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Antiques Considered - January 9, 2013

A lady from the Midwest inherited this secretary bookcase, which has passed through her family for several generations.  It is walnut, with poplar secondary wood.  The interior is elaborate, with many cubbyholes and small drawers.  The family thinks the finish is original, but the somewhere along the road the back has been replaced with plywood.
This piece dates from the mid-nineteenth century, and reflects the taste of the Victorian Age.  The style is good, but I question whether it had a crown, that is, a top piece in the form of a pediment or a cornice.

Most such desks did, and it appears that this one might have lost its crown to accommodate a lower ceiling, especially as the piece seems virtually to touch the ceiling.  One can tell by seeing if there are dowel holes in the top, which would indicate that the crown rested in them.

The modern plywood backing is a serious detriment, even if not seen by being covered by the books on the shelves.  The value of antiques rests largely on their authenticity, and if this desk is missing the crown, which almost certainly it is, as well as it original back, the value is compromised severely.

 I suggest looking in the attic for the crown, which might be stored there, and further, having a new, correct back made for the piece.  Although the latter would not be original, at least it would be in keeping with the style and practice of the period.

Victorian desks are most valuable when they are most elaborate.  Popular tastes tend to run against these pieces, and collectors, who do appreciate them, want them as original as possible.  With missing crown and the plywood back this example is worth $350.   Complete and in perfect condition the value would be three times that amount.

Happy Antiquing!

You may reach Henry Lane Hull and wife, Lisa, at  Commonwealth Antiques & Appraisals, Inc., P.O. Box 35, Wicomico Church, VA 22579, or call 804.580.3301 or email Henry at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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