tell what something is or more commonly what something isn’t is based on my educational background (years of learning and years of teaching) and extensive
I use my decades of appraising and museum experience to evaluate all types of objects. I draw upon this knowledge to glean important information about your antique pieces — works of art, antiques or collectibles.
My stage shows are totally unscripted, and I do not know
what antiques are going to be presented to me at my events beforehand. People bring me all different types of stuff, and I don’t know what’s coming next. I
appraise on the fly and I spare no feelings. You either have a gem or you have a piece of junk.
When someone today asks me how I can tell the age of
something or if an object is repaired or restored, I tell them to look beyond the beauty. Look at the workmanship. Look at the construction. Look at the
foundation of the piece. That is where the lies hide. We can shine something up or decorate a piece to make it look great, but the truth is in the construction.
For instance, the late 19th century letter box that my friend Cindy Shook, the Gallery 63 Office Manager from Discovery’s “Auction Kings,” picked during our season 4 premiere Pick-Off episode is a good example because it had many issues. First off, the interior of the box was not authentic rosewood but, rather, wood painted to look like the grain of rosewood. When appraising the
piece for the TV episode, I broke the news to Cindy that she purchased a locking letter box that was only partly from the 1800s.
She asked me, “How can you tell?” I told her to look at the contrasting, different types of wooden pieces used in the marquetry work on the top of the box — satinwood, walnut, rosewood, etc. The decorative motif of the marquetry inlay piece featured a recorder, trumpet and flowers and this piece was probably cut out of an early
1900s music box — hence the musical instruments — and replaced on top of the letter box.
If you look at the positioning of the decorative marquetry
forms, the flowers on the left and right sides are nearly cut off, indicating that perhaps the damage to the original music box was so significant that the
restorer had to cut the wooden replacement piece so close to the decorative flowers that there was no space left on either side of the floral motif. Typically, there would be an area of blank space between the flowers at both left and right side and the framing of the marquetry piece. That is not the case on this box, however, which is a tell-tale sign that the box has been reworked and a replacement piece inserted into the top.
Cindy has been in the auction business a long time and has experience restoring objects too. She knows
her stuff. Her aim was to purchase an object that would attract auction buyers. She succeeded. as this piece still did well at the Atlanta auction, despite the replacement.
The other issue I see with this box is the highly feminine
motif on a very masculine writing lap desk or letter box. There is no delicate key-hole hardware and no floral element anywhere else on this letter box. The
hardware is straightforward and functional and the framing around the box itself shows clean lines, which are both indicators of a man’s functional object from
circa 1875-1895. When it comes to evaluating antiques, look at the object closely and let it reveal its history to you. Remember, antiques don’t lie. People do.