According to one of our surveys, here on the web site, 53% of you think that traditional furniture is making a comeback; it’s a theory that will be tested out next week at a sale in New York. The bed, on the left, is up for sale Bonham’s in New York and if it looks familiar its because you have probably seen it in a film.
Made by the Herter Brothers in the 1870s, this and other furniture has sat in Warner Brothers' Hollywood props department since 1942, when the studio bought it at an estate auction for a fraction of the original cost. It’s estimated that Warner Brothers could get $2 million from the auction, clearing valuable space in the props department storage.
Jon King, director of Bonham's, said he saw Herter Brothers furniture from the same estate in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," filmed in 1960 on Universal's lots. Universal bought its furniture at the same 1942 estate auction that Warner Brothers attended. The studio sold its collection years ago, King said. The furniture -- in American Renaissance and American Aesthetic styles -- was originally made with "very exotic and very expensive materials" for two very rich California men -- Gov. Milton Slocum Latham and railroad magnate Mark Harper, King said. The bed could sell for $500,000.
The Herter Brothers -- German immigrants who set up their furniture-making shop in New York City after the Civil War -- also made furniture for the White House, where some pieces remain. Recent decades have seen a steep rise in values for Herter Brothers craftwork.
A somewhat battered mahogany desk valued by Addisons auctioneers at Barnard Castle in County Durham for £800 went under the hammer for £97,000 including buyer’s premium last Saturday. It was of course no ordinary desk but a 250-year-old desk made by Thomas Chippendale, the 18th century master cabinetmaker and interior designer.
Bidding started at £600 on the 5ft 6ins long desk, which had been used as an office desk in a firm of solicitors since the 1920s; they had decided it was time to modernize their offices and put it into the auction. David Elstob, of Addisons of Barnard Castle, County Durham, said: "They had no expectations of it, they just wanted the desk sold. They couldn't quite believe it when we told them. We took delivery of it and recognised it as a good period partner's desk but we didn't know it was a Chippendale. We didn't have the chance to have a proper look at it because it was a late entry to the sale.”
The auctioneer knew it was a special lot when two well-known dealers came to inspect the desk before the sale. An antiques dealer from the north of England bought it and after restoration it’s thought it could fetch as much as £250,000.
After my post about the difficulties faced by the antique furniture market my attention was drawn to this piece that sold at my old friends Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh. On November 5 this Charles Voysey secretaire went way over its modest £3000-5000 estimate and sold for £70,000 in their Decorative Arts sale. Bought by specialist dealer Paul Reeves, it was among the exhibits at the 1905 Arts and Crafts Exhibition. The original drawings remain at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
What does it tell us? There will always be pieces that are desirable and prized by collectors and we should always be aware that articles in the press and reports on our TV screens are often done by people with little knowledge of the detail of the subject they are reporting upon.
There's an interesting article in today's Financial Times about the declining value of antique furniture. On Thursday Christie’s will be disposing of the stock of two of London’s leading dealers in antique furniture. Hotspur, founded in 1924, and Jeremy, which date back to1946, are both ceasing to trade. The official reason is that the current owners, sons of the founding fathers and close neighbours in Lowndes Street, Belgravia, at 70 have no obvious successors. As the FT says, "it is difficult to ignore the fact that both dealers are giving up after almost a decade of declining fortunes for dealers in traditional English furniture. It is blatantly out of fashion."
The Cotswold Auction Company has an auction today, so this will probably be too late notice for anyone to get along to their Cheltenham showroom, but the kinds of prices indicated in their catalogue just shows the opportunity to pick up some attractive pieces of furniture at very good prices. Take this late 19th century gothic revival library chair, signed "JAS Shoolbred and Co". They have a guide price of £30 - £50 (with a buyer's 17.5% premium). It's far rom the only interesting piece and their catalogue is online at their web site.