How much are antique armoires worth?
What is the history of cabinetry?
Cabinetry has a rich history and contains a variety of styles and purposes. The term “cabinet” is derived from the French “cabin,” meaning a room or chamber. The -et suffix means “small.”
Around the world, cultures have developed different designs and methods of cabinetmaking. In China, for hundreds of years, wooden cabinets have been built without nails or glue. Craftsmen used perfectly shaped wooden joinery to fit pieces together. Heavily lacquered surfaces and inlay work with mother of pearl are some design themes in traditional Chinese cabinetry.
Cabinetmaking became a significant artform in Europe in the 17th century. Furniture designers published catalogues of different cabinet styles and options. Since these pieces were all handmade, however, they were unaffordable for most. After industrialization, cabinets became more accessible and styles changed to fit each era.
What are the different types of antique cabinets and armoires?
There are many styles of armoires and cabinets, made to fit different purposes and spaces. These are some of the most important categories to know:
Bow Front: A bow front cabinet is one of the oldest styles available. The front of the cabinet is convexly shaped, forming a curved surface. Many bow front cabinets have glass doors to display items, often fine China or figurines. Some have glass display doors at the top and cabinet drawers beneath.
Cocktail: This type of antique cabinet is for keeping glasses and bottles. They often have glass doors, so that the contents are visible. Many have pull-out surfaces for mixing drinks.
Cellarette: This kind of cabinet is related to the cocktail cabinet in that it is made to store bottles of alcohol, but not for display. Rather, this cabinet is smaller, waist-height, and usually can be locked. It was used for storing and securing alcohol in homes and taverns. Some were lined with metal to protect the wood and keep the contents cold. Some had handles and were portable, while others had a shelf that could slide out for serving. They appeared in Europe in the 15th century. In the US, they became popular during the 1800s. Many were designed to be inconspicuous or disguised as other types of furniture, even bookshelves. This trompe-l'œil (“fool the eye”) technique became even more widespread during the era of Prohibition in the early 20th century.
Corner: This kind of cabinet is shaped into a 90 degree angle to fit into a corner. They can come in many shapes and heights.
Display: Display cabinets are one of the most common types of antique cabinets available. They have glass doors that allow one to view the contents.
Filing: These cabinets are fitted with large deep drawers. They have a block shape and can be two drawers or more. These types of cabinets were used for organizing and storing papers. Many libraries used cabinets like these to hold card catalogues.
Nightstand: These are small cabinets made to sit beside a bed. Often they come in pairs: one for each side of the bed.
Wedding: These cabinets are a Chinese tradition. They were given to brides as part of a dowry. Room-height with two doors, they could store clothes and valuables. The exterior of a wedding cabinet, when closed, features a large brass circular plaque and two handles. Usually, they are finished in red, the traditional color for celebrations and prosperity in China.
How are antique armoires valued?
An armoire's value is affected by several factors. The condition is very important. Surfaces and finishes should be free of damage like stains and fading from the sun. Wood should be free of warping and cracking from humidity and temperature fluctuations. If repairs have been done, they should be in line with the original design of the piece, and using consistent materials. Missing parts or broken pieces will detract from the value of a piece. Mechanical details such as hinges or drawer shafts should be in good working condition.
Rarity affects the value of an armoire. Cabinets by well-known manufacturers and from early historical periods are more collectible.
The materials used will also affect the price of the armoire. High quality hardwoods like mahogany, oak, maple, teak, and walnut add value to the piece.
What are the most expensive armoires?
Some of the most expensive cabinetry is connected to famous designers. Perhaps the best known early cabinet maker was André-Charles Boulle. Working in France in the 17th-18th centuries, his style of furniture was very influential, and became known as “Boulle work.” His cabinetry was known for its combination of curved surfaces, dark wood, and bright gold detailing. One of his major contributions to furniture design was the way he used marquetry, or inlay work. His pieces today sit in the Palace of Versailles and Windsor Castle, among other places. A pair of Boulle-made cabinets adorned with gilt figures of Socrates and Aspasia sold for $2,115,025 at Christie’s in 2008.
In more modern cabinetry, an unusual wedding cabinet painted by the artist Li Shan sold for $28,125 in 2011. The original cabinet is traditional red, but the artist painted a large portrait of Mao Zedong on the front.