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Ask A Worthologist: The Unwanted Hand-Carved Desk

by Mike Wilcox (03/21/13).

This unloved desk, exiled to a spare room, is likely a Roberf J. Horner from the late 1880s.

Anna B. inherited this desk many years ago, but its over-the-top styling had it in exile in the house. She and her husband have decided it’s time to downsize, and neither of their kids wants it. Not knowing anything about this desk, Anna wanted to determine what it was worth before deciding how to get rid of it. Anna contacted us via WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service, and her inquiry was forwarded to me.

“I inherited this desk from a relative a long time ago. I think it’s European. It’s highly carved and neither my husband nor I have every been very fond of it. I’ve kept it for sentimental reasons, but as it does not match anything else in the house, we put it in a spare bedroom we use as an office. I have to get rid of it because we are selling our four-bedroom home and retiring to a condo. As our kids have finally moved out on their own, we really don’t need all this room or the extra expense of maintaining a large home. We plan on taking only about a quarter of our old furniture with us, and this desk has to go. I don’t want to give it away because it is a good solid piece of furniture, but I would like to know what it’s worth before I decide its fate.”

Based on your images, your desk is actually American, dating from the late 1880s, and very possibly made by the Robert J. Horner furniture company.

Horner was quite the marketing genius; the upper floors of his store located on East 23rd Street in New York were “staged” to represent bedrooms, dining-rooms, billiard rooms and libraries to give his customers decorating ideas of how his furniture would look in any setting.

Horner began operations in 1886 as “R.J. Horner & Co.” and used the high quality mahogany and quarter-sawn oak hardwood for its furniture, much of it heavily carved. The company produced a full line of furniture to fill any room, including chairs, sofas, complete parlor sets, hall trees, benches, partner tables and dining sets.

Horner also did import pieces from Europe in the 1890s, but information regarding the sources of supply is very limited. Desks like this are still highly sought after, even though the demand for Victorian furniture has been in decline since the 1990s.

In the current market, even at auction, a comparable desk would sell in the $4,000 to $5,500 range.


Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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