Q. Sometime in the early 1940s, my father returned home after completing a painting job with a carved wooden bear in his arms. It was a gift from a customer. It is slightly worn, and parts of the tray the bear supports are missing, so it was relegated to the basement for storage. In 1983, I removed it from storage, cleaned it up and repaired some damage on the bear cubs. One of the two compartments on the top contained a music box that was damaged, and was lost at a later date. It was replaced later. A pipe was attached to the tray to cover a small hole. Does this piece have any value?
A. This wonderfully whimsical piece is referred to by collectors as a "Black Forest" smoking table or stand. The ones we have seen for sale are usually said to be circa 1890, but we feel that a circa-1900 date for this one is more accurate.
The Black Forest is a wooded mountainous region in southwestern Germany in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, and is bordered by the Rhine valley to the south and west. Wood carving is often done as a cottage industry there, and objects were made with carved bears, stags, dogs, birds and other images associated with nature in the region.
Collectors tend to expand the idea of "Black Forest" woodcarving to nearby areas in Switzerland, and, to some extent, Austria and Bohemia. Perhaps the most commonly seen Black Forest item is the ubiquitous cuckoo clock, which can trace its origins in the vicinity back to the mid-18th century (circa 1740).
Of course, the essence of the cuckoo clock is the little bird that typically springs out of a door to proclaim loudly the hour -- and perhaps the half-hour and quarter-hour as well. These are often housed in elaborately carved cases that might feature a mighty stag with widespread antlers at the crest, and the sides might have carvings of hanging game such as rabbits.
Other Black Forest items might include benches held up by bears; lap desks; wall shelves; umbrella stands; inkstands; figures and sculptures in the form of bears, elks, boars, and wolves (among others); wall plaques with hunting horns and other paraphernalia; nutcrackers; chairs; cabinets; book racks and on and on.
The pictures are poor, but we believe the smoker's stand in today's question was made from linden wood, which is actually from a tree called "tilia" that can be found in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere around the globe. These trees are generally referred to as "lime" in Great Britain -- but have nothing whatsoever to do with the citrus fruit.
In North America, the terms "linden" and "basswood" are often used. The wood of the several genus of tilia is soft, lightweight and easily carved. The Vikings used it to make shields, and since the Middle Ages Germanic people have used it as a wood for sculpture.
A similar smoker's stand -- with its mama bear holding up a tabletop with boxes that have three-dimensional baby bears carved on the lids -- sold at auction a few years for $4,000. Its quality was a bit better than this one, and its condition was certainly better.
In fact, the condition of the example in today's question is deplorable, but still it has an insurance value in the $800-$1,200 range if attractively restored.
• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.