Laying an expert's eyes on your antiques How appraisers separate the real stuff from repairs, restorations
One of the questions that I hear all too often at my public appraisal events is, "How can you tell?"
I can tell what something is -- or, more commonly, what something is not -- based on my educational background and experience through years of learning and years of teaching. I draw upon this knowledge in order to glean important information about your antique pieces -- works of art, antiques or collectibles.
People bring me all different types of stuff and I don't know what's coming next. So I appraise on the fly.
If I'm asked the age of something or if an object is repaired or restored, I tell people to look beyond the beauty. Look at the workmanship. Look at the construction. Look at the foundation of the piece. That is where the lies hide. We can shine something up or decorate a piece to make it look great, but the truth is in the construction.
The late 19th-century letter box that my friend Cindy Shook picked during the Season 4 premiere episode of Discovery's "Auction Kings" is a good example, because it had many issues.
First, the interior of the box was not authentic rosewood but, rather, wood painted to look like the grain of rosewood. When appraising the piece for the TV episode, I broke the news to Shook that she purchased a locking letter box that was only partly from the 1800s.
She asked me "How can you tell?" The answer was in the contrasting types of wood pieces used in the marquetry work on the top of the box -- satinwood, walnut, rosewood, etc. The decorative motif of the marquetry inlay piece featured a recorder, trumpet and flowers. This piece was probably cut out of an early 1900s music box and replaced on top of the letter box. If you look at the positioning of the decorative marquetry forms, the flowers on the left and right sides are nearly cut off, indicating that the damage to the original music box was perhaps so significant that the restorer had to cut the wooden replacement piece so close to the decorative flowers that there was no space left on either side.
Typically, there would be an area of blank space between the flowers at both left and right sides and the framing of the marquetry piece. But that is not the case on this box, which is a tell-tale sign that the box has been reworked and a replacement piece inserted into the top. Shook has been in the auction and restoration business a long time.
Her aim was to purchase an object that would attract auction buyers. She succeeded, because this piece still did well at an Atlanta auction.
The other issue I see with this box is the highly feminine motif on a very masculine piece. There is no delicate key-hole hardware or floral element anywhere else on this letter box. The hardware is straightforward and functional, and the framing around the box itself shows clean lines -- both indicators of a man's functional object from circa 1875-1895.
When it comes to evaluating antiques, look at the object closely and let it reveal its history to you. Remember, antiques don't lie. People do.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author and award-winning TV personality Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on "Auction Kings" on Discovery channel. Visit DrLoriV.com or Face book.com/DoctorLori, or call (888)431-1010.