Aunt's dining set not worth much today
This dining room furniture is in the English Eastlake style.
SHNS photo courtesy Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelm
Q. Enclosed are photos of a dining-room set composed of a dining table, seven chairs (six straight and one captain's) and a large mirrored sideboard/china cabinet. The set belonged to an elderly aunt in Montreal, and when I received the pieces, all were in good condition except the table and two chairs. These were so damaged I had to have them redone by a professional who said they were from the 1890s. Is this correct? They remind me of Eastlake-style pieces.
A. The term "Eastlake" has almost become a dirty word in the antiques trade. To current eyes, most of the American-made objects that go by that name are clunky, severely rectangular and unattractively designed and decorated.
Current customers are largely uninterested in most American Eastlake furniture, especially examples made from oak, but we believe this set is British, made from walnut, and in a style that borders on the Aesthetic Movement. In the United States, Aesthetic Movement pieces (made by such firms as Herter Brothers in New York City) are a high-end branch of the Eastlake style and still have something of a following in the current marketplace.
We think this is a beautiful set. The European walnut is rich and mellow, and the remarkable floral engravings on the buffet doors plus the charming hardware on the cabinets and drawers is accompanied by the floral decoration seen on the roundels found at the end of the table. In addition, the chairs are really wonderful with their turned legs and their mustachioed representation of Aeolus on the top rail.
Charles Locke Eastlake was an English architect, and taste setter, who in 1868 wrote an influential book, "Hints on Household Taste." Eastlake wanted a return to simpler furniture, without heavily ornamented surfaces.
His ideas were perverted in the United States and manufacturers turned out a vast stream of rectangular, ungainly pieces that unjustly carry his name to this day. American Aesthetics was a modification of Eastlake, which drew heavily upon Japanese motifs such as fans and flowers.
While this set is not an example of American Aesthetics, it does have strong Japanese-inspired elements and is somewhat closer to the models that Charles Locke Eastlake originally had in mind. The sideboard in particular is enriched with elegant representations of sunflowers on its top crest, and has a stick and ball gallery between the glass-fronted cabinets.
We think we see burl walnut insets in the doors and drawer fronts (but can't be sure), and the pierced leaf and vine corners in front of the mirror are a very nice touch. Overall, this is a really wonderful piece. Unfortunately, the highest value for this piece and the other items in the set came six to eight years ago, and now it has fallen to rather meager depths.
In the early days of the 21st century, this sideboard might have sold at auction in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, but now it would probably fetch no more than $2,500 at most. We think this set was made circa 1885 and has an insurance-replacement value (in American dollars) in the $6,000 to $8,000 range.
• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.
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