Belter Armchairs, ca. 1850

Value (2006) | $4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction

GUEST:
We found these at an auction, saw them advertised and went up and looked at them and bought them.

APPRAISER:
Now, what appealed to you about them? What made you want to own them?

GUEST:
Well, they were advertised as being mid-1800s chairs, which, I kind of like that period anyhow, but specifically what I liked were the arms on them, the full arms and then the full back on them.

APPRAISER:
Have you done any research on them since you bought them?

GUEST:
They were suggested possibly to be Belter, but I don't know Belter from Clay or anything like that so that's why I'm here.

APPRAISER:
Probably the most famous name in American furniture right prior to the Civil War was John Henry Belter. He was a German immigrant and in the 1840s, the German states just disgorged literally thousands of great cabinetmakers who came to America. And he was among the best. He sets up shop in New York in the 1840s, but he really hits his stride in the 1850s. And unfortunately, he dies during the Civil War. And what's fascinating to me about Belter is although he's based in New York and his shop's in New York, his real fame came in great Southern plantations, because once they got steam transport and railroads, they could ship their stuff everywhere. Now, when we look at Belter furniture, it's often imitated, but never equaled. Well, he held four different patents, two for design and two for construction. And everybody always talks about Belter furniture being laminated, so when you look at this piece and you look at it right up in here along this edge, it's actually made up like plywood. Today we think of plywood as a bad thing, but plywood actually is a good thing because it adds increased strength. So when I turn this piece around here and you talked about liking the solid back, this is essentially a piece of plywood. Now, it's made of rosewood, beautifully book-matched; the seam's right down the center. You can see how they flipped it. It's just exquisite. Rosewood is very, very hard to work. And Belter was really a master craftsman at being able to handle a very, very difficult material. It's very brittle. It's very hard to glue, so that when you were working with rosewood, you really had to have the highest skill level and Belter exhibited that pretty much in every way. And he's really renowned not just for this lamination but for the beauty of his carving. Now, this is a modern upholstery. This is probably in the right pattern, but it may surprise you to know that red is always the most popular upholstery color prior to the Civil War. Red was always the most expensive. So although this is perfectly appropriate, red... red's it. So what did you have to give to get these chairs?

GUEST:
Um, I paid a lot. I paid $7,000 for the pair mainly because I got into a terrible bidding war with somebody else who wanted them just as bad, and I wasn't going to leave without them. (laughs)

APPRAISER:
Well, Belter has gone up and down over the years. If you go back 40 years, everybody hated Belter. Starting in the mid-'70s through the mid-'80s, Belter was as hot as... as could be. I mean, it was a white flame. Belter kind of went into eclipse again in the '90s. People are telling me now, post-Katrina, we're seeing a little bounce because of the fact that a lot of stuff was supposedly destroyed and they're going to have to replace it so everybody's hoping this is going to be good for the Belter collectors. Um, but I got to tell you, when you go to auction, you know, it's a very good idea to bid with a cold head, you know? Your heart can be as warm as you want, but you got to be really cold-blooded about it when it comes to bidding at auction, because getting in a bidding match is not always the best thing.

GUEST:
Sure.

APPRAISER:
If you were to put these back up at auction-- and I've talked to a number of the other appraisers who are auctioneers-- everybody agrees their auction estimate would be $4,000 to $6,000. Now, I mean, they're a great pair of chairs...

GUEST:
I'm okay, though.

APPRAISER:
That's good.

GUEST:
Yeah, I'm okay because they're staying in the family.

APPRAISER:
That's good.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
Baltimore, Maryland
Appraised value (2006)
$4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction
Event
Mobile, AL (July 08, 2006)
Form
Chair
Material
Rosewood

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