Food Safe, ca. 1850
Appraised Value: $1,500
IMAGE: 1 of 1
Appraisal Video: (3:48)
Senior Vice President & Director, American Furniture and Decorative Arts
GUEST:I don't know much about it. I bought it at a really good friend's farm auction. She'd always had it in her old farmhouse and it fits perfect in my old farm house. And I guess I'd like to know where it's really from, how old it really is and has it had any changes done to it.
APPRAISER: Okay, homeowners in early America spent a lot of time and energy protecting their food and keeping food away from insects and mice, and these pie safes or food safes were like mini fortresses. They were really the answer. You could put on the shelves on the interior here, your pies or food and lock the door here, and these perforated tin panels would allow the food to breathe and ventilate. You'll notice that both of these doors are locked here. Now, that was also to keep children out-- from getting into the cherry pie, you know. And one of the ways that we know this is a 19th-century one is just the construction. It's made of walnut, mortise-and-tenon construction, stylistic details all point towards 1850.
This could have been made possibly in the Midwest. It could be Pennsylvania-- the secondary wood is poplar, which is typical. The backboards are poplar and the drawer sides, and we know from the dovetails the date of about 1850. Now, another way that homeowners would keep the insects out and the mice... You see this water line?
APPRAISER: These dark marks on the feet? That's from sitting in earthenware dishes, so they'd come up and it would really act as... like a moat to the fortress, so the ants or the mice would stop. They'd say, "I'm not going any further."
GUEST: I've never heard of that.
APPRAISER: But there was at least one little critter that knew how to beat the system. Inside here... look in the back, and there's a little mouse hole. He chewed his way in there. He probably saw those... smelled those cherry pies, that wonderful aroma. And also there's a little beetle in here that's been in here a long time. That may be an original, a direct descendant of the original beetle family that lived in this pie safe years ago.
GUEST: Oh, you're kidding.
APPRAISER: I am. But it does have a very nice patina on there. Now, Mary, when I first walked up to this, my first impression... When I saw these panels I said, "Wow. I've never seen a pie safe with elaborate panels like this." Panels make up a lot of the value. They can add thousands of dollars. But I was a little bit suspicious, because I didn't see the sort of wear I like to see on these.
GUEST: Yeah, I didn't know if older panels had been replaced with these.
APPRAISER: Well, you're absolutely right. See, what happened is a lot of times these were kept in cellars and they got damp and they corroded, so the panels would just deteriorate-- and sometimes they were actually wire mesh. And I think someone upgraded this and put these very fancy panels... We never would have seen these ebonized strips on here. These strips are very unusual, and they put a mild acid on here to give it an old, antiqued patina. And if you look at all these battle scars of this piece from, you know, a century and a half of wear, you don't see that same wear on the panels. Normally these panels are pierced all the way through to give ventilation to the food inside, you know, when the pies come out of the oven. And on these panels they're just punched and they don't go all the way through, so they really wouldn't get ventilation, and that's one clue that we know that these are the replaced panels.
GUEST :How long ago do you think... figure these were put in? Or can you guess?
APPRAISER: I think in the last 50 years probably.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: You paid how much for this?
GUEST: Almost $900.
APPRAISER: $900, okay. It's still a nice pie safe or food safe, and it's great looking. It's probably worth, I would say, about $1,500.
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: So you did pretty well. But if these panels had been original, it probably would have added maybe five, six times that to the value.
GUEST: Oh, okay. We'll still use it.
APPRAISER: But it's great. Where did you find that bug?
GUEST: Was he in there?
APPRAISER: He was in there.
GUEST: Oh, I'm embarrassed.
This website is produced for PBS Online by WGBH Boston. ©1997-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is a trademark of the BBC and is produced for PBS by WGBH under license from BBC Worldwide.
WGBH and PBS are not responsible for the content of websites linked to or from ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.