1888 "J.F. Porter" Folk Art Desk
Appraised Value: $15,000
IMAGE: 1 of 2
In this segment, appraiser Ken Farmer discusses the possible identity of the craftsman who made this Folk Art Desk in 1888, explaining that a majority of his colleagues agreed the name inlaid near the head of this piece, “J.F. Porter,” was that of the maker. After the appraisal aired, two viewers wrote in with some information on Porter.
Furniture genealogist Cher Haile of Georgia wrote in to tell us that Joseph F. Porter of Danvers, Massachusetts, made the desk. “He was a well-known furniture designer/dealer,” Haile writes, “He was born in 1847, his wife Ella J. was born in 1850, his son Chester L. was born in 1875, and his daughter Bessie P. was born in 1872. They lived and he worked in his shop at #50 Cherry Street for many decades. They were still there in 1900. I do not know how it came to be in Kentucky.” Another viewer credited an Ohio cabinetmaker named John F. Porter as the craftsman.
While Farmer has since noted that it makes more sense for this piece to have crossed into Kentucky over the Ohio border than to have made it all the way from Massachusetts, he reiterates that the John Porter of Ohio was said to be illiterate — which, if true, might make his connection to this desk doubtful.
Appraisal Video: (3:32)
Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Furniture, Musical Instruments
Ken Farmer Auctions, LLC
APPRAISER: How long have you had this desk?
GUEST: Uh, about 42 years. I got it here in Louisville. My husband bought a piece of property in the West End of Louisville, and this was on the porch. And it was the color of driftwood. And, uh, we brought it home, and I sort of refinished it. And that's how we came to have it.
APPRAISER: Did you ever find out anything about the family or the people?
GUEST: No, I haven't. We've tried through the years, and, uh, we haven't been able to find out.
APPRAISER: Well, one of the things I did was check, and I couldn't find a J.F. Porter in Kentucky either.
APPRAISER: I'm not so sure that that's even very high on the priority list because of all the details it has. First of all, he takes all the guesswork out.
APPRAISER: We know what year he made it. And my colleagues and I discussed whether or not this was made for somebody or it was made by the person whose name's up there. And the majority of us felt like that this is the name of the maker.
GUEST: Oh, really?
APPRAISER: Well, look, he's got those fingers and those hands pointing right up here saying, "This is mine. I did this."
GUEST: Oh. And I assumed it was the owner, you know, the person he made it for.
APPRAISER: That's interesting. I wouldn't close that door.
GUEST: Yeah, okay.
APPRAISER: It's still possible. And the thing that I love about furniture like this is that somebody puts their heart and soul in it. And when you get back from it, you see... see it as a whole. That's rule number one on anything like this-- it has to have eye appeal when you stand back from it. And the other good thing about it is it gets better the closer you get. And I love all the references to dogs and birds. He does four of these profiles of these men. And I wonder if that was a picture of him, if he wore a bowler hat and had a cane. And I had to look at it for a while to even see that it had a few pieces of inlay missing.
GUEST: Yes, yes.
APPRAISER: That doesn't bother me one bit. Oh. As a matter of fact, I think it's nice and good for the piece that nobody replaced those. It's made out of walnut. I think this is probably ash. And... I would imagine that he applied all of these and did most of his inlay when it was laying flat in the shop. And I think it was made to use. You can look in the inside here, and it's unadorned, but it's a very useful inside, where he could've put his accounts and his ledger things in there. Just a wonderful, wonderful folky thing. I'm not positive whether this was made in Kentucky.
APPRAISER: The fact that all the inlays are cherry... sort of suggest that, but this form you would see in Ohio, Indiana. One person that's local said they thought that these turnings down here, they had seen other pieces in Kentucky with that.
GUEST: Mm-hmm. Yes.
APPRAISER: But one thing nobody disagreed on was what we thought it was worth.
APPRAISER: Retail, we think this desk could sell for $15,000.
GUEST: Really? Wow.
APPRAISER: That's pretty good for finding on a porch.
GUEST: That's... yeah, it is. For paying nothing for it.
APPRAISER: What this inlay does is it takes basically a $1,000 desk and makes it into a $15,000 desk.
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