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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Antique Furniture: Chippendale To Franklin

( Orginally published 1962 )



There is a magic name in the world of furniture-so magic that even the furniture just made in the style for which he was famous is worth a fortune. His name is Thomas Chippendale.

He has been called the greatest of all the world's furniture makers. Today, if you can find anything in the "Chippendale" manner, if it is old enough and in fine enough condition, it can be worth a fortune.

A Chippendale desk can be worth as much as $36,000-or even more. Chippendale chairs can be worth $200 or $300 apiece, and some of them have been valued as high as $500 or $600 each.

Any Chippendale table is worth hundreds of dollars-and anything else that can be authenticated as Chippendale is worth a great deal.

One woman, at least according to one story, found this out by trying to sell some old "junk." She thought it was junk until the dealers saw it and labeled it "treasure." There was some old silver, dating back two centuries. And the furniture? Part of it was Sheraton -and part of it was Chippendale!

When they were through evaluating her old "junk" they paid her $100,000 for it!

While you are gasping at the great amount she received for her old Chippendale and silver, do not forget the name of Sheraton, for this is another name in furniture which carries with it both magic and dollars for the finder.

Sheraton was the eighteenth-century furniture designer who never even owned his own shop. He did not even make a good living for himself. He was a jack of all trades: preacher, teacher, writer-and furniture designer.

Today a Sheraton cabinet can be sold for around $500-if you can find it. Or one of his tables can be worth $1,000 or more, if it is in fine condition.

Perhaps that old piece of furniture which you found may be neither Chippendale nor Sheraton. It might be Hepplewhite! It might even be a Hepplewhite Secretaire bookcase worth $1,000.

Or it might be a piece of Adams furniture worth, certainly, a great deal. These pieces of lost furniture could be anywhere! When looking for lost treasures of this kind, there is no limit as to where they might be.

In your attic, your cellar, the second-hand store-or even in your yard, like the ten-thousand-pound, inlaid-marble, sixteenth-century table which was found in the yard of an English house wrecker.

Anywhere at all! And they could have traveled thousands of miles before they came to rest in your neighborhood second-hand store! The inlaid-marble table had originally been designed for a Roman palace-but the yard in which it was rediscovered belonged to a house wrecker!

The piece of furniture you find may have traveled all the way across the ocean to some family who liked European imported goods. Only to be lost again through war or misfortune-or by simply being thrown out by descendants of the original owners, because they did not know what they had.

What they threw out may even have been a Louis XV table worth thousands of dollars. Perhaps it may have been fine enough to have brought in a sale almost as much as one Louis XV table which was sold recently. This particular table was sold for $100,000!

So take another look at that old "junky table" in the attic. It could be Louis XV. Or it might be only a Provincial table, made contemporarily with, but in imitation of, the Louis XV style. Yet even if it is Provincial, it would still be worth hundreds of dollars.

Or it could be a Louis XV chair worth thousands of dollars-or it could be a chair of the later period, called Louis XVI and still be worth over $1,000. Or a Louis XVI table worth $5,000 or more.

From a later period, when Napoleon sat on the throne of France, you might find furniture of the Directoire and Empire periods, worth several hundred dollars apiece.

Or you might find items of the so-called Regency type, chairs worth hundreds of dollars apiece, or sofas of the same period, also worth hundreds of dollars each. Or a Regency stand worth $500 or more. Also watch for Queen Anne furniture, some of it worth many thousands of dollars.

Any piece of furniture, if it is old enough and rare enough, can be worth something. Like the miniatures which were so prevalent at one time. One story is that they were made for children. Another story is that they were made by apprentice furniture makers to show the quality of their work. But for whatever reason they were made, they are worth something today. A miniature chest of drawers, for example, is worth from $60 to $70.

Even such odd items of furniture as papier mdche tables and chairs are worth something. A papier m&che chair can be worth a couple of hundred dollars-and a papier mache table can be worth even more. Whatever it is, if it is of fine craftsmanship, is old enough, and has the proper lines, it is valuable.

It takes an expert, of course, to properly evaluate a piece of old furniture, but you can learn the different styles of furniture and therefore know what to look for. Your librarian can give you books with pictures of the various styles. Most encyclopedias have pictures showing examples of the different makes and styles of furniture. You can go to your local museums and see examples of fine furniture. Remembering what you have seen there, you will know what to look for the next time you go treasure hunting for lost furniture.

When you find a piece that looks old to you, look for wear on the corners and on the bottoms of the legs. Watch for old-fashioned nails or wooden pegs. And just plain beauty! For there is nothing quite so beautiful as an antique chair or table. Or if you are the kind who does not like antiques, then look again and imagine the hundreds or thousands of dollars which you can sell it for! And it will look just as beautiful to you as it will to the collector who will gladly dig deep in his pocket for cold, hard cash.

A DUNCAN PHYFE table can be worth almost $1,000-if you can find it!

So can any other piece of furniture labeled as connected with the Scotsman Phyfe, who came to America to become one of our most famous furniture designers. Watch for any piece of his furniturefor, if authenticated, it is worth a small fortune.

The value of a piece of furniture, however, is sometimes overshadowed by the historical importance of it. Such as the furniture made by John Aldenl Today, where are all of the pieces which he must have made for his Priscilla? Some of it, perhaps, in the museums, but some of it, perhaps, in your attic-if you would only take the time and trouble to look!

When John Alden died, he was an old man of eighty-eight, and surely during his lifetime he must have produced many itemswhich you might possibly find if you are lucky.

In looking for furniture by John Alden, however, do not overlook the furniture of the rest of the early settlers. Any furniture belonging to or made by any of the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower has value today.

Remember the Pilgrim names of Carver and Brewster, for furniture connected with their names has value. It has not been too many years since a Carver chair was sold for $1,000.

Or remember the chair made by another of our early Americans -the legendary rocking chair of Benjamin Franklin. The story goes that Franklin invented the rocking chair because he was uncomfortable in his old straight chair. He solved his problem by putting rockers on it.

The story is a legend, and it may or may not be true! Franklin's so-called rocking chair may have been confused, in the story, with his fan chair, which he did invent and which is missing.

Certainly we know that the fan chair existed, because at least one person saw it-and recorded what he saw. In 1787, the Reverend Dr. Manasseh Cutler, visiting Franklin, saw an article of furniture which he describes as "his (Franklin's) great armchair, with rockers, and a large fan placed over it, with which he fans himself, keeps off the flies, etc., while he sits reading, with only a small motion of the foot..."

Every museum curator and every collector in America would grab at this chair-if you could find it.

Anything made in the early part of American history can have value, if old enough, fine enough, and rare enough. Chests have been known to bring from $500 to over $5,000. Cupboards can be worth several hundred dollars. Tables can be worth a couple of hundred dollars. Anything from this period is worth investigating.

Also, while investigating furniture from this period, do not forget the furniture of the later era named for Victoria of England. Pieces in this style are becoming rarer and more expensive by the day. Already some of the finer examples have been valued at several hundred dollars apiece, and as the fad for Victoriana increases, so will the value of each piece.

So do not throw away your great-aunt's old chair or sofa which you have been hiding in the attic. Take it out and have another look at it.

Furniture which you think is junk might turn out to be fortune in disguise. You could have anything from an early Phyfe to the rocking chair of Benjamin Franklin.