Friday, July 21, 2017

Identifying Age & Value of an old dresser

Up until this last fall, this has been my dresser since the mid-1990's. My ex-husband had bought it for me for my birthday present one year as I needed a dresser... and he felt that the only way to get a quality dresser at the time was to buy an antique (I would have been happy with old, didn't really want antique).

We couldn't find one I liked. So he bought the one he liked (go figure he's no longer my husband, huh?). "It was an investment.", Yeah, whatever.

I think she told me mid 1800's and that it had been refinished in recent years (probably 80's) which may decrease it's value (which you'll be able to tell from the photographs).

To be honest, now that we have matching dressers in our bedroom set, and this is tied to my ex... I see no reason not to sell it. I just want to make sure I have some idea about value before I try to post it.

It's a highboy, but initially, I couldn't quite find enough similar examples to be sure I know it's 'design'.  (arts and crafts, but the handles and brass works throw me). I'm fairly certain that they must have replaced the handles (?? maybe)... because the style is quite simple lines, but the handles are overly innate.

One of the first things I read was to look at the drawers. In looking at the drawers I find a) dovetails that seem different for each drawer as we go (so thinking not machine made). Some have 4 pins, some 5, some have the normal dovetails which have a bit of a wedge, others have a rounded area where the wedges go in. That looks like poorly made machine made dovetails. Not 1850's but maybe later.

Here are some drawer pics of the same side of one drawer and you can see how 'varigated' they were. There was definitely different woods used between the front and the sides and the backs. Some of the drawer bottoms are 'saggy', and some have mild splits especially where the dovetails are.

In addition, there are some irregularities in the width of some of the boards that might come from manufacturing practices for hand crafting.

Another tip said to look at the 'rails' used to guide the drawers... they had something on the inside of the dresser on each side for 'guides', and then interestingly two wooden pins in the front to help keep the bottom of the drawer 'up', there are no slots or anything attached to the bottom of the drawers to associate with the locations of these pins, so their sole purpose was to keep the drawer in a certain 'height'.

This is a picture of the inside of the dresser after the bottom drawer is removed. The wooden 'pin' is on the right - the left shows a piece of wood added to the frame that acted as the guide. In the tips they talk about the 'rails' used, but I didn't see anything (yet) in my research that talks about these wooden pegs/pins.

The bottoms of the drawers are plywood... hinting at turn of the 20th Century, minimum. So, again, not mid 1850's.

Another interesting thing - all four legs of the dresser is raised and on wheels (which, btw, was SO HANDY)... but those wheels? They are wooden wheels. I did have to glue one back together that had split and they are quite warn with flat 'bits' here and there from use, age, etc. The black metal frame that holds the wheels is quite tarnished, but very solid. One spot said that if it was on castors - pre 1930's, no attached mirror, post 1940's. Um. Well, this can't be both pre 1930's nor post 1940's, so??

Here's a detailed view of the drawer pulls (WTH style is this? Federal?)??

A better view of the top, the top lip is serpentine, though the rest of the dresser is a 'box' frame.

It mirrors the bock cut... but has multiple layers where each subsequent layer below the top one has the same cut, but is cut back a bit.

Side 1 - I also haven't seen any that had these horizontal 'bars', but the placement of these bars aids with the placement of the rails? The top interior panel has a solid crack the entire width of it, but it hasn't harmed functionality and in fact, was there when I bought the piece in the 90's.

Side 2 -

The back which did NOT get refinished and shows what would have been the original patina of the whole piece. Again there are panels, and the panels seem to be of lesser quality wood and have a little bit of sagging to them.

And a close up of a couple of nail heads in the back - which have different size heads and are quite tarnished and black. The one near the middle of the frame, near the bottom, is pretty easy to see, there's also a smaller black nail above the first nail and right on the edge of that vertical  board.

And lastly, the only printing found anywhere on the dresser is a label in the middle, top of the back. It's not SUPER legible, but I think I can make out a company name.

Larkin Soap, Co, somewhere NY 
(I don't read Buffalo, but that's where the company was based)

Wikipedia Entry, If this label is accurate, it places the company timeline between 1875 and 1940's (so definitely not mid 1800's). It was similar to Sears in that it had a catalog, they primarily sold soap. But if you bought x amount of soap, you could cash in coupons to get furniture. It was quite popular in it's day (though not as popular as Sears). And once I found information about the company, it became easier to look for similar dressers online. It does confirm that the piece is made out of oak, which is what I suspected based on some of the oak I own in other pieces.

So, mass produced. That doesn't usually help with maintaining value (sigh)... but the Larkin Desk was EXCEPTIONALLY popular, not as much the dresser based on my searches, it's really hard to find an exact match.  But there were several drawer options (the other highboy style from Larkin had a hat box).

I was able to find plenty of images to help me verify that this looks like other desks claimed to be Larkins (so that helps confirm the label accuracy). It does seem like it's probably early 20th Century (which means, if it wasn't a true antique when we bought it, it probably will be soon). Only one or two pictures show it up on wheels, so that means it probably is original equipment and based on early 1900's instead of mid 1850's that made a lot more sense to n. It also makes sense to me that with the company history, they did do mass production, hence 'factory 13'. smiles... :-)    Brass handles (but I still think these look like they might have been replaced), iron works (the brackets holding the wooden wheels is black, I assume iron or something similar as a hard mettle), quarter sawn white oak, all seems to fit with what I see in the dresser. Interestingly, with each drawer having a slightly different style, might have been representative of how a specific worker who might have made dozens of that drawer in a day handled the dovetailing, whereas someone else might have worked on other drawers, using a slightly different dovetail style.

Figuring out it's value? That's going to take a bit more work. I've found some evidence of pricing on etsy/ebay of $500 (items not sold0. I found something published in 2008 stating that original finish is going for $1,500 or so. Well, mine WAS refinished. I've seen some 'sold' items that sold in and around at the $200 mark, and one sold for $50 (bigger sigh).

So, definitely not something that became investment potential (which is what my ex wanted me to believe, lol). I want to say he paid around $300 or more for it... so I'm going to do a little more digging and see if I can verify if one of the antique keys I have is the one to the dresser (like I think it is), and if all the drawers locking mechanisms work. If so, I'll put it up for sale slightly higher. And if not, well, then a little less. It doesn't seem like it's very high value.

Good news is that I think the feedback was much that if it was mass produced, not to worry about refinishing it, because it doesn't have that much value to start with since so many were made. So much for the $1500 article, I'm betting that's an outlying opinion. I'm thinking I'd be happy if I can sell it for $250. I will post pictures and information online with an asking price of $300. If I don't get any bites, I'll take it into the consignment shop and let them sort it out.

Update: Scammers were the first to offer to buy it for $300, they aren't in town as they are sick - but would send a certified check and ask me to pay their movers. Easy No... huh?

Another Update: Sold within a week to a true collector for $350.

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