It’s no small feat to list all your furniture from only memory. Take a detailed inventory of your furnishings, just in case.
Many years ago when my daughter was in elementary school, her teacher gave the class an assignment count the pieces of furniture at home. The idea was to get the children involved with the home and to be aware of what was in it.
My daughter dutifully complied, carefully listing the number of chairs, tables and couches in our house. The next day the teacher gave her a zero on the project, saying she hadn’t really done the assignment because no one had that much furniture in her house.
After a tense face-to-face with the teacher, she saw it my way, and although she still didn’t understand why I had more than 40 chairs in my house, she did believe that we actually had them.
Why did I have 40 chairs in a house with four people? Just say I like chairs, having come from a house where there just weren’t enough comfortable places to have a seat.
I get an email or a letter at least once a week asking for help in determining the value of a piece of furniture that somehow no longer exists. In some cases it was lost during a move or irreparably damaged and the remnants discarded. Other times the piece was lost in a fire, was taken in a burglary, appropriated by a relative or misplaced in storage. The common theme among all the inquiries is that there is no photo of the missing piece. Not only are there no photos, there is no receipt, no original description, no household inventory — nothing except the sometimes-clouded memory of the owner. In a case like that, I just can’t help them. You can’t base an opinion on memory.
If something happened to your household and you had to sit down and list every piece of furniture you had for insurance reimbursement, how would you do? If you sit quietly for few minutes and visualize each room in your house you might come pretty close to having most of the major items committed to your unconscious memory. But would you get it all? Probably not.
In my case, I figured I would do pretty well on that test. After all, looking at almost every piece of furniture in my house, I have restored it, worked on it, refinished it, traded for it, adjusted it or just plain worked real hard for it. I have very few retail “store bought” pieces. Each piece has a story and a personal attachment to me and/or my wife. I should be able to remember that.
I failed miserably. I came up with about 30 chairs during the mental stroll. The actual count was 51. Granted that is a lot of chairs for a two-person household, but each has a place and a purpose even if I can’t remember it.
Tables took a tumble, too. I came up with about a dozen or so. The real number, counting end tables, coffee tables, dining tables and game tables was 22. Couches were easy, only three, but desks came up a little harder at six. And that doesn’t count lamps, bookcases, stools, file cabinets, vanities, armoires, dressing tables, stereo cabinets, beds, computer stands and all the other miscellaneous accumulations of our dwellings.
So how many chairs do you have? You could just go count them and write it down. Or you could do better than that. You could photograph or videotape each room in our house. Then, with photos or video in hand, sit down and write down the inventory. But don’t just list the items, describe them so that another person with reasonable familiarity with furniture would know pretty much what you are talking about.
For example don’t list a set of chairs simply as “six dining chairs.” What kind of chairs are they? Are they Queen Anne chairs, Chippendale chairs, Windsor chairs, modern chairs, “traditional” chairs, straight chairs? Are they painted or clear finished? Do they have upholstery on the seats or backs? What kind of upholstery? Do they have cane or rush seats? How old are the chairs? Are they made of wood or metal? What kind of wood? What condition are they in? Where did you get them and when? What did you pay for them? Do they match the table? Are they family heirlooms? What else can you remember about them? Don’t be in a hurry.
Go through the same exercise with each piece of furniture in every category of furniture in your house. Period, style and condition are very important elements of this kind of inventory, and don’t be too proud to ask for help if you are unsure of style names or periods.
I have done this a number of times for former customers of mine, and I am sure there are plenty of local dealers who would be happy to help you with the proper terminology for the identification of your treasures for a modest hourly rate, maybe even for free as a courtesy to a customer.
This may seem like a lot of trouble but, believe me, no insurance agent is going to recommend adequate reimbursement based on a description centered on things like “old chair” and “antique table.” They need to know how old and the definition of “antique.”
So get out your pen and paper, grab your camera and start walking around your house and among your possessions.
Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).
Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.
Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail email@example.com.
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