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Antique Cedar Chests: The Beginners' Guide To Value And Identify Old Pieces – VIP Art Fair

Antique Cedar Chests: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying, Valuing and Cherishing These Timeless Treasures

As you browse an antique shop or estate sale, an intricately designed wooden chest catches your eye. Drawing closer, you detect the distinct aroma of cedar emanating from within. You may have just stumbled upon a true treasure – an antique cedar chest. More than just a beautiful piece of furniture, this chest tells a story steeped in history, craftsmanship and nostalgia.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll explore the rich origins of antique cedar chests, provide expert tips on identifying and valuing these pieces, and discover why they remain cherished heirlooms passed down through generations. So let‘s embark on a journey into the captivating world of antique cedar chests.

The Fascinating History of Cedar Chests
While wooden storage chests date back to ancient Egyptian times, the specific use of cedar wood surged in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries in America and Europe. Cedar‘s natural insect-repelling properties made it an ideal material for storing linens, clothing and other valuables. The distinctively sweet and woody scent of cedar also imparted a pleasant freshness to the contents.

But cedar chests took on even greater significance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as "hope chests" or "bride‘s chests." As a young woman approached marriageable age, she would begin filling a cedar chest with hand-stitched linens, heirloom quilts, and other domestic essentials in anticipation of beginning her new household. The cedar chest came to symbolize a bride‘s hopes and dreams for the future.

The craftsmanship of these antique cedar chests is truly remarkable. Prior to the rise of mass production, each chest was meticulously handcrafted by skilled artisans. Dovetail joints, hand-carved embellishments, and gleaming hardware all speak to the quality and care poured into each piece.

How to Identify an Authentic Antique Cedar Chest
With the popularity of cedar chests came an abundance of reproductions and knock-offs. To the untrained eye, distinguishing an authentic antique from a cleverly aged replica can prove challenging. Follow these expert tips to confidently assess any cedar chest you encounter:

  1. Manufacturer Marks: Many of the most renowned cedar chest manufacturers, such as the Lane Company, Cavalier, and Ed Roos, marked their pieces with a signature, logo or emblem. Typically located on the underside of the lid or on an interior panel, these marks provide valuable clues to a chest‘s origins.
    However, the absence of a mark doesn‘t necessarily indicate a fake, as some older handmade pieces pre-date the practice of manufacturer stamping.
  2. Wood and Construction: Examine the chest for consistency in the wood grain and color. Antique cedar chests are crafted from solid cedar, often with a distinct reddish hue. Mismatched wood pieces can signal a marriage of components from different chests.
    Pay special attention to the quality of the dovetail joints used to secure the corners. In antique pieces, these joints were cut by hand, resulting in a slightly uneven yet sturdy construction. Perfectly uniform machine-cut dovetails point to a later reproduction.
  3. Hardware and Hinges: The metal components of an antique cedar chest can reveal much about its age and authenticity. True antique hardware is typically made of solid brass or wrought iron, with a weighty feel and patina that comes with age. Lightweight, flimsy or brightly polished hardware suggests a reproduction.
  4. Patina and Wear: While a pristine finish may seem desirable, signs of wear are actually a good thing in the world of antiques. Look for a soft patina, minor scratches, worn edges and faded hardware. These are all indicators that a piece has stood the test of time. However, be wary of artificially distressed finishes that mimic age.
  5. Style and Ornamentation: Familiarize yourself with the key stylistic elements of different furniture periods. Traditional cedar chests from the early 20th century often feature panel construction and simple brass hardware. Art Deco pieces from the 1930s may boast geometric inlays, waterfall edges, and bakelite handles. Mid-century modern chests tend toward cleaner lines and tapered legs.

Valuing Your Antique Cedar Chest
Once you‘ve confirmed the authenticity of your cedar chest, you‘re likely curious about its value. Several key factors impact the appraisal of an antique chest:

  • Age: In general, the older the chest, the higher its value. Chests crafted in the 1920s-1930s often command top dollar due to the quality craftsmanship and solid cedar construction of that era.
  • Condition: As with any antique, condition plays a significant role in value. A chest with its original finish, hardware and minimal wear will fetch a higher price than one with broken hinges, deep scratches or signs of repair. However, some minor imperfections are expected in a true antique and can even add to its character and charm.
  • Rarity: Certain manufacturers, such as Lane and Cavalier, are highly sought after by collectors. Limited edition or uniquely designed chests may also command a premium.
  • Provenance: If you can trace the history of your cedar chest or tie it to a notable figure, that provenance can significantly boost its value.

In terms of hard numbers, antique cedar chests can range in value from around $200 for a simple, mass-produced piece to upwards of $2,000 for a rare, handcrafted gem. On average, a mid-range antique chest in good condition might sell for $500-$800.

Of course, the true value of an antique cedar chest often lies in its sentimental worth. These chests frequently become cherished family heirlooms, passed down through generations and filled with precious memories. The value of that legacy is truly priceless.

Caring For and Enjoying Your Antique Cedar Chest
Investing in an antique cedar chest is not only a nod to the past but also a gift to the future. By properly caring for your chest, you can ensure it remains a beloved fixture in your home for years to come.

First and foremost, address any safety concerns. Chests manufactured prior to 1987 were often equipped with locking mechanisms that could trap a child inside. Replacing the lock with a safer magnetic closure will provide peace of mind without impacting the chest‘s integrity.

To maintain the beauty of the cedar wood, regularly dust the exterior with a soft, dry cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that may damage the finish. If the cedar aroma inside the chest begins to fade, lightly sand the unfinished interior with fine grit sandpaper to release the natural oils.

While cedar chests were originally used for storing linens and clothing, there are endless ways to repurpose them in a modern home. Use your chest as a unique coffee table in the living room, a rustic toy box in a child‘s bedroom, or an eye-catching entryway piece to store hats and gloves. You could even transform it into a one-of-a-kind bathroom vanity or kitchen island with the addition of some plumbing or a countertop.

An antique cedar chest is more than just a practical storage solution; it‘s a tangible connection to the past and a conversation piece that sparks curiosity and nostalgia. Whether you use it to safeguard your most treasured heirlooms or simply admire its timeworn beauty, an antique cedar chest is a investment in history and craftsmanship that will be cherished for generations to come.

As we‘ve explored the rich history, identifying features, and value of antique cedar chests, I hope you‘ve gained a deeper appreciation for these remarkable pieces of functional art. From their humble beginnings as utilitarian storage to their symbolic role in marriage traditions, cedar chests have woven themselves into the fabric of our cultural heritage.

By arming yourself with the knowledge to confidently identify and assess an antique cedar chest, you can become a savvy collector and a proud preserver of these historical treasures. So next time you spot a cedar chest at an estate sale or antique market, take a closer look – you may just discover a timeless gem waiting to be cherished anew.