Many years ago I discovered the book Objects of Desire: The Lives of Antiques and Those Who Pursue Them, by Thatcher Freund. It’s a favorite of mine, as it not only delves into the history of objects, but it tells the stories of the people whose lives were touched by them.
Centered on Americana Week—the renowned week-long spectacle of high-end antiques auctions and large show in New York City—Objects of Desire focuses on three pieces of furniture for sale in 1991: a 1750 blanket chest, a Chippendale card table from 1759 and a Federal period sofa table. We journey back in time to learn about the needs and methods that brought these now-precious pieces to life.
We also get a peek into the world of high-end antiques.
Freund chose these particular items based on their values at the time, which are astronomical! Through meeting the people that have owned and used the pieces, we learn why they are worth so much today.
For instance, at the time the sofa table was built, there weren’t really that many sofas to begin with (upholstered pieces were a luxury), let alone sofa tables! And by the way, they weren’t just decorative, they were used for Ladies’ writing!
While the card table and sofa table are valued for their high style carvings and inlay, my favorite piece is the homely 1750 blanket chest. Made for a farmer, this piece was used. It wasn’t a show piece exhibiting the wealth of its owner, it was utilitarian, but beautifully crafted…and clearly built to last!
It was painted robin’s egg blue, and had five drawer fronts, but only the bottom two were actual drawers, the top fronts were applied for aesthetics. There was no hardware on the drawers; you had to pull them open by digging your fingers around the front and pulling! The top opened on leather hinges—how cool is that?—to reveal the storage chest.
In 1991 this piece was 241 years old. It still had its original paint, the original leather hinges, and in all those years no one had gotten fed up with the lack of drawer pulls! No “updates” whatsoever. The other two pieces were considered important when they were built; this piece did not become valuable until recently, making its original condition nothing short of a miracle!
So how much was this miracle piece priced at in 1991? $245,000. That’s right, you could buy a house, or a four and a half foot tall chest. Rather a small market for the piece…but did it sell? You’ll have to read the book to find out!