Q: I bought this chest at an estate sale. After some research, I discovered that the emblems are Imperial Russian double eagles. I haven’t been able to find any other information. Is the chest military? What era is it from? Is it rare? Any information will help.
A: Donning my mind reader’s hat as The Great Arnet, I intuit that this reader really hopes her buy makes up for missing out on the big Powerball. One can hope.
The chest or trunk seen in images measures roughly 30 inches by 17 inches by 16 inches. Made of wood, it’s covered with sheets of brass; the long panels are decorated with a double eagle design done in repousse.
Centuries old, repousse is a metalworking technique where parts of the design are raised by pushing the metal up from the back surface. The effect is high relief. Matter of fact, the oldest flatware pattern made in the U.S. is done in that manner and bears the name “Repousse.”
Smart collectors know that the heraldic image of a double-headed eagle predates the Byzantine Empire. Famously associated with the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs, it has been adopted by Russians and by just about every country or territory in proximity to Russia. Today, it still flies on flags and appears on coats of arms.
One cannot assume that the chest is automatically Russian because it’s decorated with double eagle crests.
Paul Pat Morse, of trunk.com, knows old trunks and chests. With Linda Edelstein, he has written several books; the newest, “Antique Trunks, Refinish, Repair, Restore: Revised and Expanded,” is available on the website. The pair also operates a trunk shop in New Hampshire where they specialize in restoration and replacement parts.
Looking over the images, Morse thinks the chest was made to be used as a wood box. The uncovered underside of the lid is tunneled with insect trails. Brass sheeting was probably intended as protection from varmints.
“My guess on the age is circa 1950-1960,” he added. Morse, who has worked on many immigrant trunks, notes that “My grandparents had a similar box with a much different design that was bought in the U.S.” He doubts that it was made for use in the military.
“The handles are a pretty cheap manufactured accessory, so my guess is also that it’s a production or semi-production piece,” said Morse. In other words, mass made.
Here’s a puzzle for you: Morse finds it interesting that the repousse and metal work are “quite good,” yet the maker used cheap handles.
Finally, he adds that the box must be seen for a more definitive opinion.
As for value, on worthpoint.com we found that a Russian dome top trunk circa 1900 with Cyrillic writing on the top and original paint intact in patches sold on eBay last year for $185. Character and age drove value.
Post Sandy, “Barclay Butera: Living on the Coast” (Gibbs Smith, $40) may not appeal as an imperative, but shore lovers will go for the views. Differing waterfront scenarios from cottages to classic coastal houses and modern cliff dwellings show the Butera touch in stunning photos. Of course, blue dominates, but examples show that a classic beach feel translates to any home.
Santa was not always the jolly roly-poly character loved by children today. That image dates from the 1930s, when artist Haddon Sundblom created the modern Santa for Coca-Cola ads. His images are still used today.
Before Sundblom, Santa’s image came from German immigrants who brought a tall, stern “Father Christmas” to this country in the late 1800s. Some of today’s most collected Santa images are of the thin, long-bearded Santa from that time. A tall, 22-inch, version with composition face and hands and a rabbit fur beard sold for $5,100 earlier this year at Morphy Auctions, Denver, Penn. Holding a basket of toys and a fir tree, the early Santa also holds an American flag.
Q: Which of these features add value to an old trunk?
A. A disappearing stay joining lid and side
B. A rare, fancy lock
C. An intact label
D. Victorian chromo prints inside
E. Drawers with original leather pulls
A: All but C. add value. There were so many trunk makers, all adding their label to products, that specific labels are preferred.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to email@example.com or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.