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Comparative cross-section finish analysis shows there is a long tradition of using shellac on different elements of the bed. Shellac was found directly on top of the wood in all six samples.
Many of the shellac layers are quite fragmentary and degraded, but none of the coatings exhibit a predictable cracking pattern that could be described as “bricking”. The first unevenly cracked shellac layer in sample B does have the same type of pale oxidized surface observed in shellac that has degraded into a bricking pattern.
The thickest accumulation of coatings were found in sample 4 from a carved area of the canopy and sample B from a hairy paw foot: a fragmentary, degraded shellac layer was found directly on top of the stained wood in these cross-sections, followed by a thick brownish grit layer which has an oily component. This thick gritty layer may be an accumulation of an oily maintenance dressing, grime, and airborne particulates trapped in the tacky oil. There may have been a pigmented varnish to color the wood on the canopy, but cross-section B from the foot shows a pigmented stain was definitely applied before the first shellac layer. There is a later plant resin varnish, and two later shellac layers in sample 4. All the coatings are uneven and disrupted.
So, the evidence in samples 4 and B suggests that the bed was originally coated with shellac, and then at least three more generations of finishes were applied to the canopy and the exposed elements of the frame. The first shellac layer in sample B is irregularly cracked, so it does not exhibit the regular cracking pattern described as “bricking”. But this original shellac coating does have a paler orange autofluorescence at its surface, which is also a characteristic of oxidized shellac with the bricking pattern.
The back rail and sub frame may not have been recoated as many times because those elements were hidden below textiles. Or, it is possible that early coatings were partially cleaned away from some elements, such as in samples 3 and A, where there are no discrete films of shellac remaining on top of the wood. All of these layers – aged shellac, accumulations of gritty materials and oily dressings, fragments of plant resin varnishes –are typical of coating sequences found on eighteenth-century American furniture from urban centers that have not been aggressively stripped or “rejuvenated” with solvents.

Comparative Finish Histories in Reflected Ultraviolet Light

1. Back rail.    2. Sub frame.  3. Canopy.      4. Carved canopy.                               

Sample B-- Claw of hairy paw foot

Expanded image at 400X.