This Old Thing: family heirloom an exceptional piece of furniture

Q: This dresser belonged to my great-great-grandparents from Markham, Ontario. Her maiden name was Barkey, and her brother made the cabinet and gave it to them as a wedding present in 1854. It came to me from the family. It measures 223 high and 147 cm wide at the top (88 x 58 inches). Everything is original – glass, stain, interior paint and buttons. I wonder about the value of today, even if I have no intention of parting with this family heirloom. Thank you for your expert opinion. Truly,

A: Your flat wall cabinet has a fantastic provenance. The Markham area was one of three areas in southern Ontario settled by Germans from Pennsylvania in the 19th century. The furniture styles they produced are revered to this day. Typical of their styles, this cabinet has exceptionally well-balanced proportions stemming from the pie counter shelf space and the large overhanging cornice (top molding). The graining is superb, mimicking figured mahogany – a trait of the Barkey family of cabinetry. The spoon holders (notches cut out to hang the spoons on the front edge of the shelf) are a first feature. I suspect it’s pine – a wood that was invariably stained or grain painted – never with a natural finish. Overall condition is beautiful with expected wear that adds character. It would be worth taking a look – inside and out – for a pencil signature that would increase its value. Exceptional pieces of furniture like this are always in high demand. It is worth $6,500.

Q: I recently picked up this “golden compass” at an estate sale. It is made of solid brass with a diameter of approximately 6.4 cm (2.5 inches). The center arm folds flat, so you can put the lid on and slip it into your pocket. There is no marking that I can find.

A: Your pocket sundial was the “timepiece of choice” over watches for those who could afford it during the first half of the 1800s. The underlying compass helped the user align the sundial to cast the appropriate shadow. Sundials, dating from the BC era, predate clocks and watches, which explains the reliance on them until the 20th century. Quality, workmanship and design dictate value, and named examples are worth more than unnamed ones. This circa 1840 brass example is worth $350.

Q: This painting was given to my father-in-law’s father as an act of kindness by providing a hot meal at his home for the artist who was “broken” in the 1930s. I received it in 1970 and I Have had it professionally glued and framed under museum quality glass to keep it in good condition. The image measures 30.5 x 25 cm (12 x 10 inches). I want to pass it on to my son and family to enjoy, with as much background information as possible. Thank you.

A Your difficult artist name – listed with no fewer than four spelling variations – is John Henry de Rinzy (1852-1936). He is listed as a painter in the Ottawa area for a period of 40 years, beginning around 1874. His watercolors captured genre activities in Canada such as Aboriginal canoeing, horses hauling logs in winter, and peaceful landscapes such as your view of the lake through the birch trees. This is a perfectly executed example that teleports the viewer to the moment of the situation. Your restorative care will pay off by preserving this piece. There are few recordings of his work sold in recent years. It’s a good sample of the Canadian art repertoire worth $250.

John Sewell is an appraiser of antiques and works of art. To submit an article to his column, go to the ‘Contact John’ page at Please measure your part, say when and how you got it, what you paid for, and list all identifying marks. A high resolution jpeg photo must also be included. (Only email submissions are accepted.)* Appraisal values ​​are estimates only.*

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