history vs. mystery

I’ve inherited all of the things I’m ever going to inherit. Most of it is sitting in my garage right now. A few pieces have migrated into the house. Many of them are a complete mystery to me.

Like this, for instance:

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I really have no idea how old it is, where it was made, or from whence it came. All I know is that my mom calls it the “antique chifferobe” which is simultaneously accurate and unhelpful. There are probably clues here in the construction of the piece that would lead someone trained in antique furniture to some conclusions, but my eyes aren’t trained for that.

What they are trained for is to observe how the thing was made and make some conjecture about it’s worth from that.

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The hanging section of the chifferobe is small, so I cannot imagine that it was designed for anyone other than children. A small child’s dress or suit would hang smartly in the right side.
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The drawers give this away as not being fine furniture. There are no drawer slips to speak of, just wood riding on wood rails inside. The tolerances are loose and the drawers rack. The sides are nailed rabbet joints and the backs are simple butt joints.
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One of my favorite things about the piece is seeing the unfinished backs and bottoms of the drawers. A practice that is so often the case with the parts that are unseen.
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The back is simply 1/4″ plywood that has been tacked on. Haunched tenons abound. The top is not secured with buttons like I suspected, and I have no idea what this nail thinks it’s doing.
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There is some nice carving on the legs and top that lend it an inviting feel, but the overall sense I get from the piece is that it was manufactured not by an artisan (of course) but in a factory. It could have been hand made, but not by a trained hand.
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So, the Antiques Roadshow question: “What’s it worth?”

I have no idea where I would even begin to answer this question, but it does point to a deeper question: “what’s it worth to me?”

When I look at this from a distance of 10 to 12′ it’s a nice enough piece of furniture to decorate a room (that you don’t use very often but want to look decently nice if guests stop by). Although I’ve used much worse in my day, it certainly isn’t something I’d want to use on a daily basis for the structural reasons I mentioned. Right now it holds stationary and a few odds and ends.

I’m sure someone would go nuts over this, but when I look at this chifferobe I don’t think “antique” I just think “old” and that’s an important distinction for me. People tend to confer a certain honor on things that have been around a while without ascertaining quality. They speak in hushed reverence about that antique so-and-so from Aunt What’s-her-name believing that because a thing has some years on it, that it also has monetary value, but those two aren’t necessarily corollary. It may have actual value of some sort – sentimental, historical or otherwise – but to me, unless I know the story, all I can see is the wood and the joints holding it together (neither of which impress me by the way).

This particular piece of history is still a mystery to me.

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One thought on “history vs. mystery

  1. I have a similar piece, though taller and called ‘wardrobe’. The slide out hanging rail looked to be identical in style, and low quality. The construction is similar. Mine has been painted and used in the garage for storing stuff. The partitions were stripped out, the rail removed, and shelving added to make it just a useful cupboard. It now has even less value I suppose, and will be broken up and burned one day.

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