- Published on Monday, 30 July 2012 14:57
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A local family purchased this Hepplewhite butler's desk at a retirement home where an elderly couple was moving to assisted living. The previous owners were unable to provide any history of the piece, except to say it had been in their family for many generations.
The wood is mahogany with pine secondary wood. The hardware is old but not original, however the twelve ivory knobs on the interior drawers are. The first hardware consisted of single pulls, rather than the present bails. The ends are solid, rather than paneled, and the owners think it has been refinished.
This desk dates from the first quarter of the nineteenth century. It is a sophisticated piece with excellent lines and fine bracket feet. The interior is exceptionally good. Few pieces from this period have retained the original ivory knobs in such good condition.
The term "butler's desk" comes from the era when a butler would have run the operation of a great house with many servants under his direction, although in this instance the elegance of the cabinetry indicates that a butler's only connection with it was to serve the owner tea on it.
The desk is worth $1000., and would be twice that amount if the finish and hardware were original. It is a better than average example of Eastern craftsmanship, probably having come from the corridor from Baltimore to New York. I suggest looking on the backs and bottoms of each drawer to try to find any signatures or labels. If the maker's name could be found, the value could increase significantly.
Obviously not in this case, but often these desks had upper bookcases with ornate multi-paned doors. The early Federal cabinetmakers tried to incorporate the glass panes in such a way to total thirteen, one each for the original colonies. Some changed their designs with the admission of each new state to represent each state with its own pane.