Tiger Maple Desk, ca. 1825
Appraised Value: $5,000 - $7,000
IMAGE: 1 of 1
Appraisal Video: (4:06)
Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Furniture
GUEST: It's called "the Bonaparte"-- at least that's what it was always called.
APPRAISER: "The Bonaparte," okay.
GUEST: It belonged to my father. He bought it at auction in 1920, and it was always in our living room when I was growing up. It was supposed to have been purchased at auction in Bordentown, New Jersey, at the Point Breeze estate of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's little brother--
GUEST: --but to have belonged to Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's next younger brother, Lucien's son.
APPRAISER: I think it's wonderful the way we see pieces of furniture as they move through history-- they accumulate this sort of mythology that's attached to them. And the trick is proving that sort of association. And a lot of times it's not true, but sometimes it is true. So, I think the best way to look at this is to see how the piece fits in to that. So, Joseph Bonaparte-- Napoleon's brother, as you say-- you know, he was king of Spain, and after Waterloo, he moves to New Jersey. They actually have to pass a law in New Jersey allowing him to own property as an alien, and it gives New Jersey the nickname of "New Spain" in America briefly. Joseph Bonaparte was famous for a very, very lavish sort of entertaining at his house, Point Breeze, which looked over the Delaware. He brought with him a lot of Napoleon's war loot that he had taken out of the great houses and the royalty of Spain. After Joseph Bonaparte died, 1845 and 1847, there's these big auctions and inventories of what was at Point Breeze. There are Rubens and Titians and really world-class old masters. And some of the great European works of art had traveled across the water and landed at this beautiful house in Bordentown, New Jersey. So, the known pieces tend to be very formal, French- or European-made, much more sort of urban and ornate than this piece. What's interesting, though, is that in overall design, this does relate to French and German designs of the 1820s and '30s. The tiger maple wood and the fall-front desk-- sometimes called a "secretaire abattant"-- fits into the Biedermeier traditions of the 1820s and '30s. So, the piece itself has some relation to that, but it's much more austere. I don't see much to support the fact that it was ever at Point Breeze. It's possible, but it doesn't really fit in to what we know about the house. There are a few other clues here-- I'll fold down this writing door. Did you ever notice that there was remnants of a label on the back of the piece?
GUEST: Uh, well, it's gone.
APPRAISER: It is gone, and it's tantalizing, and we just see the corners of what was probably a maker's label. I couldn't make much out of that. I found another bit of writing on here. In the lower compartment, up under here, I crawled up under there, and in blue crayon it has a name and it says "Doylestown, PA." So I think this piece was made in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The maker's name is there-- it says "John..." And he just didn't leave enough for us to figure out that last name. But it tracks it down pretty specifically. It's 1820 or '30, probably. When this piece was made, it probably had another row of drawers in between these two cases, and I can tell that by the construction. So that... it alters its value a little bit. But it's a beautiful piece, and collectors really love the tiger maple. I think at auction, it's probably worth about $5,000 to $7,000. Pass it down to the kids and pass it with the story of "the Bonaparte." And I think it's really wonderful. Thanks for bringing it in.
GUEST: Okay, well, it was a mystery, and we thought we'd either have it confirmed or debunked.
APPRAISER: Well, it's been great to spend some time with it and try to figure it out.
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