I want to share with you my expertise. If you are in search for true Biedermeier furniture, you may appreciate to ground your decision for any kind of investment on research-based correct main data about true Biedermeier furniture and protect yourself with knowledge about Biedermeier copies which are overflowing today's market. The heart of this introduction is a "Purchase Checklist" with important factors for a better under-standing of the quality and the value of the true Biedermeier furniture.
T H E T R U E B I E D E R M E I E R
The roughly three decades after the foundation of the German Confederation by the Congress of Vienna 1814/15 and the bloody revolutions of 1848/49 is called 'Biedermeier' in Germany.
This was an era of dramatic changes and shifts. The middle-class fought for their rights against the aristocracy, had a new understanding of the form of government and aimed successfully for a better education. Indeed, as a result of this, the lectures at the universities were no longer held in Latin but German, the first public museums were founded in Bavaria, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne and the first bookshops, lending libraries and reading circles were established.
Secretaire by Wilhelm Kimbel, Mainz,
The time was right for the middle-class to create their own style - which is called 'Biedermeier' - by 'themselves for themselves'. The furniture style of 'Biedermeier' was actually developed on the workbench of the multitude of middle-class cabinetmakers in the German speaking countries throughout the different furniture regions of:
1. Vienna and the Kingdom of the Danube
2. Munich and the Kingdom of Bavaria
3. Mainz and the German Southwest
4. The North German Coastal Region
6. Central Germany
Captions (left to right):
Mainz, dated 1825 and signed "Friedrich Kraus" and "F. Berger"
Vienna, circa 1825
Rhineland, circa 1825, as illustrated pg. 147 R. Pressler, R. Straub, 1986
'Biedermeier' is not a region-specific style, but has in terms of furniture different region specifics.
Some respected publications about the different furniture regions in Biedermeier are:
1. Region of Mainz: Dr. H. Zinnkann, 1985, dissertation*
2. Region of Munich: Dr. H. Ottomeyer, 1991*
3. Region of Altona (N.Germ.): Dr. A. I. Kratz, 1988, dissertation*
4. Region of South Germany: Prof. R. Haaff, 1991*
5. Region of Flensburg: Dr. E. Redlefsen, 1976*
6. Region of Berlin: Prof. Dr. J. Sievers, 1950*
Captions (left to right):
Northwest Germany, circa 1825
Rhineland, circa 1830, as illustrated fig.170 Dr. Georg Himmelheber, 1978
South Germany, circa 1825 as illustrated fig. 60 Prof. R. Haaff, 1991
Vienna, early 19th century
The wood itself became the most important motif of decoration (discover how the surfaces are veneered in book match pattern). Inlay works and pen works do not dominate, but the whole motif scale of the 'Classicism' was used as in the Louis XVI and Empire styles, columns, dolphins, swans, lyre, caryatids, sphinges, vases, paw feet, bundled reed leaves...
4 examples of South German Biedermeier furniture, before 1825.
Furthermore, Dr.Georg Himmelheber* - one of the current leading Biedermeier scholars who defined the style of Biedermeier in terms of furniture for the first and only time,said "the true authentic Biedermeier furniture style ended already after 20 years" around 1830-35.
(*) See Bibliography.
B I E D E R M E I E R C O P I E S
1st Revival Biedermeier
About 80 years after True Biedermeier, a new appreciation for Biedermeier furniture started with the 1896 exhibition in Vienna, celebrating the 80 years anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. The publications of the earlier Biedermeier scholars, Josef Folnesics (1902), A. Schestag (1902), Ferdinand Luthmer, (1904), Joseph August Lux (1906), Paul Mebes (1908) and other exhibitions in Berlin, Dresden and Munich, helped in creating the new demand as well as a general rejection of the furniture style of the turn of the century. Clean lines in the furniture design were now preferred. As of 1900, it became the fashion for every home to have one room furnished in the Biedermeier style.
However, those Biedermeier furniture from the early 20th century are not True Biedermeier. They are reproductions of True Biedermeier which were produced 80 years later and are called 1st revival Biedermeier. They should be sold today as such and priced accordingly. Even if those copies are now 100 years old, they will always be copies in the style of True Biedermeier and they will never ever represent the cultural value and collectable quality of True Biedermeier furniture produced between 1814/15 and 1830/35.
Photo caption: An important hint for dating a piece is to study its back wall.
2nd Revival Biedermeier
After 1918, with the end of the First World War, there came another period of appreciation for Biedermeier furniture, which could be called the 2nd revival Biedermeier. This period of time was in terms of the need and desire for freedom somewhat related to the period after the Wars of Liberation. Again in the 1920's important publications by earlier Biedermeier scholars appeared. Hartwig Fischel (1919-1923), Hermann Schmitz and Ferdinand Luthmer (1923) and Robert Schmidt (1923)which may have further influenced this new demand for Biedermeier furniture. After 1920, the museums started collecting true Biedermeier furniture.
Other hints for dating a piece are marks of hand plainter, hand-saw or band-saw, circular saw or planing machine.
Unfortunately, as Biedermeier grows in popularity fakes are now being made especially in the Eastern European countries of Hungary, former Yugoslavia, The Czech Republic, Romania and Poland. Talented craftsmen are being happy being paid the equivalent of 1 or 2 U.S. dollars per hour to produce copies of True Biedermeier furniture from old woods, using old tools and old methods of construction making it very difficult to distinguish these pieces as fake.
The construction of drawers tells a lot about the age of a piece.
Both, the revival Biedermeier furniture and the fake Biedermeier furniture have an antique "look", but they are not the true authentic Biedermeier. They are turning up more and more frequently in the market and are often sold as genuine antiques. Indeed, even for an experienced Antique Dealer it takes quite some time through careful examination to discover them as fake Biedermeier.
Real wormholes have a certain size, shape and direction of the worm channel, which should not be open.
P U R C H A S I N G G U I D E
If you, or your client are in love with true Biedermeier furniture, nobody will understand your passion better than me. (I have been in love with Biedermeier furniture for 45 years) and nobody will give you better shopping advice as I have been researching, collecting and dealing in true Biedermeier furniture for over 6 decades.
In 1980 some 33 years ago, I became a Certified and Public Sworn Expert in Germany (category 'Continental Antique Furniture') and gained additional experience while serving Courts, Insurance Companies and the Public.
Over my professional life, I have examined over 55,000 pieces of Biedermeier furniture. I have sold about 5.000 so far.
This is the experience and expertise I want to share with you for a better understanding of the various factors of quality and value of True Biedermeier furniture. It is with this assurance that I've prioritized the most important factors you should be aware of when purchasing Biedermeier furniture.
"Authenticity" is by far the most important factor. First, ask for the age of a piece. Next, ask whether it's a true Biedermeier (1814/15-1830/35), Revival Biedermeier (early 20th century) or fake Biedermeier (brand new copies done with old woods). If it is a true Biedermeier, you may then focus your attention on further facts that will help to verify the authenticity of the piece.
Ritter Antik is known for having the best authentic Biedermeier furniture and indeed, at Ritter Antik you'll only find authentic pieces. You will not find any revival Biedermeier, fake Biedermeier, reproductions or custom made pieces, which would not be done even at our client's request.
What has been done to the piece regarding restorations and/or replacements?
Almost every authentic piece shows the signs of its age and eventual former restorations, which have been done during its use over 6 generations. Museums prefer untouched pieces with the original patina and may tolerate minor repairs, which have to be visible.
If the old polish and patina is missing or could not be preserved, only a shellac-based French polish should be used resulting in a light to medium gloss. Over polishing with a too glossy surface reduces the value of a piece. You may check this out by comparing the surfaces and degree of shine on antique furniture in museums and talk to curators.
Any replacements of larger and important parts like veneers, drawers, back wall, decorative ornaments (columns, lyre, paw feet, caryatids, dolphins, swans, hardware...), added parts, later inlays or pen work decorations, shortenings or re-gilding, reduces the value of a piece.
3.) Main Style Criteria
The Third most important factor is, what makes the piece exemplary for a true Biedermeier furniture (1814/15-1830/35)? To answer this question, we have to examine how the piece reflects the criteria that defines the Biedermeier furniture style. As I can only show some highlights on this page, I'd like to bring some of the main criteria to your attention.
• Wood itself is the most important motif of decoration. Therefore the first questions should be:
What quality level of craftsmanship are the plain surfaces decorated (how outstanding are the matching patterns)?
What veneers are used (cuts from the trunk, roots, root-head part, burl...)?
Are exceptional and rare woods used (Karilian birch, Carpathian elm, birds-eye-maple, box-tree, ebony...)?
• The next question is:
Is the piece inlaid with characteristic motifs? Is it pen-work decorated? Which of the neoclassical motifs has it been decorated with and do the motifs have a certain importance in relation to the whole design of the furniture?
• Another question:
Does the piece represent a certain Biedermeier furniture region and how characteristic is it for this region? The region-specific design itself does not add value to the piece, it is more a question of taste. What is important for the value is why and how it represents this specific furniture region.
• And also:
Is the piece signed and/or dated and by whom and what kind of literature is available about this cabinetmaker? Could it be attributed to a certain Biedermeier cabinetmaker and why? Is this piece (or a similar one) illustrated in a Biedermeier reference book and in which?
4.) Other Factors
Other factors for a better understanding of the quality and value of true Biedermeier furniture:
• Is the piece a common or outstanding and rare piece in regard to the type of furniture as small furniture in pairs (like chests, vitrines, tables, mirrors...), center tables over 55" in diameter, extension tables, bureau-plats...?
• Is the design exceptional (conical furniture, lyre-shapes...)?
• Does the piece have a certain provenance?
• Ebonized pieces are extremely rare.
Purchase a true Biedermeier furniture only with a written guarantee including its age, region of origin, it's (if more than minor) extent of restorations/replacements and, if available, all other specifics about the piece. These documents back-up your investment and are important for insurance purposes and may be helpful if you or your client want to sell the piece one-day.
Heinrich "Heinz" Leichter
Founder & President, Ritter Antik
S E L E C T E D B I B L I O G R A P H Y
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