Friday, May 16, 2008

Antique Clothing Chests - and Other Inside Tips

This Connecticut Chest on Chest, circa 1790, sold for $18,000 at Hood Auction.
We are all very individual in our tastes when it comes to decorating our homes. Some like formal, some like casual, and there is a chest for anyone’s taste. For most of my life, I preferred Queen Anne style but now, I'm more into early America. Regardless of style, the one thing that most catches my eye is quality. Beautiful wood, crafted by a true artist, certainly gets my attention.

We talked about blanket chests, sugar chests and today we’ll continue with clothes chests, which we’re most familiar with. These beauties can be very valuable under certain circumstances. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

A gentleman brought a chest to the Antique Road Show inquiring of its value. He told the director that when he purchased the piece, it had been painted in an ugly red paint, but he had it stripped and refinished. When the director asked him if he wanted the good news or bad news first, he opted for the good news first, and the news was that his piece was worth about $35,000. The owner was thrilled. He asked how there could be bad news. But, there was. And the bad news? By stripping the original red paint finish, he had washed away $100,000.

This is a lesson we must not forget. It’s best to buy each piece as it is, at the value it is in the condition it is in presently. Never stray from this rule. Yes, you might be able to make a piece prettier, but in doing so, you risk reducing the true collector value. Always let your new buyer make the decisions on what he want to do to improve what you’ve sold him.

There are many styles of chests you can run across. The federal style, with its straight lines, appeals to me. Your taste might be more toward Chippendale or Empire style. The true antiques in these styles can be very expensive. You might be expected to pay from $10,000 to $500,000 for a bow front mahogany or a birds eye maple chest. If you’re not familiar with styles in chests or furniture, nor the appeal of various woods, I believe the best way to learn about furniture and its styles is by first studying books. There are many books to choose from, and you might even spend some time in the library studying. Then, find a shop that carries a variety of high quality antique furniture and take a look at these items close up. You’ll find the shop owner will probably be more than happy to answer questions and help with your education.

I once bought a very nice three drawer walnut chest for $500. It had all the original hardware and had a patina that was true to its age. I got a little excited, and priced the chest at a little over $2,000. It sold immediately. This was another time I wish I had waited and allowed myself more time to research before selling. I would’ve made a lot more money. So, please take some time to research your piece as best as you can, and don’t be shy about calling in an expert or two or three. I am sure you can tell that what I share with you has been learned by making some of the very mistakes I warn you of.

Hepplewhite, Queen Anne, Sheraton are also styles that will add beauty to any room. When you are on the hunt, never be distracted by price. If the price asked seems too rich for your blood, that’s the moment go and do your research. Yes, you might lose the piece, but being safe rather than sorry is always the right decision. If you return, and it is gone, it probably wasn’t meant to be at this time. Remember, the best decisions we make are based on knowledge.

If you find a piece of furniture that fits all the rules, buy the piece and have the sales person put a “sold” tag on it immediately and continue your hunt. If you stop to secure the piece or take it to your car, the other fabulous treasure waiting for you in the next room might be missed.

There is a pot of gold waiting for you, if the right chest comes your way. But, remember, it will more than likely require waiting for several months for it to be sold at the proper auction. For special pieces, the wait will be well worth it.

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