Q: I recently purchased this piece with its ratcheting arms because I thought it was unique. I have never seen anything like it before. I asked around at my local antiques shops, but no one seemed to know much about it. I have three questions. What is it called? How old is it? Is it worth reupholstering? Any information would be appreciated.
A: The word "unique" means one of a kind. This interesting convertible sofa is far from being that.
Many people would call the piece a train wreck because of its current condition. But it is really a potentially charming convertible sofa — we believe it is more of a love seat size — with ratcheting arms that adjust down to form a bed.
We have seen pieces a tad older described as being convertible fainting couches, but we think that is a touch too precious. The so-called Victorian "fainting couch" was nothing more than a daybed, and that is exactly what this was intended to be — sofa by day, bed for night — and in the afternoon perhaps a comfy place to take a nap.
These convertible pieces of furniture can be found as early as the American classic/Victorian transition period of the 1840s and '50s. Except at that time, the sofa tended to be full-sized, and the back released to come down and form a flat surface so the piece could be used as a bed for sleep.
The rather smallish piece in today's question might have been most useful in a small apartment when having a sofa that became a bed could be practical, if not terribly comfortable.
Your convertible sofa appears to be from the early years of the 20th century. We feel a circa 1905 date would probably be about right. Looking at the construction in the many pictures we were sent (thank you!) we wonder if the back was not designed to be removed as well.
The arms that ratchet down are an interesting modern innovation on the convertible sofa, but they do not greatly enhance the monetary value. Now let's get to the point and examine the actual monetary value. Earlier we called this a train wreck, and it is. The overall condition is unsightly with a leather covering (which looks like the original) being scuffed and scored, tattered and torn beyond redemption. Currently, the value is close to zero.
In addition, we see what may be either a replaced leg or missing veneer on a leg and feel restoring the piece will be a lot of work. But if you love it, you should give it a try with the understanding that when you are finished — and if you do an outstanding job — the convertible sofa will only be worth in the $175 to $250 range at most.
Q: We have two alabaster lamps on alabaster columns. They were purchased by our grandmother in Chicago in the 1940s. The question is: What might they be worth?
A: Your grandmother bought one visually spectacular lamp and another that is pretty darn good. When she purchased them, they were probably out of fashion — just used lamps that were probably less than 20 years old. But almost 80 years later, the world is a different place, and we can only call her a really good shopper!
We should probably break the bad news before we get too far along. In this case, the two columns or pedestals on which the lamps reside are not original. The larger lamp has an oddly shaped base that does not fit the top of its pedestal. The smaller lamp does not integrate well with its column, either.
This means both were originally designed to be table and not floor lamps. And alabaster floor lamps are much more valuable than their table lamp cousins. Still, with the smaller "Rebecca at the Well" lamp standing 31 inches tall and the turbaned lady 46 inches tall, they are good substantial alabaster lamps, and both make a design statement.
Alabaster is a soft and easily carved mineral of which there are two types. The first is fine-grained gypsum, while the second is a fine-grained banded calcite. The gypsum is so soft it can be scratched with a fingernail, but the calcite is a bit harder (a 3 on the Mohs scale) and requires tools to carve it.
Both minerals are slightly water-soluble, so care should be taken. We believe the lamps are probably of the calcite variety and that they were probably carved in Italy after the end of World War I, say circa 1925 (Florence is a likely location).
It would enhance their monetary value if they were signed by the artist, but you did not report a signature and we did not see one in the photographs.
The second lamp depicts a woman with a pitcher held high on her shoulders and is very much in the "Rebecca at the Well" style. If it is in perfect condition, the lamp itself should be valued for insurance purposes in the $1,800 to $2,500 range. The column pedestal adds another $250 to $350.
The lamp pictured with this letter is 46 inches tall. The shade is beautifully detailed around the edge, and the dome is etched with an attractive band of leaf designs.
The lamp should be valued for insurance purposes in the $3,500 to $4,000 range and again, the pedestal adds another $250 to $350.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.