Art and Antique Appraisals



Insurance Appraisals Can Make You Rich  A Chippendale chest is appraised at $150,000

By Walter Ritchie and Rochelle Eisenberg

Art Matters, November 1999


Included in an entire collection of furniture, paintings, porcelain and carpets, was this wonderful Chippendale mahogany chest-on-chest made in Salem, Mass., circa 1770-1790. Our firm, Art Directives, was asked to appraise the collection for replacement value for insurance. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the wood, the quality of the carving, the proportion of the entire piece and the distinctive Salem features.

The piece consists of two chests of drawers, one placed on top of the other. The upper case has a bonnet top with three corkscrew finials and is fitted with three short drawers over four long graduated drawers. The central drawer in the upper tier is carved with a fan. The lower case is fitted with four graduated long drawers above a molded base with a simplified fan-carved pendant, and stands on claw and ball feet. Details such as the fan and corkscrew finials were inspired by Philadelphia and other cabinet-making cities who rendered these motifs more curvaceously and naturalistically. The fan is a stylized version of a scallop shell, while the corkscrew is a simply rendered flame.

The fan and corkscrew are features found on Chippendale furniture made throughout New England; however, motifs such as the two small “pinwheels” protruding into the opening of the bonnet top and the fan-carved pendant suspended from the center of the base of the lower case are distinctive Salem features.

While researching this chest-on-chest we learned that the block-front form is the form found on many chest-on-chests made in Salem. As you can see in the photograph, this piece has a straight foot. Auction records show that the typical block-front chest is more in demand, and therefore commands even more than this valuable piece.

In the 1750’s, the English Rococo, or Chippendale, style began to exert a strong influence on the furniture of American colonial cabinetmakers. The fashionable style reached the colonies through imports from London, immigrant English cabinetmakers, and pattern books containing engraved designs for furniture in the Rococo taste. One of these pattern books “The Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director,” was published in 1754 by England’s most famous cabinetmaker of the 18th century, Thomas Chippendale. Chippendale’s name was adopted as a stylistic label by furniture historians in the 19th century who rediscovered his highly influential pattern book. His name is still used today to describe furniture made in America during the middle of the 18th century.

The Chippendale style flourished in the colonies from about 1755 until the end of the Revolutionary War. Furniture in the Chippendale style is characterized by S-curved legs, claw-and-ball feet, carved decoration of shells and leaves, and curved surfaces. While these characteristics are found in American Chippendale furniture made in all the major colonial cabinetmaking centers from Newport, R.I. to Charleston, S.C., each city developed its own distinctive regional variation of the style. For this reason, it is possible to distinguish a piece of Chippendale furniture made in New England from one produced in Philadelphia.

Together with auction records, we researched this piece using “American Furniture” by Helen Comstock and found comparable examples in “American Furniture Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods” by Joseph Downs. We also consulted with Leigh Keno, an expert in American furniture. He agreed with our insurance appraisal of $150,000 for this exquisite piece and our attribution of the piece to Salem, Mass.

Our clients, who had this piece in their family for a few generations, currently had this chest-on-chest insured for $5,500. You can imagine their delight when they learned their piece was now worth the handsome sum of $150,000 insured replacement value. The market for American Furniture has grown tremendously and values have been steadily increasing.

This is a perfect example of the importance and value of having updated appraisals for insurance purposes at least every five years!

Walter Ritchie is an appraisal associate at Art Directives, Inc. which is located in Blue Bell, PA. Rochelle Eisenberg is the president of Art Directives and an accredited senior Appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers. 

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