William Fiske Federal Side Chairs

Value (2006) | $30,000 Retail$50,000 Retail
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APPRAISER:
Tell me why you bought these chairs.

GUEST:
Well, I knew they were period American Federal side chairs, but when I saw the carving and everything else, and this is the best that I've ever seen, and I went for them.

APPRAISER:
How much did you have to give for them?

GUEST:
I paid $7,500 for them.

APPRAISER:
Now, is that the most you've ever paid for an object?

GUEST:
Yes, yes. So... I was reaching for the stars.

APPRAISER:
So you really reached on these. On the bottom, they had the black skirt there, and I couldn't see underneath the rail. When I took that off, I found that there was a W.F. mark. When I pick this up, there's a W.F. right in here. Right there.

GUEST:
Yeah. Now, what does that stand for?

APPRAISER:
That stands for William Fiske, and he was a furniture maker in Boston, 1790, 1810. So, to be a collector of furniture and then have marked furniture, I mean, this is a dream. So what do you want me to tell you?

GUEST:
Is this the original finish, which you guys always talk about?

APPRAISER:
I'm not sure about that.

GUEST:
Okay. So, I know they're good. How good?

APPRAISER:
Okay, well, these chairs are classic 1785-1805. They are Fiske. Fiske was a maker out of Salem. He started working in the Dorchester, Boston, area, and still maintained connections up in Salem. There's one theory that the reason they're all marked is they'd make the back of the chair up, send it up to Salem to their carvers that they worked with, and that way they knew whose chairs they were to get back. And this is the most famous pattern of Fiske chair. There's a chair in the MFA, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with the W.F. mark. This is the signature Fiske federal chair, no question about it. Now, what's even better, I think it is the original finish.

GUEST:
Cool.

APPRAISER:
If it's not the original, it's a very old finish and it's a great surface. Now, there's a slight downside. They've led a rough life. There's a lot of damage in the crest, a little bit of breakage in here, but the important part is no breakage in the splats here, very little damage to the carving, not in the legs. That's all great. Now, here's the third best thing. There's a fairly standard pattern here. These are better than the standard pattern. Antiques are all about small details.

GUEST:
Yeah?

APPRAISER:
The first thing that hit me was is this little extra bit of carving in here. A little more complex in here than the standard model. That sounds like it's not much, but it's an enormous difference in terms of quality.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Really special. Now, you've got $7,500 in them. The most recent sale of a single one of these was last year, about $15,000-$16,000 for a single.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Okay. So we've got a pair and there's always a premium on the pair. So I would ask at least $30,000 and with a little bit of homework, a little bit of cleaning, I wouldn't have any hesitation about asking $50,000 for them.

GUEST:
$50,000.

APPRAISER:
I think they're the best Fiske chairs that we've ever seen. All the other appraisers have been drooling over them. I really think you made a great buy and I think it's really wonderful that you found them here in Tucson.

GUEST:
Thanks, I appreciate it. This is great. Wow. (laughing) This is cool. $50,000.

APPRAISER:
This is what gets us--

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
--all chasing the cheese.

GUEST:
Yeah.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
Baltimore, Maryland
Appraised value (2006)
$30,000 Retail$50,000 Retail
Event
Tucson, AZ (June 17, 2006)
Period
Federal
Form
Side Chair
Material
Wood

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