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Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

As technology evolves, so does furniture

  • This English William IV desk cost only $984 at a New Orleans Auction Galleries sale. That’s much less than a new desk of the same quality. The a...

    Cowles Syndicate Inc.

    This English William IV desk cost only $984 at a New Orleans Auction Galleries sale. That’s much less than a new desk of the same quality. The antique desk, made of solid mahogany in about 1830, has two shelves and 15 drawers.

Technology has changed the furniture we live with. Tables and desks had to change to accommodate modern, large and often clumsy electronics.
At first a radio or radio-phonograph combination was kept in a cabinet that resembled a piece of early William and Mary furniture.
It was a boxlike two-door cabinet with long legs. The radio and phonograph were hidden behind the doors. Television sets required a rearrangement of chairs.
The first sets were small and sat on a table. The screen was so tiny it required a magnifying-glass insert so more than one person could see the picture.
When screens got larger, the TV set sat on the floor in a corner and chairs were arranged so the screen was easy for all to see.
Soon, televisions were sold in attractive cabinets in reproduction furniture styles. Only the daring in the 1950s were buying modern furniture and leaving the television in plain view.
Today's television is thin and often hangs on a wall. Through the years, desks have changed, too. Early desks had myriad drawers, shelves and doors so they could be used like a filing cabinet.
The famous and very large Wooten desk was made with doors that could be locked. Computers made 18th- and 19th-century desks obsolete.
Early personal computers had large boxlike monitors and separate keyboards that had to be at “writing” height. The “brains” (CPU) usually were kept on the floor nearby. Useful, but not attractive.
As computers grew smaller, screens grew flatter. Now a laptop or tablet can be kept on any shelf or table and blend in with any furniture style.
Although prices for early desks have fallen, they still sell to those who like a period look. Exotic woods, marquetry, brass or gold trim, and carvings make an antique desk an attractive addition to a room, but not a great spot for a computer.
Today average wooden desks from the past two centuries are a bargain, often selling for $300 to $1,000, much less than many new modern desks. And an antique desk is always in good taste.

Q: Back in the late 1980s, I bought an oak roll-top desk from someone who had owned it for years. On one side of the desk there's a bronze plaque that reads “Oak Creek by Riverside.” Please tell me about the desk and if it has any value.
A: Riverside Furniture Corp., based in Fort Smith, Ark., was founded in 1946 and is still in business. So your desk, in Riverside's Oak Creek line, is not an antique.
But Oak Creek is not among the furniture lines the company still is manufacturing. Reproduction roll-top desks of solid oak, like yours, sell for $250 to $650, depending on style and condition.

Q: What is pearlash? I have a cookbook from the 1840s and many of the cake and cookie recipes call for pearlash.
A: Pearlash (purlash) was a lye-based chemical used in baking from about 1789 to 1840.
A cook added pearlash and an acid like citrus to dough so that when it started to cook it released carbon dioxide, which made bubbles in the dough. It was replaced in our century by baking powder.

Q: I have an unopened 18-ounce beer bottle shaped like a baseball bat. The glass looks like it's wood-grained and the “handle” is painted to look like it's taped. It has the “A. Coors” signature and is labeled “Coors Light” and “The silver bullet.” What would six of these be worth?
A: Baseball bat bottles were a big hit when they were introduced by Coors in 1996. The limited-edition bottles of Coors and Coors Light were first sold on March 1 at a Colorado Rockies exhibition game held at the team's spring-training facility at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz.
The bottles sold out quickly in the Tucson area because would-be collectors thought distribution would be limited to their area.
But Coors introduced a “Signature Series” of baseball bat-shaped bottles in 1997. Each bottle featured an autograph of either Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson or Willie Mays, Major League players who had hit more than 500 home runs.
State laws govern the sale of beer, and you can't sell full bottles without a license.
Empty baseball bat bottles sell for a dollar or two.
Write to Kovels, (The Herald), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
© 2014 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.
On the block
Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
Silver-plated gravy ladle, Daffodil pattern, Rogers, 1950, 6 ¼ inches, $40.
Hummel figurine, “Puppy Love,” boy playing violin, puppy, stylized bee mark, 1960s, 5 inches, $45.
Oscar de la Renta suit, brown tweed, double-breasted, women's size 14, $85.
Pressed glass castor set, Daisy & Button pattern, cruet, mustard, shaker, clear, amber, c. 1890, 8 inches, $125.
Milk glass mug, man, flower, enamel design, Stiegel type, c. 1850, 6 inches, $180.
Carved wood figure, night watchman, Black Forest, Germany, 1900s, 21 inches, $280.
Windsor chaise longue, mixed woods, continuous arms, turned legs, 19th century, 36 x 54 inches, $295.
Toy train box car, A.T. & S.F., pressed steel, orange, Smith Miller, 33 inches, pair, $425.
Scrimshaw cane, whale-bone clenched-fist handle, 31 ½ inches, $770.
Shirley Temple movie poster, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” 20th Century Fox, 1938, 27 x 41 inches, $810.

Story tags » Antiques

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