The Case of the $50,000 Table

By Anne McEwan | June 9, 2020
Anne McEwan

Furniture styles have been around from, at least, the beginning of recorded history. From stone “chairs” dating back to the Neolithic Period, early ancient civilizations like Egypt and Greece through modern times, differing materials, and different styles have reflected their respective eras.

When appraising furniture, one of the significant challenges is determining the style and era to which the piece is attributed. Of course, that isn’t the only factor. Styles borrow from one another throughout the history of furniture design, so the task of identifying where, when, and “how much” is a complex task requiring expertise in the many styles of furniture. Accurately determining these valuation factors can make the difference between a ready to assemble $200 item to a $28 million Art Deco Chair (a record set at auction in 2009).

This issue of our Case Of series highlights the complexity.

The Challenge

Our team was called in to accurately identify and provide a replacement value for what was described as a Modern high grade 72-inches-by-45-inches lacquered extension dining table with water damage. The team was provided with an image only. The picture showed a modern oval pedestal base dining table with a high gloss finish. The table had a burl wood inlay top with ebony “race track” banding. No supporting documentation was available to establish the maker, manufacturer, date of production, or origin of the dining table. The policyholder listed the value of the dining table as $50,000.

Cracking the Case

Each member of our furniture team has extensive knowledge of the various styles and periods of furnishings. After sharing the image with our team, a value threshold was determined, and the item was triaged to one of our experts in high-end furniture. As is often the case when documentation is not available, critical examination of the photo, communication with the policyholder, and research into like kind and quality ensues.

In this case, the furniture team member reached out to the public adjuster for further information. The response was, “no additional details are available.” The furniture expert then examined the public adjuster submitted images and discovered upholstered dining chairs as well. The brand name on the chairs was “Bombay Company” and not of high value. Notably, the “Bombay Company” brand is not customarily coordinated by interior designers with dining tables in the $50,000 range — which gave us the first clue.

The furniture expert also noted that the dining table’s style was a modern transitional interpretation of Art Deco period furniture. Brands that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s often adopted this interim interpretive design integration to create new furniture fashion. The trend of design integration continues today. The challenge in appraisal presents itself when attempting to identify furniture with high claimed values via images and descriptions only. The description is frequently “Art Deco,” “Mid Century Modern,” “Mission,” and “Eames,” to name a few. Typically, we find that items described with these terms are likely modern interpretations of period furniture or reproductions made to look like the original. Generally, these pieces are considered “in the style of” or “transitional.”

The Results

The furniture team member researched the current upscale furniture marketplace as well as the vintage market. As these style tables are no longer in vogue, the vintage marketplace values were depressed. The furniture team member then located a new like kind and quality dining table from a high-end furniture vendor. The replacement reflected a transitional interpretive design as well as manufacturing quality. Without provenance or documentation of the insured table and no identifiable attributions to a brand, our expert provided the best current retail replacement value match. This dining table currently retails for $6,475. The $50,000 original stated value was without merit or support; therefore, a fair and reasonable replacement value, based on our expertise, was presented in our report and satisfied the policyholder.

About Anne McEwan

Anne McEwan has a bachelor's degree in fine art. She has worked for the Enservio Select division of Solera as a furniture and interior design expert for 12 years.

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