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Antiques Considered - July 31, 2013

This step-back Sheraton or Empire chest was a purchase at a private estate sale by a gentleman who enjoys working on furniture.  It needed little attention, mainly cleaning the old finish, and re-gluing some of the glue blocks.  The wood is mahogany with the drawer fronts in burl veneer, and the secondary wood is pine.

The late M. K. Supinger, who for many years with his son, Michael, was a master furniture restorer in Front Royal, Virginia always said that American Empire furniture was the finest made, because of the attention the cabinetmakers paid to the elaborate dovetailing that kept the pieces together.  This chest confirms his opinion.

With Empire furniture, half of the value derives when the piece has solid ends such as this one does.  The other essential element is to have four turned feet, as some cabinetmakers cut costs by putting block feet on the rear.   This one did not.  It probably originated in a workshop in the Mid-Atlantic region.  I suggest looking on the back and bottoms of the drawers to try to find a cabinetmaker’s signature.

The step-back top serves the purpose of giving small drawers for jewelry, gloves and other such items, but it does so at the cost of having a flat surface top, which to some collectors is a detriment.

As American Empire pieces go this one is a prime example.  The coloring of the wood is excellent, and the design is well-executed.  The chest is worth $750, down some from what it would have been before the recession.  Five years ago a piece of this quality easily would have brought $1000.

As a style, American Empire is not as popular as it was a generation ago, but as with all matters of taste, its time will return.  In the meantime, quality pieces such as this one represent opportunities to acquire good pieces at reasonable prices.

Happy Antiquing!

 

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