Tuesday, March 10, 2015


A very enlightening pair of console tables presented themselves to me on an estate appraisal in Coral Gables about five years ago. It was for the estate of a long time social and professional friend. While preparing an appraisal on behalf of his estate, I approached this pair of consoles he routinely insisted were 18th Century. To my eye, there were very obviously 19th Century and had an assertively Victorian demeanor to them. The pair comprised 2 consoles of the sort that had one actual leg and had to be attached to the wall. They were admittedly of a Rococo revival style and the walnut frames were characterized by exuberant curves and an above average quality of carved detailing and decoration. Each console was surmounted by a conforming shaped white marble top. See one of the pair below. Both were identical.

Seen frontally with no intense scrutiny, there was nothing very apparent to belie the fact that the pair of consoles had undergone any manner of deliberate alteration. After examination under each console however, a very clear tell tale sign of alteration was the presence of a pair of square holes in the underside of the surface of the console on an under plank of wood supporting the marble and which was located close to the part attached to the wall. See the underside with the holes below.

One thing an appraiser, museum curator, dealer or auction house specialist soon learns on the job is that holes like this are not haphazard on a piece of old furniture. They are always there for a reason. This pair of evenly spaced holes under each console were a clear indication that the tables once had another piece of marble and that marble had also made accommodation for a decorative mirror frame or decorative superstructure that could have incorporated some display space of a sort.

A very elaborate example of what I am sharing here is seen in this example of a seemingly intact such console surmounted by a very elaborate superstructure. It is also English and very Victorian indeed!  It was sold at Sotheby's, London as Lot # 512 sold on 27 April 2010. Though an admittedly more elaborate example from the same period, it is in the same style and has the same age and gives a good indication of the possible superstructure that very likely adorned the top of each console in the pair my company LFAS handled and which is illustrated above.  The lessons learned are more than one. First, don't always be led by the initial impression. A good artisan's job is to make any alterations appear as if they never occurred. Secondly, the "history" or "biography" of a piece of antique furniture is almost always evident when looking at areas that were never meant to be seen, such as underneath, behind, inside. Just knowing about furniture styles, while a good thing, is not enough for an appraiser. An appraiser worth his or her salt has to constantly be inquiring, poking, prodding and seeking answers about why the "innards" of a piece of furniture are where they are. If they don't serve an obvious structural purpose, chances are such blocks of wood, metal rods and straps, or cut out sections are an indication of a significant structural alteration made during that piece of furniture's long life and long after it first came out of the cabinet maker's workshop.

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