Saturday, August 2, 2003

Read up to discover bookcases' value

Antiques detective

By Anne Gilbert
Enquirer contributor

Ever since books and other reading materials were produced, proper space for their storage has been an issue.

By the middle of the 18th century, not only royalty but also wealthy Europeans and Americans boasted the newest status symbol: a library.

Designers put their best into sometimes towering pieces. In Georgian times (1714-1760s), there were classical pilasters on the corners of the doors, plus much gilding.

By 1750, Oriental and Gothic looks became popular. An example would be a massive mahogany breakfront bookcase that combines fine veneer with Gothic arches of thin strips of wood on the glass doors.

An innovation was the hanging bookshelf. In England it might be designed with ornate fretwork, or, in France, inlaid with tortoiseshell veneer.

There were novelty storage pieces, too. One example was a mahogany revolving Regency book table, with imitation novels to act as book supports. Another unusual item was the traveler's collapsible bookcase.

By the early Victorian period (1830s), the bookcase-as-furniture had become standard in middle-class homes. The style depended on the taste and income of the owner.

Today, nothing is cheap when it comes to bookcases. Arts and Crafts-style cases fetch big bucks at auction. At a recent Treadway auction in Cincinnati, a bookcase designed by Charles Limbert sold for $4,750.

In the 1970s, collectors discovered the walnut and golden oak office bookcases in the Arts and Crafts style. Often, these were being thrown away when buildings were torn down or offices remodeled. Or, they were sold for $5. These bookcases - often vertical, stackable and sometimes with leaded glass doors - today bring several hundred dollars.

When even the plainest bookcase can be attributed to a designer, prices can be awesome. This is especially true when the designer was a famous architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright or a designer for the Gustav Stickley Co.


Question: This vase was given to me in 1958. It is brown with this unusual floral decoration and marked on the bottom "MRX Germany." I would like to know something about it.

Answer: Your pottery jug was made 1886-1910 by one of the many small potteries in the Art Nouveau style. It could sell in a shop for $100 or more.

Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.

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