There has been a great deal of Made in America or Made in the USA advertising lately, and American furniture is no exception. There are three questions to ask here, and we shall deal with each of these in turn without trying to be overly nationalistic. The questions are:
1. Is American furniture better than any other you can buy?
2. How do you know it is genuinely made in America?
3. Why buy it – what do you get by purchasing any product labeled ‘Made in USA?’
1. Is American Furniture the Best?
The answer is yes and no! There is no reason why furniture made in America should be generally better in quality or design than furniture made in the UK, Sweden, France or any other country noted for its furniture. To be honest, the majority of carpentry techniques and jointing methods were first used in Europe, and British furniture is the equal of any in the world.
Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton and George Heppelwhite are just three English cabinet makers whose names are synonymous with classic antique furniture. They all belong to the Georgian period, and while Southwood Furniture manufactures beautiful reproductions of these, they would never claim that theirs is better than the originals. The same is true of their Louis French reproductions.
The same countries manufacture excellent hand-crafted furniture today that is the technical equal of anything Stickley or Southwood furniture can produce. But is it better? Or is American Furniture better?
We would all like to say that all American goods are the best in world, but we know that’s not true. However, where furniture is concerned, it is at least the equal of anything European master-craftsmen can produce, and in some cases even better – and yes, in some cases it is the best in the world! Here is why:
American craftsmen and women (there are many women involved in cabinet-making today) have become masters at using wood indigenous to this country. American cherry, American walnut (different to African walnut), maple, hickory, beech and oak are common to the USA, and American woodworkers and cabinet-makers can bring out the best from their grains and medullary rays, either in the form of solid wood or thinly cut veneers.
It was Gustav Stickley that made quarter sawn oak famous in American cabinetry, and Leonard Stickley was the first to use four quarter sawn boards glued around a center-post to display the beauty of the medullary rays on all four sides. So American craftsmen were pioneers in certain uses of wood in furniture manufacture – not just American furniture manufacture!
So, no, American furniture is not always the best, but it is usually the best – particularly in the use of oak, cherry and maple – and never buy a rocker that has not been made in America! Hand-made American furniture is of very high quality, and equal to any other hand crafted furniture in the world – in fact, it is the best in many cases.
2. How Do You Know it is Made in America?
The answer – you don’t! Not unless you know the supplier. Stickley furniture, Southwood furniture and hand-made furniture from American Craftsman, various Amish communities and others are certainly 100% make in the USA, but there are even more that are not. Many firms have their furniture made in the Far East these days due to the cheaper labor costs, and many are assembled in America using foreign parts.
You have to ask the question – “is this made wholly in the USA from American-manufactured components?” You can ask that of the above firms and a few more, but the majority of ‘American furniture’ is not American at all, and some is even made using foreign wood such as African walnut and Scandinavian pine.
How about the Made in America or Made in the USA label? It sure helps, but there is no prequalification and very little supervision of the use of these labels. You must still ask if the labels mean what they say, because anybody can use them until they are found out – and that’s not always likely.
Nevertheless, if you purchase your furniture from well-respected American furniture retailers, you should be OK. Those that cheat tend to be smaller firms that import foreign furniture and might stick on home-made labels. Most established furniture firms in the USA will be honest with their labeling.
3. Why Buy It?
Apart from the fact that you know you are purchasing items made in your own country, products with the Made in America label tend to be of good quality. Few reputable firms would offer poor quality furniture and put the label on. The main reason for that is that such firms tend to market high quality products, often hand-made by local craftspersons.
It would not be worth taking the chance of having the labeling of junk furniture investigated. Apart from the authenticity angle, by purchasing genuine American furniture you are helping to contribute to the wealth of your own country. That is very important, particularly with recent history in mind. In fact, the USA has not yet recovered from recent recessions, and every cent that leaves these shores hurts your country.
These are three major reasons for buying American furniture made in America – as long as you know it is made here. The chances of your items being falsely labeled are significantly lower if you buy your furniture from reputable American companies with a long history of furniture manufacture, such as Stickley, Sherrill, Southwood and Simply Amish. These manufacturers are marketed by several furniture retailers throughout the USA.