Ask A Worthologist Question: Plantation Desk


This Plantation desk, rescued from a Wisconsin feed mill 25 years ago, still have some value after some restoration, probably in the $1,000-$1,500 range.

Nearly 25 years ago, Jeremy B. hauled away an old desk in a Wisconsin feed mill. After a friend encouraged him to have it appraised, he turned to WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to see what he might have. The question was forwarded to me. Here is the question:

“This desk was found holding up a chunk of the ceiling in an old feed mill in Wisconsin back about 1976. It was pretty rough when we found it, so we had it refinished and the drawers fixed, as they were very worn. The legs had about an inch of rot we cut off to level the desk, but we plan on having them properly restored. Since we got it for the price of hauling it away, we never really wondered much about it or what it would be worth until a friend, who is an insurance agent, said we should have it appraised. Any information would be appreciated as to its age and possible value.”

After a little checking, I was able to answer Jeremy’s desk question. This is what I was able to tell him:

In the antiques trade, these are usually called “Plantation desks” because the type was often made in Southern cabinet shops and used in plantation offices. Of course, they were produced all over the established inhabited areas of the country, including the Great Lakes region. Another generic name sometimes used for this type of desk is the “Wells Fargo desk,” again referring to a sometime use of this style of desk by cartage companies, railways and general stores.

Most desks of this type are what are referred to as being “Early Victorian”—such pieces were made from about 1840 through the 1860s. Most were the work of rural cabinet makers or small furniture factories working from English furniture design books, using native hardwoods, such as cherry, maple, oak and walnut in their construction. Walnut examples like this one date circa 1850 and originate from North Eastern states. Values for them depend a great deal on vintage, condition, overall design and wood type. You did very well to haul this one home for free, as even pieces like this one that need some minor restoration sell in the $1,000-$1,500 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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