Best of Treasures: Wonderful chest likely from 1880s Britain


(Editor’s note: This column was originally published Aug. 14, 2017.)

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I inherited this chest, which appears to be cedar-lined. It is 26 inches high, 52 inches long and 28 inches deep. I am considering selling it and would like to know how much I should ask. But I might also keep it and would like to know the insurance value.

Thank you,

C. C.

Dear C. C.:

We thought we would discuss the wonderful chest first and then explore its various values a bit later.

The email we received was titled “cedar chest.” This brought images to our minds of relatively plain storage chests that were popular during the early to mid 20th century. Many homes had them.

Brides often kept their trousseaus in them, and later on they were used to store the household’s best linens. Why? Because cedar wood was thought to be deadly to moths — not to mention cockroaches — and cedar was also supposed to discourage the incursions of mice and other vermin.

Cedar chests were often an important piece of household furniture. Print ads featured child film star Shirley Temple endorsing Lane Cedar chests as the “Sweetest Valentine of All.”

But the chest in today’s question is not the sort of chest that was made in 20th century America. Instead the piece appears to be British and done in the Renaissance Revival style of the late 19th century.

To be sure, its purpose was to store linens and clothing, but the heraldic emblem on the top, the elaborately fashioned lock, the pair of helmeted knightly head and shoulder busts, the foliate scrolls, the shells, the gadrooning around the edge and so forth (plus the elaborately carved paw feet) say this was a special piece probably made in England circa 1880 or so.

Now, we need to talk about the various prices the elaborate piece might have. First of all, the insurance replacement value is the amount of money it would take to purchase a similar piece from a retail source within a reasonable period of time (i.e. without delay). Whereas the fair market value is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller at a specific moment in time.

Both of these amounts are very time-sensitive. Prices, for example, were much higher 10 years ago, and in many if not most instances, both insurance and fair market value were considerably greater than they are today. The piece in today’s question is wonderful, but it is more than a bit out of fashion for modern homes and the value is less than it would have been in the recent past.

Currently, the insurance replacement value is in the $1,200 to $1,500 range, but if C. C. were to try and sell it to an antiques dealer she would probably find that it would fetch less than $500 and maybe considerably less. The massive size goes against it as does the Victorian Renaissance Revival style.

This story was originally published November 19, 2021 4:47 PM.

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