Pennsylvania Spice Cupboard, ca. 1760

Value (2006) | $25,000 Auction$30,000 Auction

GUEST:
I brought in a Chester County spice cupboard. And it has been in my family since about 1959. When my parents finally moved to Florida, then I got the spice cupboard.

APPRAISER:
And where did they find it?

GUEST:
My father bought it from someone he knew whose family had owned this--

APPRAISER:
Okay.

GUEST:
--back in the 1800s. The ancestor was the original head of a private Quaker school in Chester County.

APPRAISER:
Do you know what he paid for it or anything?

GUEST:
My father paid $50.

APPRAISER:
$50?

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
This form of furniture-- this box with a door that swings open to these little drawers-- these are know in Pennsylvania as spice boxes. And actually, spice was a very valuable thing in the 18th century. Spice was imported a lot, and it was very exotic. It was used for scents as well as for foods. And you needed a lock to lock it away.

GUEST:
Ah.

APPRAISER:
So it's a regional form, this type of box with drawers, these moldings, this beautiful cornice molding, this arrangement of drawers, the lower molding, and then these beautiful ball feet. I love these flattened ball feet. All of that dates us to about 1760, '65.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
It's made, uh, somewhere in Pennsylvania. A lot of these are called Chester County, but it's, I think we can just call it Pennsylvania. And of course the black walnut,

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
which is a local Pennsylvania-grown native tree. The interior secondary woods are actually also Pennsylvanian woods. This is tulip poplar,

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
which is a native tree.

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
So, that's one way we help regionalize this piece. And you have in the back a little panel, right?

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
This pulls down, and here's a secret drawer. Isn't that great? And you can hide away all kinds of things in there.

GUEST:
Would they have put valuables in there or even other spices that were too valuable?

APPRAISER:
Exactly. These weren't just used for spices. They were used for gold, silver, money. There are inventories that exist that list these, and list the contents.

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
Silver spoons, all kinds of valuables. They're really valuables boxes. Now, we have a little secret that we both know about this box.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
And if we pull out the drawer... Look at that: filled with bird's eggs. Now, what do you know about that?

GUEST:
As far as I know, the head of West Town School collected these eggs, and he would number them. And then he kept a journal and did the corresponding numbers--

APPRAISER:
Yes.

GUEST:
--and wrote what type of bird laid these eggs.

APPRAISER:
This was in the drawer when you brought it in.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
It's so fragile, we'll have to be very careful in even hardly handling it, but it has on there listed one through, I think, about 50, all the eggs. Here's a ruffed grouse. There's a bluebird, a turkey.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
But this is dated 1876. And collecting specimen eggs was a very popular hobby in the 19th century.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
And so your father paid $50 for it.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
Have you ever had this appraised?

GUEST:
No, never have.

APPRAISER:
Okay. Well, this form is a pretty rare form of Pennsylvania furniture. It's very sought after by collectors. And it's just beautiful. Look at that piece of wood they chose for the front door. It's this crotch-figured-- it's like it's on fire. If I were estimating this at auction, I'd put a pre-sale estimate on this of $25,000 to about $30,000.

GUEST:
Oh, my goodness. It's wonderful.

APPRAISER:
For a $50 deal, that's not bad.

GUEST:
$50, not bad. (both laugh)

APPRAISER:
And that doesn't even count the value of the eggs, right? (both laugh)

Appraisal Details

Appraised value (2006)
$25,000 Auction$30,000 Auction
Event
Philadelphia, PA (August 05, 2006)
Period
18th Century
Form
Spice Box
Material
Poplar, Walnut

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