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    Desk & Bookcase, ca. 1820

    Appraised Value:


    Appraised on: July 16, 2005

    Appraised in: Houston, Texas

    Appraised by: Leslie Keno

    Category: Furniture

    Episode Info: Houston, Hour 1 (#1004)

    Originally Aired: January 30, 2006

    slideshow IMAGE: 1 of 1  

    More Like This:

    Form: Desk, Bookcase
    Material: Mahogany
    Period / Style: Neoclassical, 19th Century
    Value Range: $20,000

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    Appraisal Video: (4:11)


    Appraised By:

    Leslie Keno
    Senior Vice President & Director, American Furniture and Decorative Arts

    Appraisal Transcript:
    GUEST: I know it's a very old desk. It's at least from before the 1840s.

    APPRAISER: Okay.

    GUEST: It was in the Samuel Morse family, and...

    APPRAISER: The inventor of the telegraph.

    GUEST: The inventor of the telegraph.

    APPRAISER: Famous guy.

    GUEST: Yes-- his daughter married a landowner in Puerto Rico, and I believe her husband, Mr. Lind, bought this desk for her in England and had it shipped to the island.

    APPRAISER: I see.

    GUEST: And because they lived kind of out in the wild, they didn't have a way to protect their things, so this desk has lots of secret compartments-- I don't even know if I've seen them all-- for them to hide their money and their papers, because there were thieves in the islands.

    APPRAISER: And you've inherited this?

    GUEST: My mother bought this in the '70s in California. And it had a letter in it that was written in 1935 by one of the descendants of the Morse family.

    APPRAISER: Well, it's one of the most fascinating pieces I've ever seen-- I have to tell you.

    GUEST: Really!

    APPRAISER: And the more you look at it, the more treasures you find.

    GUEST: Look at that.

    APPRAISER: Isn't that great? And this was maybe on a plantation, because you open up some of these doors, and you have notations about bills, and what they kept in here: folios and records and journals on the farm-- on the plantation-- and you have these figured panels, in this very neoclassical style, with a satinwood inlay, with these figures, and the overall form with a cylinder front, and it has these spade feet on the bottom, which are perfectly formed. All of that points towards the Baltic states, northern Europe, around 1820. So this is a neoclassical, satinwood-inlaid mahogany desk and bookcase, but it's one of the most elaborate ones I've ever seen. Look at this figure. She is holding a staff. And that's Athena, the goddess of wisdom, with the owl here. And on the left side, this is Hera, who's the goddess of marriage, and this is a little temple here. Now, what I find really interesting... This is a brickwork wall, which goes with the whole architectural idea, and you push this with your finger here. Look at that-- almost like Harry Potter. When you push the brick, pull that out, and then now, if you go underneath here, this pops. It comes out...

    GUEST: Okay.

    APPRAISER: And what we have here is a spring lock, so I push my finger through here and it pops through, and in the back is an iron spring. So it's all spring-loaded, and then if we push this panel in here, this comes out.

    GUEST: Oh! I've never seen this.

    APPRAISER: And here's another drawer.

    GUEST: Oh, wow.

    APPRAISER: You didn't know that was there?

    GUEST: No, no.

    APPRAISER: Now, I checked in there earlier. Unfortunately, there's no gold in there, but it's just incredible how many secret panels. This upper section, to hold little receipts, comes out.

    GUEST: Look at that.

    APPRAISER: And back here, in fact, you can pull this out, and hidden back here are little, tiny secret drawers in the back.

    GUEST: Oh, no. I had a feeling we hadn't seen all the compartments.

    APPRAISER: So you could hide money, jewelry-- all kinds of different things could be hidden in here. Now, this would have held probably a little porcelain figure, a piece of silver there. And these are all drawers with secret ones behind.

    GUEST: Behind them there's more?

    APPRAISER: There's more. And look at this.

    GUEST: Oh, my goodness.

    APPRAISER: This pulls out. Did you know that came out?

    GUEST: No. No, I had no idea about this other whole level of things. Secret drawers inside.

    APPRAISER: And then back here... this is where they really kept the treasure, back here.

    GUEST: Oh, no. Look at that! Oh, my God. Oh, that's too much.

    APPRAISER: Well, I bet not many burglars found that one.

    GUEST: That's fantastic.

    APPRAISER: You know something? The hardware... while the hardware is old, and it's perfect for this piece, it's about the third set of hardware.

    GUEST: Oh, really.

    APPRAISER: You've taken good care of it, though. I mean, these things are pretty minor. You know? Now, do you have any idea of the value on this?

    GUEST: No. I know that my mother paid $750, and I've always thought, well, it's got to be worth more than that.

    APPRAISER: Well, because of the complexity of this and all the secret drawers and all this wonderful inlay, if I were insuring this, I'd put the figure at about $20,000.

    GUEST: Oh, my God. Okay, $20,000-- I should insure it. All right, I shall do that.

    APPRAISER: It's a beautiful piece.

    GUEST: Wow.

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