American Butler’s Desk, ca. 1824

Value (2007) | $2,500 Auction$3,000 Auction

GUEST:
It's a family piece. I inherited it from my mother. I was led to believe that it is a piece perhaps made in Newport in the mid-1800s.

APPRAISER:
Okay. This is a wonderful piece. The wood in it is unbelievable. It is some of the finest curly maple I've absolutely ever seen. And curly maple is a very hot wood right now.

GUEST:
Is it?

APPRAISER:
People like it a lot. It's got a lot of figure. What's really extraordinary about the wood when you look at it is how carefully they chose it. He even put curl in this twist-reeded pilaster...

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
...which is very, very difficult to do. It's a very complex turning operation to turn this and then carve this in.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
You can't do this easily. And there's a little bit of mahogany, just a little bit. It's actually trimmed out around the edges here in mahogany. Now, we call this a butler's desk. If we were to pull out the center section, it's the desk section.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Front falls down, we've got the drawers and the pigeon holes. And the theory was that when we say butler, just whoever was in charge of the house, needed to keep accounts, but they also might need to use this for social functions. And you have a drawer like this.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
That's where they'd keep liquor bottles.

GUEST:
Ah, I was wondering about that.

APPRAISER:
Now, you would keep the liquor under lock and key, 'cause you didn't want the servants and the kids getting into it.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
It was made in the 1820s. We're fairly certain of it. But where was it made and by whom was it made? When you get into the 1820s, you start to see a lot of regionalism disappear.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
I think we can look at some evidence, and we're going to turn it around and look at that inscription. I think it's going to solve a lot of things for you.

GUEST:
Okay. Great.

APPRAISER:
Now, this gives you some sense of its weight, 'cause I just can't roll this. It's a very, very heavy piece.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
Now it says 1824.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
And it's not very easy to read.

GUEST:
No.

APPRAISER:
It says Monroeville, Ohio.

GUEST:
Ah.

APPRAISER:
And it says... Looks like an initial. It looks like Schuyler Van Rensselaer.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Does this ring any bells for you?

GUEST:
Yes, he was an ancestor.

APPRAISER:
Okay. If I looked at this piece without any history or knowledge, I'd be good on the 1820s. But where was it made?

GUEST:
Mm-hmm. Okay.

APPRAISER:
That's going to be very tough. It's got poplar, white pine, curly maple, all woods used in the mid-Atlantic through Ohio.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Now, a lot of people fall victim to the notion, when they see a signature, they immediately assume that the name is the person that wrote it. But "Schuyler Van Rensselaer, Monroeville, Ohio," could be a shipping, like, "Send it to Schuyler Van Rensselaer."

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
It could be made for, made by, owned by, sold by. All these things are possibilities.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
So let's turn it back around...

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
...real quick and take a look at the front again.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Without that signature, I'm going to go, "Oh, it's probably New York," but that they gave the date and the place makes me think we should be looking more at an early Ohio piece.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
'Cause this would have been one heck of a heavy thing to truck from New York into Ohio.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
So, if it was just generic, I don't know where it was made, no signature, no history, I'm going to say, these things, as beautiful as they are, don't sell for a lot of money.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Maybe $2,500, $3,000.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
If we can prove that it's Ohio-- and that's very rare, and it's very early for this area of Ohio-- I think we easily double that price, and we start looking at a value more in the five to seven, maybe even $8,000.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm. Great, well, thank you. I've got some research to do..

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
Baltimore, MD
Appraised value (2007)
$2,500 Auction$3,000 Auction
Event
Orlando, FL (June 30, 2007)
Period
19th Century
Form
Desk
Material
Mahogany, Maple, Pine, Poplar

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