19th-Century Cabinet-on-Stand

Value (2011) | $12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction
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GUEST:
It's been in my family for as long as I can remember. When I was a small boy, I was never allowed to touch it. (laughs) It belonged to my uncle, who collected antiques and restored music boxes and things like this, and I finally ended up with it after he passed away. And what he had told me about it was that it was an Italian piece and that these pieces were built as a memorial to a deceased person. The drawers would have the pictures depicting some happening in his life, and a very kind of morbid thing was that the cabinetmaker would sometimes ask the people to, before they cremated the body, to cut the femur bone... cut part of the femur bone out of the body, which he would actually incorporate into the piece. I've done quite a bit of restoration on it, but this piece right here always stood out to me as being a very unusual piece because it's different from all the other pieces.

APPRAISER:
That is a really interesting theory, and it's interesting also that you're talking about it as a memorial cabinet because actually, this is a form called a collector's cabinet.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And in some ways, that could be a memorial to the person because it would house their tiniest and most precious objects. This type of form has existed pretty much since around the 17th century and has been made in all sorts of countries in Europe. And you often get them looking like this, like little mini buildings with these groups of drawers that are double-paneled surrounding a central, open door. And you can see this great mirrored interior, often used to maybe showcase a small bronze or something where you'd want to see different angles of it. Now, you've just told me you restore furniture. Do you know some of the materials that are being used on this?

GUEST:
I know that this is ivory,

APPRAISER:
Yep.

GUEST:
Because I spent close to two months restoring the edge of this.

APPRAISER:
Wow, you did a great job. You've got tortoiseshell, which is on the drawer panels. There's ivory, and your eye was right to see that that piece in the middle of the door does look different, and that's bone. It wouldn't actually be a human bone that's used on this. These are animal bones that are carved and stained. You've also got rosewood and ebony. If you look at the top part and you look at the designs on the drawers, they have a very different feel. You've got these sort of whimsical characters doing all sorts of crazy stunts, but then that up there is sort of very formal and very classical, and also you can see it again in the legs and on the rest of the frame. The top part is definitely very Italian, and... but the middle drawers I'm not quite so sure about, because you see a lot of this tortoiseshell and ivory combination in Spain and in Portugal, and it's possible to see it in Italy as well, but the feel is a little different. So what I think we might have here is a little bit of an assembly over time. Parts of it might have been incorporated from an older piece and then put together in the 19th century.

GUEST:
The thing that amazed me about it is the craftsmanship that went into it. Mitered dovetail joints on the drawers...

GUEST:
Exactly.

GUEST:
Just incredible detail.

APPRAIER: Well, that mitered dovetail is a good hint it's not the Italians. They were great-looking on the outside, then the inside might not be so good. That's one of the other reasons why it could point to the fact that it's not Italian, but from somewhere else on the continent. We often talk about how things have to be in original condition and started out life together, and when they're not, that can affect value.

GUEST:
Of course.

APPRAISER:
Interestingly, with something like this, buyers are reacting to just the sheer personality and uniqueness of the item.

GUEST:
Uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
So I would say, at auction, we would expect this type of cabinet to bring between $12,000 and $18,000. And it's possible it could sell for up to $20,000, because it's unique.

GUEST:
That's... that's amazing. (laughs)

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Christie's
New York, NY
Appraised value (2011)
$12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction
Event
El Paso, TX (June 18, 2011)
Period
19th Century
Form
Cabinet
Material
Bone, Glass, Ivory, Shell, Wood

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