A buyer's guide for an antique chest of drawers.

22-10-2009

When studying a chest of drawers it is important to be ordered in your thought processes.

One of the first questions to ask yourself is what wood is the chest made from? If it is early 18th Century it may well be in walnut and if it is Georgian or later it is probably made out of mahogany.

Then have a look at the drawer linings. If they are made in pine the chest is probably of secondary quality whereas if they are of oak or mahogany it is of superior quality. Also look at the way the grain of the bottom board runs, if it is from front to back the chest is probably of early 18th Century construction, the grain running from side to side suggests a manufacture of post 1750.

The next thing to consider is whether the chest's handles are original. Handles were often changed to make a piece of furniture look more fashionable and some chests will have had two or three different types of handle over the years. The place to check is the back of the drawer front, if you see holes that don' t appear to have any function then the handles have been replaced. Original handles will often leave a bruise mark on the drawer front from hitting against the wood over hundreds of years or even leave a shade mark by blocking out the sun which can be seen in this photograph.

Antique Chest of Drawers

An original swan neck handle showing shading and bruise mark

If the handles are original it will give a very good indication of the age of the chest. A pear drop handle will suggest the chest will be William and Mary or Queen Anne period whereas a swan neck handle would be found on pieces that post date 1750.

Antique Chest of Drawers

A Queen Anne period walnut cabinet on chest with original pear drop handles

Drawer mouldings will also give an indication of the age of the chest. In the 17th Century mouldings were applied to the carcass and as the 18th Century progressed these details transferred to the edges of the drawers. In the George II period drawers often have ovolo mouldings (a quarter round edge) and by 1760 the drawers would typically have a cock bead moulding.

Antique Chest of Drawers

A George II period mahogany tallboy with ovolo mouldings

Feet where also often changed to make a chest more fashionable. Bun feet were highly fashionable at the beginning of the 18th Century but by the 1740s a bracket foot was more typical. In the Sheraton period this bracket foot was shaped to give it a more elegant profile in keeping with the elegance of the period.

Antique Chest of Drawers

An original bun foot

When you have considered all these issues you need to look at the proportions of the chest. A fine quality chest will have elegant proportions with a good graduation to the drawers and good crisp mouldings whilst a chest of secondary quality will have a more utilitarian feel.

The most common type of chest is the flat fronted chest but in the late 18th Century serpentine and bowfronted chests came into fashion. A serpentine chest because of the extra work involved in its construcition is rarer and more valuable than a flat fronted chest of similar quality.

Antique Chest of Drawers

A fine Sheraton period mahogany serpentine chest of drawers

Chests will have other enhancements that effect their value. Some chests are made out of solid wood whilst others are veneered and veneered chests are usually better quality and more desirable. This is because the cabinet-maker has specifically chosen select cuts of timber to give life and interest to the chest. Cabinet-makers also added bandings, stringings and even carving to enhance a chest's appearance and if they are original this will also add value to the chest.

When arriving at a chest's value you will have to consider all these points. The more original and fancier a chest is the more valuable it will be but it is also important that the chest has a good colour and patination. For a selection of fine quality antique chests of drawers please visit our website at www.reindeerantiques.co.uk

 

Author: Peter Alexander