From the Worthologists’ File: Beautiful Baby Crib Circa 1830-1850

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.

A beautiful baby crib circa 1830-1850 found at a country farm sale.

The couple who purchased this piece found it at a country farm sale.  Little history came with it, but it was contemporary to the date the farm was first settled in the 1830’s. The crib’s style is based on American Empire, popular from 1814-40, but made well into the 1850’s in rural areas. These were nearly always made by local cabinetmakers, so unfortunately very few have any markings or stamps to indicate a maker or location or a provenance to help with identification.

This antique crib is made of pine, possibly with basswood as a secondary wood. Most pieces like this one look older than they really are, often being the work of rural cabinet makers circa 1830-1850. The construction technique used on this piece is called “”Mortise and Tenon,”  characterized by cross pieces held together with wooden pins that are driven through the leg sections top and bottom. Often no glue was used in this type of construction.

When first made, such pieces were generally brightly painted, with the painted finishes becoming rare, because most pieces became victims of the “”natural finish”” craze of the 1970’s and 80’s. Paint was used for ease of cleaning and to protect the piece from seasonal changes in heat and humidity that cause shrinkage and splitting in bare wood. Bare wood needs some sort of finish; even a coat of paste wax will offer some protection if applied twice a year. 

While most cradles and cribs of this type are now 150+ years old, and because they were made in considerable numbers, they are not considered rare. Values for examples that have been stripped are considerably less than those with their original finish intact. Currently a comparable piece would retail in the $150.00- $250.00 range, but often go at auctions for under $100.00.

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

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