Kovels Antiques: Some furniture made to fit just one room

Most furniture is made to fit in almost any room, but sometimes furniture is made to fit the room - to look as if it's built into a wall. Today we install built-in kitchen cupboards, bookshelves and perhaps a niche for ornaments. In the 18th and ...

Mahogany bookshelves
These two tall, narrow pieces of mahogany furniture are bookshelves. They would almost touch the ceiling in a traditional house today. Unusual furniture is sometimes hard to sell, but this pair sold at a Neal Auction in New Orleans for close to $3,000.

Most furniture is made to fit in almost any room, but sometimes furniture is made to fit the room - to look as if it's built into a wall.

Today we install built-in kitchen cupboards, bookshelves and perhaps a niche for ornaments. In the 18th and 19th centuries, corner cupboards, dressers and other large storage pieces may not have been "built-in," but they were made for just one spot in the house.

Two matching mahogany, fitted pedestal bookcases sold in 2012 were each 7 feet 7 inches tall and 17 inches wide. The shelves were only 13 inches deep, the depth of most bookshelves today.

The tall and thin column-like bookcases have glass doors and a carved ornament at the top. The pair was probably made to be placed on either side of a doorway.

They mimic the door-frame trim popular in expensive houses at the beginning of the 1900s, the English Edwardian period. The shape is uncommon, so this pair was probably a special order.


The pair sold at a Neal Auction in New Orleans for $2,988.

Q: I bought a Lady figurine from "Lady and the Tramp" for 99 cents. It's porcelain, about 4 inches tall and marked "Disney, Japan" with a copyright symbol. Did I pay too much?

A: "Lady and the Tramp," Disney's animated romance about a purebred cocker spaniel and a mutt, was released in 1955 - the same year Disneyland opened in Southern California. The opening of the theme park ignited even more demand for Disney figurines. At about this time, Disney started to have some figures made in Japan. Lady figurines like yours sell for about $10 online, so you paid a bargain price.

Q: Back in the 1970s, my mother's friend gave her a desk with a pull-down door that serves as a writing surface. The desk appears to be made of different types of wood and has a lot of carving, inlay and appliqued designs. There's a metal plaque on the back that says "Furniture of Lasting Elegance and Worth, Detroit Furniture Shops, Detroit, Michigan." I can't find any reference to this maker online or in reference books. Can you help?

A: Detroit Furniture Shops is listed in a 1922 Detroit directory as a store that buys and sells furniture, not as a furniture manufacturer. It was located on Riopelle Street in the Forest Park neighborhood.

Q: When my mother died, I was left the figural chef cookie jar she received as a wedding present in 1941. The chef's outfit is dark yellow, and his hair and shoes are brown. The jar's bottom is stamped "Red Wing Pottery, Hand Painted." I need some history and an estimate of its value.

A: Your "Pierre the Chef" cookie jar was one of the most popular ever made by Red Wing Potteries of Red Wing, Minn. It was first made in 1941 and remained in production until about 1956. It was also made in light green and light blue. We have seen your jar selling online for $155.

Q: Years ago I bought a large oak picture frame that has bars on it like a cage. There is a painting of a tiger behind the bars. The front of the frame is bowed out slightly and it looks like the tiger's eyes are following you when you walk past it. There is a label on the back of the frame that says "Chicago Mission Furniture Co." It also says that it is "fumed." I'd like to know what that means and if this is of any value.


A: The Chicago Mission Furniture Co. was in business from 1904 until the 1920s. It was founded by four men who had worked at another furniture company but left to form their own company when employees went on strike. "Fumed" oak is oak that has been exposed to ammonia fumes, which darken the color of the wood. The longer it is exposed, the darker the wood gets. This type of "moving" picture used to be popular, but they don't sell for much more than an ordinary picture frame now. Value today: about $150 to $200.

Q: My very shiny hammered aluminum platter is 16½ inches in diameter and looks like it is made of silver. It has four egg-shaped indentations that could hold a small ostrich egg. The bowl-like center is set with multicolored tiles held in place by rivets. On the bottom is a triangular mark made up of the words "Cellini Craft, Argental, Handwrought." In the center of the triangle are the letters "MW." How old is it and what was it used for? Some auctions describe similar dishes as "trays," but I think there must be a reason for the tiles and the indentations.

A: Cellini Craft made aluminum serving pieces from 1934 to 1966. Argental translates to "silver-like." The aluminum was hand-hammered. We have looked at hundreds of aluminum trays and have found no catalog that explains a platter like yours. It is listed in catalogs as either a tray or an undertray. An undertray held a glass or covered aluminum bowl that could have served soup, stew or some other juicy food. The indentations may have been designed to catch drippings. Only one or two other aluminum manufacturers made trays that included a ceramic piece in the center. It may have kept the tray from getting too hot or it may just have been a decoration. Aluminum regained popularity for a brief time in the 1990s. Prices went up as collectors searched for wares from the 1950s and '60s. Trays the size of yours with a tile insert retail for $150 to $350, even though most hammered aluminum has dropped in price during the past 15 years.


Almost all Grueby pottery is expensive today, but some pieces have rare features that add to the price. Applied handles or added tendrils increase value. So does extra color added to the floral design on a vase.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

- Home Nut Cracker, cast iron, insert nut and rotate handle 180 degrees, table clamp, patent date Aug. 24, 1915, 6½x4 inches, $15.


- Watkins Pure Fruit Pectin box, housewife on front, recipes for jellies, jams and marmalades, contains 4 1-oz. packets, unopened, 1920s, 3C,x5Z, inches, $45.

- Donald Duck & Mickey Mouse Crayons box, tin, hinged lid, Walt Disney Productions, 1950 copyright, 4½x5 inches, $65.

- Jasperware shaving mug, matte green, raised white design of man being shaved by a woman and young boy cutting man's hair, unmarked, 1800s, 3¾x3½ inches, $70.

- Effanbee Little Lady doll, brown yarn hair, brown eyes, blue gown with red plaid trim, bra and panties, c. 1944, $200.

- Piano shawl, dusty rose silk, colorful floral embroidery, fringe, square, 1920s, 60 inches, $305.

- Champion motorcycle toy, cast iron, attached policeman rider, navy blue suit, gold badge on cap, 1930s, 5x3 inches, $415.

- Toy stove, cast iron, six burners, large side warmer, oven door marked "Marvel," flashed with copper oxide finish, 20x16½ inches, $460.

- Arts & Crafts china cabinet, oak, rectangular top with back rail, single door with 12 glass panels, hammered brass ring pull, four glass side panels, square legs, c. 1912, 62 inches, $1,185.


- Daum glass decanter, mushrooms in reds, brown and green, mottled amber ground, marked, Nancy, France, 6½ inches, $5,165.

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