Appraisal Video: (4:11)
Senior Vice President & Director, American Furniture and Decorative Arts
GUEST: I know it's a very old desk. It's at least from before the 1840s.
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.
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...
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.