Many say that brown furniture is dead. There are times I fear they are right. Take a recent auction. It wasn’t a great auction but it wasn’t a bad auction either. Nothing fabulous but no box lots.
At the end of the auction, I reviewed the results and was alarmed by what I saw. The most expensive piece of furniture was this:
Southern Yellow Pine Painted Jelly Cupboard
Description: Late 19th century, green wash, top with downswept backsplash, hinged doors with shelved interior, on bootjack feet.
Size: 54 x 37 x 20 in.
Condition: Likely original surface, with paint loss and staining throughout; shrinkage cracks; later hinges and pulls.
This struck me as the type of money paid for antiques by people who hire people to buy antiques for them. Or there is something about the provenance that I am not sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate.
The later hinges and pulls were of the Ace Hardware variety, not period or even attractive. Mercifully, drywall screws were not used.
More troubling was the prices realized for some of the other furniture. Like this:
George III Mahogany Chest on Chest
Description: 18th century, oak and pine secondary, two-part form, applied cove molded cornice, two over six cock beaded drawers, raised on straight bracket feet.
Size: 67.5 x 58 x 25 in.
Condition: Chips and losses to cornice; shrinkage cracks to both sides of case; breaks and loses to cock beading; later re-drilled pulls; no key.
The American Classical Miniature Chest of Drawers on top went for $290.
An interesting thing about this chest on chest started life as a tall chest:
You can see in the above photo that the back was sawn at the drawer blade. It would have been interesting to have examined how the upper chest was terminated.
Another underappreciated chest was this:
English Hepplewhite Inlaid Semi Tall Chest of Drawers
Description: Circa 1810, mahogany, light and dark wood inlays, pine secondary, top with projected corners, with line inlay frieze, six graduated drawers with triple banded inlay and corner fans, raised on square tapered legs with spade foot.
Size: 56.75 x 39 x 20 in.
Condition: Top reset with later nails; later pulls with re-drilled holes; some looseness to case; no key; shrinkage crack to left side of case.
At 56.75″ it’s only Semi Tall? As I’ve said before, we need some enforceable Federal standards on furniture terminology.
There were also these small rectangular blocks with stringing glued to all upper corners to match the sides being proud of the drawers and drawer blades.
This chest also went for far below retail:
American Federal Cherry Chest of Drawers
Description: New England, circa 1800, white pine and chestnut secondary, five graduated lipped drawers, raised on later Queen Anne style feet
Size: 42.5 x 36 x 19 in.
Condition: Replaced feet; replaced pulls; several areas of lip repair.
No dovetailed drawer pictures. It means that the drawers weren’t dovetailed (not all are), the chest was difficult to get to or I forgot. Forgive me.
The last undervalued piece is one that I personally benefited from:
Southern Walnut Tilt Top Candle Stand
Description: Early 19th century, circular top, ring turned standard on spider legs.
Size: 26 x 16 in. diameter.
Condition: Refinished; later metal bracing to legs; crack and repair to top; repairs and chipping to leg joints.
It is ironic that I bid on this (over that interweb thing) on Saturday, picked it up on Monday and left on Wednesday for Building the Hancock Shaker Candle Stand with Will Myers class at Joshua Farnsworth’s new Wood and Shop Traditional Woodworking School near Charlottesville, VA. Even with the 18% buyer’s premium and 7% sales tax, the old one was cheaper than the class. And no hotel stays required.
The next most expensive piece of furniture was a 24 x 24 x 31 in. Butcher Block Table that sold for $1100. The legs were turned. Next was a Contemporary Industrial Bookshelf (with no redeming social or aesthetic value (to me)) that fetched $1000.
If you are a fan of quality furniture, I think you see you can do quite well for yourself at an auction. You might have to wait a bit to get exactly what you want, but I hope you consider it before you go to the mall furniture store.
Is brown furniture dead? I dunno but I not feelin to good myself.