Adolph Kempen Walnut Desk, ca. 1870
Appraised Value: $8,000 - $12,000 (1998)
$10,000 - $14,000 (2011)
IMAGE: 1 of 5
Appraisal Video: (3:00)
Senior Vice President & Director, American Furniture and Decorative Arts
APPRAISER: When I first saw this writing desk here on the set, I thought it was like one of many, literally hundreds of Victorian walnut writing desks you see on the eastern seaboard, but it wasn't until I started looking a lot more closely at it that I realized in fact it wasn't made more than around 140,150 miles from here. The desk is a really interesting blend of styles. It was made circa 1870, '72, made of black walnut, but it combines several styles that were used during the Victorian era. You have the rococo revival legs, which are these cabriole legs with acanthus-carved knees. We have a Renaissance revival arched crest with an anthemion... stylized anthemion keystone. And then we have these Gothic doors, and that's just typical during the Victorian era to combine all these styles. It also has, on this lower section here in the center, a five-point star for the Lone Star state, which is our first clue that we know it wasn't made too far from here. Inside this drawer, we have labels, which list "postage stamps" and "envelopes," and the other side is marked very similarly. And actually, no brass hardware was used on these drawers, so people had to literally reach underneath and open the drawer, and you can see here where over 100 years of fingernails scraped on the bottom of this pine drawer bottom. If we look in the upper section of the desk... We can see up here, in fact, that this is a labeled desk signed by Adolph Kempen, cabinetmaker in Austin, Texas. And it has this beautifully intact paper label. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first found the desk?
GUEST: Well, my grandfather won it in a charity raffle in Austin about 1875, and after his death in 1915, my uncle had it. Then after his death in 1975, about 17 nieces and nephews of his-- my cousins-- drew lots, and I drew #1 for the furniture, so I took this desk.
APPRAISER: Well, because this desk is such a great document-- the fact that it's labeled by Kempen-- it's really a museum piece. Most Victorian desks bring, in fact, under $3,000 or $4,000. This particular desk, if I were to put an auction estimate on it, because of the documentation, because of the museum interest it has-- and it's actually the only known labeled piece by Kempen, as you may know-- I think the estimate, the range of auction estimate I'd put on this is about, in fact, $8,000 to $12,000.
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