Slide each drawer out and in. Do they slide easily and in a straight line backwards and forwards ? If not the drawer bottom runners and the drawer support boards may be extensively worn. If the drawer wiggles from side to side in its cavity chances are the drawer guides are loose or missing entirely.
Remove all the drawers and check to see if any of the boards that the drawers slide on are loose or missing. Check the surfaces of each board for grooves cut into it from the drawer bottom. A visual inspection will show whether the drawer guides are missing or loose.
With the drawers out turn the bureau over and examine the legs and the glue blocks that reinforce them. Check the bottoms of the drawer support boards to see if all glue blocks are in place and tightly glued.
Are drawer bottoms split , have they shrunk and pulled away from the groove on the base of the drawer front leaving a gap along the front where the drawer bottoms are supposed to be slid into ? Examine the interior of the drawer front where the pulls are located . Are the pulls original to the piece ? A single center hole for each pull , which has been threaded to accommodate a wooden pull with a wood screw end is common on early pieces. The holes for these are 3/8″ in diameter . Pieces with original wood or brass pulls will have a single hole drilled through for each pull and usually measure 3/16 ” in diameter. If a 3/8 ” hole is present but unused and bracketed by two smaller holes on either side , you can be sure that the pulls are replacements.
Did the bureau have a backsplash that is now missing ? Check the back of the bureau and see if there is a groove running the width of the bureau where the backsplash might have fit in and been secured by three or four screws. The holes will be visible right along the edge of the top board of the bureau. Some backsplashes rested on top of the main board with an extension that ran down the back edge. Again , the screw holes will be evident and the top board of the bureau might show dark markings where the backsplash rested and protected the finish from sunlight and wear.
Measure the vertical height of each drawer front on both left and right sides. Measure the height at the back of each drawer. They should be identical to the front. If not the drawer bottom runners should be repaired to even them off front to back. Are the four drawer joints glued tightly together ? Any movement or racking action visible when the drawer is handled ?
Now check the overall appearance of the exterior of the bureau. Any trim or molding strips missing ? Are pulls all there and are they consistent with the age of the piece ? What about the color and finish ? Has it been painted ? How many times and what colors ? Is the paint over the original shellac , laquer or varnish finish ? Paint is designed to penetrate into the pores and grain of the wood. If used on raw wood it is impossible to get it all out. A residue will remain no matter how strong the stripper is and the effort used to remove it. If you buy a painted piece with the intent of restoring it to its original color , be forewarned !
Most of the above are examples of what time , use , environmental conditions and neglect can do to a bureau. A full and careful examination to determine the overall condition of the bureau should be a significant factor in your decision to purchase the piece and what you are willing to pay for it.
Another subject that bears careful analysis is the condition of the finish. Are there black or white rings where plants have been placed on the piece ? Marks from beverage containers? Cigarette burns ? Deep scratches or dents in the wood. Split boards ? The aforementioned are difficult to repair and some not worth the effort.
All of these factors are applicable to any antique bureau whether it be a three over four drawer mahogany piece from 1810 or a simple four drawer pumpkin pine country piece from 1890. If you are purchasing a bureau it should perform as it was designed to do and have a finish and appearance that is durable , attractive to the eye and feel like butter under your hand with a deep , clear , top coat that highlights the wood grain in a soft satin glow.
Every bureau in our inventory is completely restored mechanically and refinished. We have templates of backsplashes from the 19th century in a variety of designs that we can duplicate in walnut , pine , mahogany and bird`s eye maple. Check our website to see the end results of our work.