lease it to others.
The house is still standing.
Property records showed that it was owned by Meryl Susan LeBoff, MD.
We really wanted to return the piece to its original home.
I managed to locate Dr. LeBoff online and discovered that she held positions as a professor at Harvard Medical School and as the Director of the Skeletal Health and Osteoporosis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
I exchanged emails with Dr. LeBoff and told her we didn’t want compensation for the piece but we wanted to return it to its original home. She was interested at time but we determined that it was too fragile to ship. I told her we were planning a driving trip to the Northeast and that I might deliver it at a future date.
It took about 16 months before we took a driving trip to the Boston area. I emailed her again, a couple of weeks before the trip, and she did not respond.
It appears that 31 Hereford St. is currently being rented and I doubt the tenants would appreciate the piece.
It appears that Mrs. Merrill (the Chiffonier) will remain in the Midwest, along with the historical documentation we’ve gathered.