Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Know the Difference Between an Antique Sugar Chest and an Antique Blanket Chest

35" High Maple Sugar Chest, Early 19th Century, Sold for $9,000 at Doyle New York in May, 2007.

What qualifies a piece of furniture to be called a “chest?” Surprisingly, many pieces of furniture can be called a chest. You have a chest for holding clothes, but this is just one kind of chest. How about a sugar chest, or even a blanket chest? These three chests had entirely different functions, but all are called a “chest.” So let’s examine some of the differences in these three types of chests.

Did you know that at one time sugar, was a very precious commodity? Back in the early to mid 1800's, sugar, in fact, was so expensive and prized, it was kept in a locked chest. This furniture was a very functional piece, plain in decor, yet often a symbol of the family's social status. They were often kept out in plain view, usually in a parlor room or dining room. The most expensive of the sugar chests might well be the Kentucky chest.

These chests were usually made of walnut, and often consisted of just four boards. Why is this important to know? A four board chest was special because it meant it was formed from virgin timber. Today, most furniture is composed of several boards glued together to make a side, front, back, top. Only with virgin timber were the trees large enough so that an entire side or top could be produce from one log.

The sugar chest could have one small drawer at the bottom, but some had no drawers at all. The chest opened from the top, and inside you would find a small space where the knife that cut the sugar was kept. These chests can be fairly primitive or very formal in design.

You must be familiar with sugar chests if you have an interest in furniture, because the value is substantially different between sugar chests and blanket chests. The sugar chests are usually much more valuable, and be warned that there are people who rework blanket chests to look like sugar chests for obvious reasons. A good Kentucky sugar chest may bring $25,000 or more, so they are well worth looking for. The best places to find these at a bargain price is at sales in states where they weren't used. They’ve moved with families through the generations and the new generation doesn’t know its use nor care to inquire of its history.

Have you ever heard the expression “a horse being taken to the glue factory?” This comes from the fact that early glue was made from horse parts. This also explains why older furniture often comes apart. The early glue was water soluble, and if it was exposed to moisture it would easily come apart.

Unlike the valuable sugar chest, a valuable blanket chest that will bring big money usually has to be signed and dated. Blanket chests from the 1700's, with the right information on it about the owner, can easily bring $50,000 to $1,000,000. These are, indeed, rare. Blanket chests you are more likely to come across will be valued in the $500 to $2,500 range. These chests are usually long and narrow, standing on very short legs, opening from the top. They can have up to two small drawers underneath the main compartment.

It is easy to see how someone could convert this to look like a sugar chest, so don’t be fooled.

In both of these types of chests, you will find the value between the best to the average is the difference between night and day. If you are fortunate enough to find a piece that could be of substantial value, that might be the time to call in an expert to confirm your opinion. Any repair or the use of new parts to the piece will reduce the chest value by up to 80 %. So be on the lookout for more modern parts or any repair.

Tomorrow we well discuss the chest that you are probably more familiar with – the clothes chest. The style of the clothes chest covers a wide range of styles and this will take some time just to get you the basics.

Thanks to everyone who tuned into my discussion Monday with Auctionwally on BlogTalk Radio. The show was a blast and if you missed it, you can listen to it this week at As soon as we are able, we’ll have a link to it on our site, as well as a posted transcript.

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  2. RE: Irving Amen "CELLIST" Sculpture


    Remember I emailed you about this artist, Irving Amen but you couldn't tell me anything?

    Well I attended the auction and I won the Irving Amen "CELLIST" piece for $77 bucks.

    I did some pre-sale research and had a couple of different art galleries place the value, "off the record" in the $1200-$1800.00 range

    I've done more research...

    (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

    "Irving Amen (born 1918 in New York City) is known as a master printmaker. He has produced thousands of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and silk-screen prints. He also creates using oil and acrylic as well as some sculpture. Irving Amen had a studio in New York City for many years but moved to Boca Raton, Florida in the 1990s, where he is still producing his art.

    He is represented in many major art galleries and museums of the world including the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

    Many of Amen's works have a Jewish theme. One masterpiece is his set of twelve windows at Congregation Agudas Achim in Columbus, Ohio depicting the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

    Much of Amen's work depicts women and children and music themes. Chess, Venice and Don Quixote are the subjects of other works.

    Amen also taught classes in sculpture and printmaking at such schools as the Pratt Institute (1961) and at University of Notre Dame (1962).

    In 1974, Amen illustrated the classic, Gilgamesh, for the Limited Editions Club with nine 3-color woodcuts and 7 part-page black and white woodcuts and linocuts.

    Right now, I'm thinking I might hold on to (her) the "Cellist" for a bit, I'm falling in love with (her) a little more each day!

    Speaking of "falling in love with (her), here's a pic of the newest love in my life... isn't (she) beautiful?!?!

    "The CELLIST"

    BTW -- If anybody has access to "AskArt" or whatever the look-up service is called, I'd really appreciate any comments re: recent/any sales history for IRVING AMEN - SCULPTURE

    You can just post any info here or email me directly at

    Just put "Irving Amen Sculpture" in the subject line so I won't delete your email! ;-)


    Thanks in advance for your knowledge


  3. Stephen

    You may want to check Wright Auction in Chicago on the Amen. They sold a bronze for over $4000


  4. I have a minature sugar chest.My great grandfather made them in kentucky.My grandfather said that it was a salesmans sample.i think it is walnut..any ideas of value