Early 19th-Century Tennessee Corner Cupboard
Appraised Value: $12,000 - $25,000
IMAGE: 1 of 1
Appraisal Video: (4:07)
Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Furniture
GUEST: Well, my mother and dad bought this in the mid-'40s from an antique dealer just across the river from Cincinnati, in Kentucky. We lived in Lexington at the time.
APPRAISER: When they bought it from the dealer, what did he tell them about it, anything?
GUEST: He told them it was, uh... late 18th-century, made by a northern Kentucky cabinetmaker, and that's all we've really known about it until this time.
APPRAISER: Do you know what they paid for it?
GUEST: They paid $600.
APPRAISER: $600 for it in the 1940s. That's a lot of money.
GUEST: Yes, it was.
APPRAISER: Well, it's a beautiful corner cupboard. And the first thing that's most striking is the color. It's made of cherry wood, and cherry wood was a favorite of cabinetmakers in Kentucky and in Tennessee in the early 19th century. I think the most dramatic element of the piece is the inlay here. This sort of trailing-vine inlay you see a good bit in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. And cabinetmakers who were working there came down the valley looking for more work, and they came into eastern Tennessee and then sort of fanned out into central Tennessee and Kentucky, and they brought this motif with them. What I think is fascinating about this is, you have a cabinetmaker who's paying very close attention to details here. You could buy inlay from England that was pre-made. This is a cabinet maker who's making his own, and what I think is so wonderful here is, you see the little brown mark at the end of that... That's a... probably some sort of a trumpet flower. He's actually burned the end of that to give it shading and make it look more like a three-dimensional flower. Then you get down to the leaf, and he's burned a little line through the middle of the leaf and really given it the quality of an actual vine and flower. If we move up then to the drawer, you see similarly this wonderful corner-fan inlay. Now again, you can tell that this is a cabinetmaker who was making his own inlay because it's a little bit quirky and we see a lot of corner-fan inlay, but rarely does it have this solid walnut center bit. And you can see that he's really cut his own pieces and very meticulously fit them in there. Another detail about the drawer is this vertical cherry grain. Usually on a drawer like this you find the grain going horizontally, but the cabinetmaker has matched up the grain, kind of carries your eye along with it. This is called sapwood, the white wood on either side. And the cabinetmaker has very carefully chosen these to have that white sapwood frame, this beautifully sort of figured cherry grain here, so it really jumps out to the eye. As far as where it was made, I think this was probably made in Tennessee, maybe eastern Tennessee, Green County or maybe a little bit further west. What do you use it for?
GUEST: We just use it as a corner cupboard in our dining room.
APPRAISER: So you put china and that sort of thing in it? Well, let's open it up and have a look inside here and it's made for just that purpose and that's likely what it was used for during the period. Now, the interior was painted at some point. Have you had anything done to the cupboard?
GUEST: No, my family did nothing to it. They bought it just like this.
APPRAISER: Well, I think one great detail here, you can sort of imagine somebody in the early 19th century going to this cupboard much like you would, but the difference is, they can't turn the light on. So they've got a candle in their hand and they come here and they set the candle down to get something out of the cabinet and then they take the candle back and walk away. Well, what they leave, though, are little burn marks underneath the shelves, so it's really fun to see that detail even on a refinished interior like this. It's not too wide, it's in great physical condition, it has been refinished, but the inlay is really a wonderful detail. Southern furniture is very hot on the market these days and I would think, at auction, this would probably bring in the $12,000 to $18,000 range.
APPRAISER: And for insurance, I think a good number would be about $25,000.
APPRAISER: It's built to last, it's good.
GUEST: It'll be with us for a long time, I think.
APPRAISER: I hope so.
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