Q: I am trying to find information on this piece, which I recently inherited. I have looked on the internet and have gotten lots of suggestions, but I am looking for value and the actual identification of the piece. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
A: To identify a piece of furniture, you need a maker’s label or, at the very least, really strong stylistic clues that can narrow a piece down to a specific craftsman or factory.
Unfortunately, this lovely and attractive early-20th-century (circa 1910) curved glass china cabinet does not have strong clues. But it does have some echoes that can help us narrow down its origins. First, you need to examine the piece for a label. The one we are hoping you might find would read something like “R.J. Horner 61, 63, 69 W23rd Street N.Y.”
Finding such a label would boost the cabinet’s value significantly, but we do not think you will actually find it. Robert J. Horner established his furniture emporium on 23rd Street in Manhattan in 1886. He made and sold furniture to wealthy New Yorkers, but he did not ignore those of more moderate means. His advertising touted “first class and medium quality furniture.”
He was known for his quartersawn tiger oak that was lavishly decorated with extensive bands or areas of shallow carvings coupled with 3-D figures such as griffins, gargoyles, cherubs and mythological figures such as Atlas and caryatids. He was also known for using paw feet similar to the ones on the china cabinet in today’s question.
The china cabinet also has bands of shallow carvings at the top of the columns located on either side of the door, but they are rather subdued compared to most of the shallow carvings found on signed examples of Horner furniture. There are also roaring animal heads (possibly griffins) on the crest and on the column capitals, but these too are a little subdued and not as full-bodied as we might expect.
The crest has some rather restrained pierced tracery and a gadrooned sun crest that is very attractive, but again is a little less lavish than might be expected on Horner furniture. In summation, all we can say is in the absence of a label, the piece appears to be in the style of Horner’s furniture (probably from his medium-quality line), but it might be by another maker copying Horner’s successful style.
This is an above average curved glass china cabinet. If it is Horner, it was probably made after the 1904 fire that destroyed part of Horner’s furniture factory but before he moved to 36th Street in 1913. The dates also work if someone else was inspired by Horner and made the piece. At auction without a label the cabinet should sell in the $1,000 to $1,300 range and have an insurance replacement value of $2,000 to $2,500. A label would come close to doubling these figures.
Q: We have been cleaning out my parents’ house and have long wondered if this mahjong game chest is valuable. The pieces are ivory and once belonged to a great-uncle.
A: It is our belief they were not made from ivory, which may be a good thing because of a ban on the sale of many ivory objects in the United States.
The photographs we received were fine, but the issue of whether the pieces were made from a substance taken from an endangered species such as elephant ivory posed a real red flag issue. When we zoomed in on the images, we saw a scattering of tiny dark spots on the surface of the creamy colored substance that was thought to be ivory.
Ivory does not have these dark specks, but bone does. We are reasonably sure the tops of the mahjong tiles are bone, while the bottoms are bamboo. This is standard for mahjong sets of the 1920s and perhaps slightly beyond. We have no reason to suspect the grouping is different from other similar games.
If the tiles in the set had been made from ivory, we feel the box would have been much fancier, perhaps with foo dog handles, carved chinoiserie panels or perhaps sumptuous Chinese-style brass work. Such sets have sold for as much as $8,000 at auction. But the box in today’s question is not nearly this ornate or finely made.
Many versions of the game exist, but most of the ones found in the U.S. have 144 tiles. Check that the set is complete with this number, plus counters to keep score, dice, a marker to show who the dealer is and which round is being played.
At auction a set such as this one should sell in the $250 to $350 range if the set is complete and undamaged.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.