The Auction Insider

In the business of antique appraisals, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. But, I never anticipated the treasure I found in a very modest South Sacramento Home I visited several months ago.

A 9 ft. tall bed under an 8 foot ceiling?

The homeowner had seen my appraisals on the Antiques Roadshow and called Witherell’s for an estimate of some items left to her by her father. I packed up my tools, consisting of my iPad and some measuring devices and headed south knowing that most often, family heirlooms hold more emotional value than financial gain. In my business we say that 10 percent of most estates produce 90 percent of the value so I’m always on the lookout for those rare “fabulous finds” that benefit their owners at auction. Her home was cozy with low ceilings and small rooms. I expected to see a few pieces of old furniture that might, or might not, be auction-worthy.

My big surprise was waiting in the family bedroom, under the bed, where portions of an ornate bed were stacked like Lincoln Logs waiting to be assembled. I recognized the style and noted that it matched a beautiful dresser standing against the wall. My excitement level rose. The antique bed would stand 9 feet tall when reconstructed and was a fine example of furniture made in the 1870s, stacked and shipped flat in boxes by rail car from New York and sold by legendary Oakland retailer and cabinet maker Charles Schreiber. We’d researched the pieces sold by his store for our book, “California’s Best: Old West Art and Antiques” but surviving items are very scarce and I was thrilled to discover this remarkable Renaissance Revival bed in such an unlikely place.
My first concern was for the integrity of the bed. Where were the rest of the pieces? The homeowner directed me out to the garage where we found the finials, top section and everything needed to reassemble the bed. All in pristine condition.

What’s it Worth?

Next came the job of estimating the value of the highly carved and incised, walnut bed. I had to consider the market which had fallen throughout the recent recession. Comparable sales had hovered at around $15,000 but were pre-recession and not relevant. Being realistic, I told the seller that my conservative estimate was about $7,000. She was very pleased with this price and we offered the bed on our online auction. To our mutual delight this rare piece of furniture sold for $22,000. It was sold to a buyer in Canada who understood the value of this handcrafted piece of American history.

As someone who highly values antiques from California and the American West I am a bit dismayed that our regional market doesn’t seem wild about collecting artifacts from our own history. Many other states have strong interest in their regional antiques but, with few exceptions, California collectors seem to favor other regions. Happily, our worldwide presence on iGavel Online Auctions gives California sellers a wide and active marketplace.
In this case, the homeowner was thrilled with her unexpected financial gain and I am very pleased this important piece of California’s past is newly appreciated and preserved.

Happy Hunting for your own Fab Finds!

Brian Witherell