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Antiques Considered - February 24, 2010

A couple from the Middle Peninsula purchased this writing table/desk at an antiques auction in New England.  The wood is mahogany and the finish is original.  Closed, it appears to be a simple desk; opened, it expands to a large writing surface, perhaps suitable for a lawyer’s conference with clients.  They questioned whether it could be a dining table.
Without seeing the piece, I suspect that this is an early 20th-century amalgamation of several motifs, designed primarily for a lawyer’s office.  It is unusual, but also basically impractical.  The cabinet part is too small for the average office worker, be the party an attorney or not, and at the same time the writing surface, although sufficient for a large conference, when opened, makes the use of the cabinet almost impossible.

Almost certainly, the piece came on order from a cabinet shop, as it would not have been made in any quantity, as the demand would have been slight.  The cabinetmaker clearly understood the principle of the Hepplewhite style, and executed the piece with great precision.  The architecture of the piece is excellent, showing the level of mastery of the maker.
A piece of furniture of this nature is difficult to appraise because of its uniqueness.  The demand for it as a desk is separate from that as a table.  Closed it appears to be a fine writing table, and without the cabinet, opened it is a nice table, but except for a specialized office, the need for such a piece is limited.  The value depends on the market, and here the market is shallow.  The piece could not be made on order today for under $2,000, but at auction or an estate sale, it would bring well under half of that amount.  
A final caveat, from the photographs I am basing this judgment on the piece being a fine-quality, hand-crafted reproduction. If upon examination I found it to be an early 19th-century reproduction, the price would be significantly higher.
Happy antiquing …
Lisa and Henry Lane Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont Hwy. (P.O. 35) Wicomico Church, VA 22570. Write to him there or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with pictures and descriptions of items.

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