From the Worthologist’s File: Victorian Cottage-Style Dresser

One of the advantages of being an appraiser is the sheer volume of incredible things one comes across on a weekly basis. Not all are hugely valuable, antique, rare or even all that sought after. Often, their value is sentimental, but many times they come with priceless provenances. Our Worthologist filing cabinet is a treasure chest of such items, stuffed with appraisal requests from our clients asking about everything from stuffed aardvarks to folk art zithers, all of which I’ll cover here in this column.

Our client writes:

“My mother received this dresser from a friend who had passed away years ago. We have owned it for about 30 to 35 years. It has three drawers and two candle holders and two built in jewelry boxes. The finish appears to be painted on. It is in good shape, although there are a few blemishes here and there. The estimated date of construction is 1870 to 1880, according to what we’ve been told. It measures 5 feet, 2 inches in height, width 40 inches, and 18 inches deep. We would like to refinish it, but are worried it might affect its value.”

An Ask a Worthologist client wrote to us asking about the value of this dresser the family received from a friend. Worthologist Mike Wilcox fielded the question, did the research and replied.

Our Valuation

Based on the images and its construction details, this piece is a Victorian cottage-style dresser made during the late 19th century. It was mass-produced furniture, but was designed to resemble earlier, higher-quality 1870s Rococo style dressers. Even so, the routed panels, grained finishes and machine-cut dovetails used on this piece date much later than the 1870s. Pieces like this were often part of whole bedroom suites with matching beds ,wardrobes and washstands. They were still in production as late as the 1920s. Without physically examining the piece, it`s difficult to narrow down a precise date of production.

Pieces of this type were very popular with decorators through the early 1990s but values for them have been in decline, along with demand for Victoriania in general. Furniture of this type can be refinished or even painted without degrading its value. In fact, in nearly all cases, pieces in this condition once refinished, actually increase in value. The problem is, though, that the cost of refinishing a piece like this can easily exceed it replacement value in the current market. Some pieces like this will clean up rather nicely with the application of a good scratch polish (for dark finishes) or a coat of dark paste wax. I would try that first before refinishing.

In terms of value, according to data from our Worthopedia, comparable Victorian Cottage dressers—which can be seen here, here and here—now sell most often in the auction market, where they go in the $200 to $500 range, depending on the finish type and overall condition.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement. He can be reached through his website

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