Brass Handle Reproductions

I was asked in a comment on the previous post where I acquired the brass plates and handles to match the one original surviving escutcheon and the witness marks from the original handles on the dressing table to be sold at Sotheby’s in January, 2022. It jogged my memory that I had not written a post about the handles as I had intended when working on the series about the restoration of the dressing table. This then is Part 5.

Dressing table
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c. 1775. 
Before treatment.
The original escutcheon.
A witness of one of the four missing pull plates.

Dave Mitchell started a business reproducing 18th century furniture and building hardware in 1982 and we must have heard about him a few years after that. He is still in business today in Wilmington, Delaware as D. C. Mitchell LLC. It was difficult at the time for furniture restorers to find furniture hardware – either originals or high quality reproductions – to replace missing originals, especially elaborate and rare designs. A number of restorers in the area began to work with Dave, who we found could produce custom work of high quality.

I made this plexiglas pattern to match witness marks from the missing brass plates on a Philadelphia chest on chest c. 1755.

We would make a pattern from a one-eighth inch thick piece of plexiglass that matched an original plate or a witness mark on a drawer front. We increased the size of our pattern by a couple of percent to take the brass shrinking as it cooled into account. The pattern was mailed to Dave who made sand castings of the pattern so the backs of the reproduction plates would have the sand-cast appearance just as the originals. He then milled the plates to the thickness that was needed and hand-filed the edges. When we got the new plates back from Dave they looked just like a new original might the day it was made. We would then distress the new plates to match the wear patterns of the surviving originals if there were any or decide the extent of the wear we believed the brass on a certain object should have if all the originals were missing.

Front of two unused D. C. Mitchell pull-plate reproductions. The one on the left has been milled to thickness but the edges have not been filled. The plate on the right has been filled and polished.

I always ordered a few extra plates when I worked with Dave. In the case of the dressing table I asked him to send me one just as it came off the milling machine before he filled and polished the plates.

Rear view of the above plates showing the desirable sand-cast surface.

You can get some idea of how much work was involved after the plates came out of the sand mould. These were NOT inexpensive handles but there was nothing that could compare to them aside from finding a set of original brass that exactly matched witness marks on your object.

Polished with a slight amount of wear added to the plate and fixed to the drawer front of the dressing table.

Dave also cast the posts and handles for the four pulls I needed for the dressing table and filed the edges of the plates, which in this case was complicated by the elaborate piercings. It’s a striking pattern I haven’t seen on another American object.

8 thoughts on “Brass Handle Reproductions

  1. Thanks! for posting that as original brasses are almost always missing from period furniture. I have been using Optimum in the UK to replace my missing brass, nice to know there is another source here in the USA.

    • I began using Optimum Brasses years ago, before they had a representative in the States and you had to order from England. Especially for the late 17th and early 18th century drops and stamped pull plates. When Londonderry Brasses became their U.S. rep it was easier and quicker to get an order delivered. In recent years, with Horton Brasses representing Optimum, I’ve gone back to Optimum in England as Horton carries a only a small percentage of Optimum/Londonderry stock.

      • Yup. I go directly to Optimum too. No use in waiting 6 months for something that can arrive in just a few weeks or less from the UK.

        This is really awesome info about how you made matching brasses. Thank you for sharing this info!

  2. I sell period furniture hardware all day long for specific projects. I have 30,000+ examples ca 1680 – 1860. I have sets, partial sets, singles, cast brass hinges, hand-cut screws, casters, some trims, upholstery nails, bed bolt covers, Chippendale, Federal, Rococo, Neoclassical, pressed brass knobs, miscellaneous posts and bails, clock finials, some wooden flame finials, locks for furniture, keys, William and Mary, Queen Anne, catches, latches, mechanisms, ring pulls, lions, pressed brass cabinet-handles, some gilt mounts, handmade securing nuts, escutcheons, pierced back plates, decorated back plates, a little bit of iron, small cast knobs, etc.
    i also do hard solder repairs on broken furniture brass although I personally consider the damaged brasses to have “honest wear.”
    I still keep a good “teaching collection” but my regular collection has grown so large that I now sell things. Although I have a huge collection, about 30% of the time I do not have the specific examples which are needed.

    • Hi Joan,
      You do have an amazing collection of furniture hardware! It is interesting to hear you now sell examples from it. Do you have plans for the future of the special pieces in your teaching collection?

      • I appreciate your kind words, Chris. Thank you.
        This is a good question. I love my collection and I hope everything will someday find a good home. However, I currently have no plans for the future of of the special pieces in my collection.

  3. I sell period furniture hardware all day long for specific projects.
    I don’t see a link where these period brasses/hardware are available, is there one?

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