JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jefferson Finney, proud owner of an antique highboy, was fortunate enough to bypass the long line of appraisal hopefuls at the Hawai'i Convention Center Saturday to have his precious piece evaluated.
Proud owner has high hopes for highboy
As I pulled the drawers from the highboy and dumped their contents onto the guest bed, I examined their craftsmanship.
I've watched enough episodes of the "Antiques Roadshow" to know what to look for: hand-hewn bottoms with the right patina, meticulous dovetailing, obviously the work of a master craftsman, brass pulls warmly showing the wear of generations of use.
During a "Roadshow" episode some years ago, a similar piece was appraised at $28,000 and would have been valued at $20,000 more if the owner hadn't refinished it with shiny varathane. I was sure that the finish on my piece was original. I paused to contemplate several response scenarios to the news of its value if my piece were chosen for a televised appraisal, all of them exultant.
My highboy -- basically a tall chest of drawers (I've learned the name is derived from "haut bois," French for "high wood") -- was purchased by my great-grandfather at auction in New England. It survived many frigid winters and humid summers in Connecticut before its stint in San Francisco, where at some point a mouse chewed a small, neat hole in its back panel.
The piece migrated with me to Oahu about five years ago, and shortly thereafter I discovered that the Honolulu Academy of Arts has a highboy strikingly similar to mine in its Western collection, also from Connecticut.
As my piece was one of 12 selected to be appraised at the Honolulu show last weekend, I was given priority and led past a long line of people -- some holding valuables wrapped in newspaper, others with objects shrouded with beach towels, one couple pushing a cart haphazardly stacked with boxes.
After about 15 minutes spent watching an appraisal of a handsome koa settee with a treble-clef back on closed-circuit television, I was introduced to Michael Flanigan, a "Roadshow" appraiser whose bio boasts of 28 years spent working on and dealing in classic American furniture. We made our way to the furniture holding area.
"So tell me what you know about this piece," he said, gesturing casually toward the highboy.
COURTESY JEFFERSON FINNEY
I told him when and where it was purchased and how I thought that it was probably a good piece as the grain of the wood, which I assumed was cherry, matched, and the patina was consistent with what I thought a 200-year-old piece of furniture should be.
"Well," he responded cheerfully, "the wood is maple, not cherry, and while you are correct that the grain does match up beautifully, your great-grandfather purchased a piece with many inconsistencies."
He went on to show in detail how parts of the highboy were in fact 200 years old, but the piece was hodgepodge, salvaged from the parts of other highboys -- similar to a car built with parts from an auto salvage lot.
Apparently, reconstructing furniture was (and is) common, and reconstructions are often sold as genuine antiques. I'm sure my face must have registered a hint of dismay when he estimated its value at $3,000.
Patting my shoulder, he added, "The good news is that we didn't choose to put you on television to tell you this."
My highboy returns today, delivered by US Art, Fine Art Handling Service (brought from Los Angeles to move the show's selected furniture pieces), and they'll carefully unwrap it from the protective felt blankets they use with heirloom furniture.
I'm not sure how I'll look at the piece now, whether I'll still see it as a handsome piece with an air of antiquity, or as a mishmash impostor. I do know that in the two days it's been gone, I've been able to go through the heap of stuff I piled on the guest bed and have gotten rid of many single socks. I've also come across several other treasures I am sure are quite valuable though not, at the moment, up for "Roadshow" scrutiny.
Jefferson Finney, who coordinates the Star-Bulletin's Newspapers in Education program, was among those selected to present a furniture piece to the "Antiques Roadshow" appraisers last weekend. It was an enlightening experience.