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Brokering Success: ‘Bittersweet’ Sale of China Press Exceeds Expectation

by Audra Blevins (03/02/10).


This Chippendale walnut china press, which had been a family possession for four generations, sold for more than twice its high estimate at auction. Worthologist Audra Blevins handed the brokering process for the family, selecting Brunk’s Auction in Asheville, N.C. as the best auction house to sell the piece.

This Chippendale walnut china press, which had been a family possession for four generations, sold for more than twice its high estimate at auction. Worthologist Audra Blevins handled the brokering process for the family, selecting Brunk’s Auction in Asheville, N.C. as the best auction house to sell the piece.

What would this handsome piece of antique furniture say if it could talk? Like so many antiques, this Chippendale walnut china press tells us a story. It is said to have once stood in the historic Nancy Jones House in Cary, N.C. This home, built by Nathaniel Jones around 1803, also served as a tavern and stage coach stop. Legend has it that in 1838, the house was the site of a meeting between the governors of North Carolina and South Carolina where the famous words “It’s been a damn long time between drinks” were spoken.

The china press had been in the client’s family for seven generations, and it was a difficult decision to sell the stunning piece. But the time had come to downsize, and WorthPoint was contacted to act as a broker and locate the best outlet for selling the china press. I spoke with the client and she told me the rich history of the cabinet and e-mailed additional pictures. As I viewed her pictures, I knew at once that the china press was an important piece. The shelves were deeply shaped and it retained most of the original glass from the late 1700s; the patina was a mellow brown color and the bracket feet had not been repaired or altered.

It was critical that I find a place where it would continue to be appreciated and cherished, as it had been for generations. Brunk’s Auction, in Asheville, immediately came to mind, as it is one of the premier auction houses in North Carolina. It has also had much success selling early regional furniture.

Family lore had it that the china press was once housed in the historic Nancy Jones House in Cary, N.C.

Family lore had it that the china press was once housed in the historic Nancy Jones House in Cary, N.C.

Andrew Brunk reviewed the china press and was pleased to have it as an addition to his Feb. 20, 2010 auction. He gave a preliminary estimate of $5,000-$8,000; however after examining the piece thoroughly he raised the estimate to $5,000-$10,000. This estimate well exceeded the Seller’s reserve of $4,000. Appraisers at Brunk’s Auction researched the piece and attributed it to the Roanoke River Basin, and furthermore dated it to the late 18th century. They also noted that it had similarities to examples by well-known cabinet makers in the area. An impressive full-color catalog was published and the auction was well advertised in such publications as Maine Antiques Digest and Silver Magazine. Mr. Brunk continued to work closely with the client before the auction, gathering information and sharing the good news that there was much interest in the piece. A potential buyer asked to examine the piece, even removing the upper part of the pediment. The excitement around the piece was beginning to build.

The China press has similarities to examples by well-known cabinet makers in the area, and its shelves are deeply shaped. Additionally, the piece retains most of the original glass from the late 1700s.

The China press has similarities to examples by well-known cabinet makers in the area, and its shelves are deeply shaped. Additionally, the piece retains most of the original glass from the late 1700s.

The much anticipated auction on February 20 finally came, and both the client and I were tuned in via the Internet. Time passed quickly as we watched the interesting items that came up for bid. The auction house seemed to be full of bidders and many items were surpassing their estimates. As they announced lot 68, we watched as the bids climbed past her reserve, past the low estimate of $5,000, over the high estimate of $10,000, and finally gaveling at a stunning $24,000!

I phoned the client that evening and she was very pleased with the final hammer price. However, she said it was “bittersweet” that the china press was no longer in her family or gracing her dining room.

I am so glad to report that the story doesn’t end here!

About a week later, she received a call from Brunk, who informed her that her piece would soon be available for her to visit. A curator for the Tyron Palace and Gardens in New Bern, N.C. had purchased the china press on the museum’s behalf. It will be showcased at the museum as an important example of North Carolina regional cabinet making.

As one chapter in the life of the china press comes to a close, we are all comforted in the knowledge that it will continue to be appreciated and cherished by all the museums visitors.

Audra Blevins is a Worthologist who specializes in French Limoges china and early American pattern glass. She also handles brokering for WorthPoint.

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2 Responses to “Brokering Success: ‘Bittersweet’ Sale of China Press Exceeds Expectation”

  1. Regina says:

    It is sad when, in downsizing, a family has to let an heirloom go. But, how wonderful that it goes to a place that will not only take proper care of the piece, but will also show to the world a wonderful history. And, that the family knows they did what needed to be done w/o failing the family trust in the process.

  2. Mark says:

    This surely manifest the old saying that a person’s junk can be other people’s treasure :>

    As it may be difficult to let go of something that has been in the family for sometime, it is also best to consider that knowing that it is properly taken cared of and is much better than just watching it to deteriorate..

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