The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 2, 2007


What's it worth? Antiques emerge from Carlisle attics

Kerry Shrives examines an antique chair. (Photo by Dave Ives)

It could have been a scene from the PBS series, Antiques Roadshow. People poured into the Carlisle Congregational Church last Thursday evening, toting vintage tables, a chair, large and small artwork, a spinning wheel and assorted treasures handed down through their family or found at flea markets or antiques shops.

For the second year, the Carlisle Historical Society offered an "Antiques Appraisal Evening" last Thursday with senior appraiser Kerry Shrives of Skinner, the auction house in Bolton, Mass. Shrives can estimate an item's age, condition, country of origin and value — and value was what most people came to hear.

She held up an octagonal Seth Thomas clock for the audience to see and asked the owner, "What do you know about this clock?" He shot back, "I want you to tell me what it's worth." The clock, said Shrives, dated from the late 19th century, was made of rosewood, "the top-of-the-line wood for clocks," and then cut to the chase: it would probably bring $200 at auction. The owner seemed deflated. Another small clock, called a "cottage clock," from the mid-Victorian period and made of mahogany, was also valued at about $200.

A chair not for sitting

One of the more highly prized objects of the evening was a balloon-back chair made of walnut, with hand-carved decorations. Shrives estimated it originated in England in the 1860s to 1880s. According to its owner, the chair was in its original condition and had not been reupholstered. Shrives estimated that the chair would bring $2,000 at auction. She further cautioned that it was too delicate to sit on — "unless it's the cat."

Other furniture included an ancient cobbler's bench made of pine that belonged to the owner's grandparents; it was valued at $300 to $400. A spinning wheel from the 1840s, made of maple and with a broken foot pedal, might bring $400 to $600 at auction, Shrives estimated.

The variety of objects was amazing, and Shrives was knowledgeable about most of them. There was a spy glass from London from the late 1800s, valued at $175 to $200. A cast-iron dog (an English setter perhaps) designed as a doorstop had a value of $200 to $250. Two miniature portraits of a man and woman painted on ivory were from the early 1800s. The portrait of the man, said Shrives, would fetch about $200 at auction; the woman, whose image was smaller and lacked detail, would bring less. An album containing hundreds of cards of baseball players of the early 1900s attracted much attention. "These are 'tobacco cards,'" Shrives explained. "They were premiums enclosed in packs of tobacco, and were highly collectible." The album was valued at $500.

A small "crazy quilt" dating from the late 1870s to early 1900s, had been in the owner's family and Shrives estimated its value as $150. As she did with several other items, Shrives offered advice on how to care for these treasures — textiles should be kept away from sunlight, and if stored, they should not be folded or have a heavy object placed on top of them. She urged the owner to "frame it, hang it and enjoy it."

A small elegant mahogany box — a tea caddy with two compartments in which to store tea leaves — came from England in the late 18th century. Shrives placed its value at about $750.

A few owners were misinformed about the origin of their objects. For example, a decorative pitcher thought by its owner to be from Norway and brought here by her Norwegian great-grandmother, turned out to be from Italy.

A 76-year-old tree fungus

The most bizarre item of the evening was a very large tree fungus with an Indian scene painted on one surface. "I've never had anyone bring in a fungus," marveled Shrives. The owner had bought it for $150 in upstate New York where Iroquois Indians once lived; the fungus was dated 1931. Shrives was impressed that the fungus was intact, had "nice decoration" and she pronounced it "rare." She complimented the owner on her purchase.

Shrives appraised each painting that was presented. Most were by unknown artists, they were landscapes or domestic scenes, and in general their value was $150 to $200. Increasingly said Shrives, databases of artists and their work have appeared on the Internet, but most are fee-based. She offered to help owners of the paintings track down the artists through the online services that Skinner uses.

A painting of a twilight scene had an elaborate gilt frame and enclosed in a glass-covered shadow box. This captured Shrives's interest and she promised to look up the artist, whose name was Miller, in her databases. Shrives said that the gilt frame was well preserved, and she estimated the value of the work "in the $800 to $1,200 range."

Shrives was as gracious as she was knowledgeable. She gave every item the same importance, and obviously knew that many caretakers of their family's antiques dreamed of "striking it rich" with their precious items. She was kind to everyone, displayed a fine sense of humor and was generous with her time and information.

At the end of the evening, people bundled up their treasures and took them home again, knowing more about Grandma's porcelain figurines (German, $100) or Great-Grandmother's blue-and-white Canton serving dish" (China, $300 to $500).

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito