Q: This aesthetics cabinet was repainted red over 60 years ago. It has damage on the front and on one of the side post finials. I think it was built by the W.W. Strong Co. and I have enclosed some pictures of a black and gold set that was put up for auction. I am guessing my cabinet is worth $3,000 to $3,500 as is or $5,000 if refinished. What is your opinion?
A: The aesthetics movement started in England in the 1860s and spread to the United States, where it was most popular in the 1870s and 1880s. It found expression in literature, metalwork, stained glass, textiles, furniture and even wallpaper.
The movement is, to a large degree, based on the Japanese goods that began to cross the ocean after Commodore Matthew C. Perry “opened” Japan to Western commerce subsequent to his 1853-1854 visits to Edo Bay. Ebonized furniture such as the piece belonging to K. P. became very popular because it was thought to resemble Japanese lacquerware.
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In the United States, aesthetic movement designs were architect driven, but the leading manufacturers were Herter Brothers, Pottier & Stymus and Kimbel and Cabus, all of New York City. W.W. Strong was a Chicago-based manufacturer that did label its pieces (at least from time to time), but lacking its mark, an attribution to this obscure enterprise cannot be made with any certainty.
The design of this cabinet is not quite elaborate enough or Japanese enough to fit neatly into the aesthetics movement category.
Aesthetic movement pieces of furniture were noted for their rectilinear shapes, the use of contrasting materials, decorative elements such as painting and marquetry, references to Japanese art and very sturdy construction. The piece in today’s question is rectilinear, it appears to be very sturdy, and the hardware appears to be right and of the period.
But unfortunately, the decoration is not quite right for high-style aesthetics movement furniture. In fact, it is rather plain except for a shallow line decoration in a panel and a frieze-like design incorporating what appears to be a sunflower above the mirror. The sunflower and leaves are indeed decorative elements often seen on aesthetic movement pieces, but the shallow line panel in the door is more related to the Victorian Eastlake movement.
True, this is a very attractive design with its scrolls, leaves and fan-shaped flower, but it is just not quite elaborate enough or Japanese enough to fit neatly into the aesthetics movement category.
The elephant in the room, however, is the repaint done 60 years ago. It appears to have been done with a red “antiquing” kit and this alteration has almost completely destroyed the value of this piece, both esthetically and monetarily. Once the repaint was done, the original surface was obliterated, and this will put off any serious collector. Refinishing will not help at this point.
A more realistic evaluation of the value of this piece would be perhaps 10 percent (or even less) of the figures quoted in the letter.
Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.