Identifying Thomas Day Furniture

There is not yet an absolute way of identifying a piece of Thomas Day furniture short of having the bill of sale with Thomas Day’s name on it. There is one instance we are aware of where the initials TD appeared on the back of a large sideboard he made but that is rare. He incorporated many of the fashionable styles and designs of the day in the furniture he produced, yet often put these elements together in a unique, “improvisational” way. If you believe you may have a piece of Thomas Day furniture, here are some things to look for:

Curves and Scrolls

Day and many other period artisans featured curves and S-shapes as both decorative and functional elements. These kinds of curvilinear designs can be found in a pattern book called, The Cabinet Maker’s Assistant ( Baltimore: John Murphy, 1840) which is one Day used as a reference. He often uses S-shapes in unique ways as in the supports for this mirror.

Expert Veneer Work

Day used imported mahogany veneers extensively which he applied to less expensive woods like pine and poplar. His veneers were cut unusually thin for the times (sometimes as thin as 1/16th of an inch). They are also distinctive in the way he expertly matched the wood grain as shown here where the two pieces of veneer come together beneath the key holes of each drawer.

Dovetail Joints

The mark of fine cabinetmaking is joinery. In this piece of Day furniture, notice the dovetail joints that are expertly cut, thin, and not concealed or hidden.

Newell Posts & Distinctive Interior Architecture

Day is especially known for his sculptural newel posts and other distinctive interior architecture. Some people have seen a parallel between some of these forms and the stylized abstract forms of African sculpture. Art historians advising the TDEP, however, are reluctant to attribute the aesthetic preferences in Day’s work to an African aesthetic. They argue that much more research on Day’s body of work would need to be done before it could be called “African” or for that matter “European.” What we do know is that it is “American,” which means that it is a mix of diverse cultural and aesthetic influences.

40 thoughts on “Identifying Thomas Day Furniture”

  1. I have just been informed that a piece of furniture we have may have been made by
    Thomas Day. If I could send a picture, may I get an opinion?

    1. I would love to see a picture of it. My girlfriend is a decendent of Mr. Thomas Day and we have been studying his work for some time now. We are working hard to aquire a piece for her Dad.

      1. I was looking at the site for Thomas Day and saw your post about looking for a piece of his furniture. I have a piece that I bought that had been in Orton Plantation close to Southport, NC. It is a very large sideboard with three drawers and three doors below. It is mahogany and has been identified as a probable Thomas Day piece. I actually have a piece that was my Mothers very much like it and that is the only reason I would ever sell this one since it is such a beautiful piece. If your girlfriend is still looking for a piece for her father I would be glad to send her a picture of it.

    2. I have a piece that I would like someone to take a look at also! Would like some info on who to send a picture to! Also, to the S. Uzzell, would you by any chance be related to Edwina Uzzell who grew up in Virginia Beach? We were friends in Elementary School!

  2. I have recently purchased an antique armoire, vanity and desk bedroom set. My father though it looked like a pennsylvania dutch colonial piece however when i opened the drawer i saw faint insignia or stamp. One of them was more legible it said Thomas Day Cabinet maker. It has hand painted birds and designs. I would love to have someone take a look at a picture but i dont know who to send it to. I live in NJ and wouldn’t know who to trust. please email me back if you have the time.

    1. An expert is looking at the photos of the pieces you send. I will hopefully be able to get back to you soon OR perhaps one of them will be able to comment on the work. Do you know ANYTHING about the provenance of the pieces? Where did you purchase the pieces – what did they say about them?

  3. I have a sofa that was purchased by my grandmother who lived in Pelham, NC. Is there someone I could send a picture to in order to determine if it might be a Day piece? It was originally covered in brown velvet and is veneered. I tried to have it appraised many years ago and was told they don’t know because they haven’t seen one like it. Thanks.

  4. My Spouse is a decendant of Mr. Thomas Day and I have been looking for a Thomas Day piece for her. If you have a piece you are willing to sell of know of someone who is willing to do the same, or know where I might find a piece, please contact me.

    Thank you

    1. I have a sideboard and a wardrob that be something you are looking for ,write back if you would like to see them,thay are in Eden,nc

    2. My late Father collected antiques for years. He was convinced he had a couple of T.D. pcs. My Mother still has them and would sell them. She lives in Reidsville, NC. Email me if you’re interested Mike.

    3. I ALSO HAVE A DRESSER AND POSSIBLY A LIBRARY TABLE THAT ARE BOTH SUPPOSE TO BE THOMAS DAY PIECES. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED PLEASE LET ME KNOW SO THAT I WILL NOT SELL THEM TO SOMEONE ELSE. I WOULD RATHER THEM GO TO A FAMILY MEMBER.

      1. Margaret, I am researching Thomas Day tables for my internship. If you still have the library table would you mind sharing a picture? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    4. i have 2 thomas day pieces and would be willing to sell. your ad is from 2012 and i realize you may not be interested but let me know. thanks

    5. Mike, I have been researching Thomas Day for a couple of years now. My neighbor passed away and left me the most amazing chest, no one walks into my home without admiring it. He was 97. After researching and even if the bureau I have is not a Thomas Day (though I believe it is) I am honored to have learned what an amazing man he was and about the his history. How intelligent he must have been to be a man of color but earn the respect of so many in a time, I can only imagine, was exceptionally hard to accomplish. Then to also be in a secret society that were aimed at abolishing slavery and to be able to keep his composure and live basically a dual role in his life. I have read his writing and many other things about him and I feel he was a very centered person and a true artist. A man way before his time. I posted the piece I have on a website called Dusty Old Thing and I was floored in a couple of days to see over 3000 like and shares and comments. Mostly about the beauty of the piece but also reading the history I knew about Thomas Day and so many seemed excited to learn about him. I was so happy to learn his work was in the Smithonian and that his descendants had a gathering this year in his honor. After so many years of knowing about him, I felt honored to have already known of his life and achievements. If you receive this note and would like to see the bureau I have, it is in the flaming mahogany, please send me an email and I will be glad to send you a pic. I was so proud to post it on the Dusty Old Thing website and to get so much appreciation for showing it. You could also go on Dusty Old Thing facebook or website and see the featured antique for October 16, 2013 and that is mine. Thank you!

  5. I also believe I have a Thomas Day Library Table and I will be investigating further. Perhaps we could trade photos

      1. I have a bedroom set that I believe could be Thomas Day. Very exceptional details.
        Can you help me identify?
        thanks
        Linda

    1. Gail

      Are you still interested in a Thomas Day piece? I have a crotch/flame mahogany chest of drawers which may likely be made by him…..all the best, Bryan

      1. Bryan, I saw your piece on ebay and it prompted me to post mine on a website Dusty Old Thing (also on Facebook) Your piece was the first I have ever seen that was even close to what I have. I have thought after much research that it is a Thomas day work but because he did not sign his work, how would someone go about getting it appraised as a Thomas day work. I love mine and your also. The bottoms are different in our but that beautiful flaming mahogany is unmistakable. Check out that website Dusty Old Thing and look for the featured antique for Oct 16 and you will see mine. I would love your opinion on it, Thanks!! April

  6. I have two pieces that I believe to be made by Thomas day. They were given to me by my Grandmother who got them from her parents. Is there someone I can send photos to?

  7. I have two Thomas Day pieces that I am interested in selling. One is a prototype of a lounge, similar in style to the one made for Gov. Reid and a marble top dresser.

  8. The Thomas Day Education Project does not become involved in buying/selling Day pieces. Perhaps you could contact an antiques dealer about your pieces? Shops in the Hillsborough, NC area or anywhere in the Piedmont of North Carolina may be interested. I believe that since 2008 and the financial crisis that the prices of antiques have plummeted. In short, I doubt if this is the best time to sell because I think the values of antiques are down.

  9. I have a secretary/bookcase we are unable to ID. It could be a T.D. We were told it was made by “African Americans during the 18th century.” I could send you a picture if you are interested in helping us out.
    Thank you,
    Kevin

  10. Hello, I have a gorgeous crushed blue velvet Civil War couch that was purchased in Halifax, VA. I have been told by two ladies that had just come from a Thomas Day exhibit, that my couch was a Thomas Day piece and to have it checked. The couch is so beautiful that everyone that saw it, asks if I still have it. If I send you photos can you tell me more about it? MDH

  11. Hello – I just bought 5 chairs from an antique shop in Montreal, Quebec and the owner showed us a newpaper clipping with a photo that showed some Thomas Day chairs that are nearly identical. Can I send you some photos to find out whether they are genuine?

    Thanks,
    Ben

  12. We are located in Apex, NC & I have a Thomas Day 2 x 4 drawer beautiful dresser. I’m going to be entertaining serious offers soon. It’s 45″ H x 42″ W x 22″ Deep.Reply for pics, etc.

    Thanks,
    Andy

  13. I recently purchased a walnut sleigh bed at an estate liquidation. I have been trying to identify markings found on the headboard, footboard, and side rails. The markings were brushed on in black, are hard to discern. There are three letters in script followed by the number 44. The first letter could be a capital d. The 2nd an o or a. The 3rd is definitely the letter y. I would love a picture from anyone with a TD sleigh bed or if anyone has found similar markings. Also the length is 65 inches by 55 inches wide which makes me think it is pretty old. The veneer appears to be thin and finely book-end matched. Please tell me what you think. Thanks!

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