Monday, September 7, 2015

A Queen Anne Highboy

        When I worked in the circles of the antiques elite (as a minion and only for four years) there was a definite pecking order, not just with the dealers, but with the objects as well. For the Folk Art world, it was the portraiture that took top billing, the works of the finest and most well known late 18th and early 19th century artists bringing massive sums and hoards of admirers at show and auction. For furniture, it was the highboys, or high chests as they're more formally known. An attractive and all but extinct furniture apparatus, the highboy speaks of a bygone age of elegance and formality.

       In essence, a highboy is two pieces of furniture stacked one atop the other, not unique in 18th century design (see also secretaries and chest on chests- also big in size and value). In 18th century pieces these are two separate units, a lower case, which when built on its own is referred to as a 'lowboy' or more accurately 'dressing table'; and a top case of drawers which can never exist on its own, though I've seen several highboy upper cases fashioned later into tall chests with the addition of legs.

      The highboys varied in style, size, material, and quality. In Connecticut, where some of the finest Chippendale furniture was made, we saw both flat top and bonnet top highboys (that arched portion that surrounds the finial), with variations including shells or fans carved in the top and bottoms, quarter turned columns or flat fluted ones running up the front sides of the top case, and different styles of moldings, feet, and drawer arrangement. Each of these minute details was a clue to who, or whom (for many were made in shops or communities with individualistic characteristics) could be credited with the work. A well trained curator or antiques dealer can inspect a piece and determine age, place of origin, and sometimes maker or shop within a quite accurate degree.

       And that rant makes me miss my old job a great deal, a painful amount. But on to the new and now. Here we have the very first highboy I've had the privilege to refinish. It is not an 18th century but rather second period, spurned by a renewed interest in Early American arts during the Colonial Revival. It was made around 1930 by the Maddox Company, and retains its original paper chipping label, ink stamped mark in top drawer, and brass label. The Maddox company was proud of their craftsmanship and rightly so. Though the pieces were made in a factory, not a small shop, they were finely constructed and nicely referenced stylistic details of the earlier forms- this one based loosely on a Massachusetts highboy.

        When one of my favorite pickers showed up at my door with this piece she and I both knew I HAD to have it. It was glorious, even in its derelict state. I immediately let one of my favorite clients know I had it, he'd been looking for one unsuccessfully for months.

        We agreed on a fantastic design, slightly distressed matte black case surrounded refinished mahogany drawer fronts finished with reproduction art deco pulls. It's avant garde for sure, and so fantastic.

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