Antiques - Does it have to be brown?

PUBLISHED: 10:44 22 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:05 20 February 2013

Antiques - Does it have to be brown?

Antiques - Does it have to be brown?

Contrary to popular opinion brown furniture does sell, but it has to be good, says Gerry Berwyn-Jones.

Prices for brown furniture have fallen in recent years and the market is shallow that is, there are significantly fewer buyers bidding for them compared to 10 or 15 years ago. Buyers have become more discerning and are looking for pieces that are well designed, of good quality or by good makers.
This George III mahogany collectors cabinet (1 and 2) dates from around 1790, and has some super features, such as flame-figured panelled and beaded doors, its value may lie in its purpose, rather than its aesthetic appeal! It is estimated at 800-1,200, but it should make more.
The mid-Victorian walnut, specimen wood inlaid tripod table (3) is estimated at 300-500, much lower than it would have been in more buoyant times. This table is very similar to the work of Anton Seuffert (1815-1887), a cabinet maker who settled in Auckland in 1859 and was renowned for his specimen tables. Had there been a makers label verifying this link the estimate would be at least ten times greater, such is the demand for this makers work in his adopted country, New Zealand. In fact a similar table was sold in Bonhams library sale in 2007 for 10,000. Although unfashionable in form (overtly Victorian, unattributed works have foundered at auction in recent years) it is both useful and attractive and as a result a bidding war might ensue.
The coopered wine cooler (4) and the set of eight chairs (5) are good examples of provincial, brown wood cabinet making, dating to the reign of George III, made from mahogany and in reasonably good condition. They are expected to make 1,000-1,500 and 800-1,200 respectively. They would have made more 15 years ago, but we have noted a moderate recovery in articles such as these, since a year and a half ago.
Some so-called brown furniture still makes five and six figure sums, but obviously these are not provincial, anonymously made articles. Self-evidently none of the items discussed here are in that league, but even though these pieces are disparagingly labelled as brown furniture, there is still a discerning, traditional tranche of buyers out there. The question is will they contest for these lots or not? Perhaps we need to turn to that nebulous and somewhat capricious figure, lady luck, for an answer.

Gerry Berwyn-Jones BA (Hons) MRICS is a senior valuer and auctioneer for Bonhams International Auctioneers and can be contacted on 01564-732966 or e-mail


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