From the Worthologists’ Files: An Empire Revival Table

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. Many times their value is only sentimental, but they often come with priceless provenances. Our Worthologist file cabinet is a treasure chest of such items– appraisal requests from our clients ranging from stuffed aardvarks to folk art zithers, all of which I’ll cover here in this column.

Our Client writes:
“I’ve inherited this table from a relative, at the moment it’s in storage so I don’t have access to it to provide measurements. I have been told it is mahogany and is probably very early Victorian. It looks to be in good condition and I would like to keep it, but have downsized to an apartment and do not have the room for it. It’s well over six feet long with all six leaves installed. I’d like to know what I really have before offering it for sale and what I could expect to get for it either at auction or from a dealer.”

My Response:
Your table is actually quarter sawn oak rather than mahogany, which gives away its true age. This table is in the “Empire Revival” style. The Empire Revival types made around 1895-1915 tend to be copies of later Empire furniture, notably “Pillar & Scroll” pieces from John Hall’s 1840 book entitled The Cabinet Maker’s Assistant. This book contained 198 plates of furniture designs, consisting of mainly single and double “C & S” shaped scrolls and simple pedestal columns. 

The original American Empire style had its roots in France, circa 1798, after Napoleon returned from his Egyptian campaign, bringing along with him archaeological artifacts collected in Egypt by scholars accompanying the campaign. These discoveries and artifacts became the fashion in Europe.  Stylistic features such as caryatids, scarabs, sphinxes and winged lions, mixed with architectural features from Ancient Greece and Rome, adorned everything from clocks to porcelain. 

The Empire Revival types were sometimes close copies in many ways, but were for the most part entirely factory made with machine cut joints. Instead of figured mahogany veneer over pine or basswood cases, chairs and cabinet pieces were mainly made of birch, gumwood or maple with deep red /brown mahogany dye stain. This particular dye, as many have found, is almost impossible to strip off. 

Some later Empire Revival furniture made at the turn of the 19th Century, like your table, were made of quarter sawn oak. These pieces were a mix of machine and hand carving, and were given a deep brown stain now often referred to as “Golden Oak.” In some cases the dark coloration was a result of actually fuming the oak with ammonia gas, which made the color penetrate into the top layer of the wood and enhanced the tiger stripe grain of the quarter sawn oak. 

The style last reached its peak of popularity during the 1990’s, but since then demand and values have taken a bit of a tumble. We have a number of comparable tables listed in our Worthopedia to give you an idea of current values at auction. The table pictured below sold for $495 in 2006.

This table, made of solid quarter sawn Tiger Oak, sold for $495 in 2006.

This table below sold for $500 in 2016.

This early 1900s Claw Leg table made by Hastings Table Company sold for $500 in 2016.

A dealer will offer pretty much the same amount for your table as it would go for at auction, a little more if the dealer already has a buyer.  I would price one like yours between $450.00- $600.00.


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 Antique-Appraise.com.

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