You've found an old cedar chest at a garage sale. You open the lid and remember spending the night at Grandma's, and the earthy scent of the blankets she pulled from the chest at the foot of your bed to keep you warm. She called hers a "hope chest" because that's where she stored the clothing and linens she collected in anticipation of her wedding day. Should you pay hundreds or even thousands to revive these memories? What's the antique-looking chest in your attic worth?
Of course, if you think there's any chance you may have a truly rare and valuable hope chest, you should show it to a qualified appraiser. There are plenty of vintage cedar chests available in the United States, and most can be bought or sold for less than a few hundred dollars. Like any collectible item, rarer cedar chests are more valuable.
Is it antique or just old?
Not everything you will find at Ye Olde Antique Shoppe is an actual antique. Some purists insist an article is only "antique" if it is more than 100 years old; some also require an antique be handmade. The term "vintage" is foggier still, roughly describing items between 30 and 100 years old. In any case, a cedar chest isn't antique because a dealer says it is, nor is it necessarily more valuable.
Age and manufacture
In general, cedar chests made before the turn of the 20th century are fairly rare and can fetch sums running into thousands of dollars. Many of these chests are handmade and reveal painstaking woodwork. Take a look at the trapezoidal cuts at the dovetail corner of a chest. Are they just a tiny bit uneven? Chances are they were hand-cut by a patient and skilled woodworker who devoted hours to the task.
Chests made in the 20th century, particularly those made in the U.S. by companies such as Lane Furniture or Ed. Roos, were made in significant quantities. In rarer styles, these cedar chests might be worth several hundred dollars; but most, even in good condition, sell for less than $300.
Not surprisingly, cedar chests in better original condition are worth more than shabby-looking pieces. On the other hand, some visible wear, called a "patina," can actually enhance a chest's value. If you're more concerned about value than appearance, don't refinish a cedar chest without first consulting an appraiser.
Style and features
The style, features and ornamentation of a hope chest can affect its value. Even size is a factor – the largest chests (called blanket chests) are worth slightly more. Richly featured hope chests with attractive hardware, inlays, or hand-carved ornaments can be more valuable than plainer items. Unusual chests, such as high-legged or multiple-drawer models, may also attract higher prices.
Bargains and treasures alike
There are many attractive older cedar chests and hope chests available. Truly antique cedar chests can be quite valuable, but a vintage cedar chest can economically add attractive and functional storage to any room.
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Caroline Folger is a freelance writer, specializing in furniture, particularly antiques. Further insights from Folger on the beauty and functionality of cedar chests can be found at CedarChests.com.
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