Monday, September 27, 2010

Chippendale Bookcase, c. 1765, Estimated at $700K-$1M

by Stephen J. Gertz

The Messer Chippendale Secretaire Library Bookcase
99 in. (251.5 cm) high; 79 in. (199.5 cm) wide; 24 1/2 in. (162.5 cm) deep.
Need bookshelf space but Ikea won't cut it? Want to move up into shelving that makes a statement, as in, Lottery Winner!?

In New York, on October 21, 2010, Christies is offering the Samuel Messer Chippendale Secretaire Library Bookcase, a George III ebony-inlaid mahogany art cabinet attributed to Thomas Chippendale, c. 1765, as part of its 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe sale.

Christies, which originally sold the piece as part of its Messer Collection of English Furniture sale in 1991, estimates it will sell for $700,000 to $1,000,000.

"Of stepped breakfront outline, the central section with imbricated and ebony-veneered swan's neck cresting centered by a platform over a fiddleback mahogany cross-grained frieze, the central door with glazing bars centered by a foliate C-scroll cartouche suspended from husk chairs and within an arch and lozenge tablets, the side sections with pierced hexagon-pattern galleries and later draped urn ebony-inlaid finials over glazed doors of a similar arched and lozenge design headed by a clasp, the three doors enclosing mahogany-fronted shelves, the base with a secretaire drawer fitted with a baize-lined double ratchet easel and two mahogany-lined side drawers (one divided) over three long drawers all mounted with original foliate-cast gilt-lacquered handles, flanked by a pair of cut-corner cupboard doors, the whole inlaid in ebony with stylized foliate scrolls, and broad lines in geometric patterns of cut-corner and circular panels, with ebonized-molded base, the hinges of top drawer stamped H. TIBATS, and labeled G. JETLEY/24, BRUTON ST. BERKELEY SQ. WI, the central platform support and finials later, the underside of plinth with yellow wash over an apparently original red wash" (From Christies' catalog description).

And, unlike Ikea book shelves, no assembly required.

(That catalog note is one of the most  objectively observed, keenly articulate, yet lyrical descriptions that I have read in quite a while. The prose sings, the report enchants,  by the end you're in a trance).

The volumes that could have filled this bookcase in 1765 may likely have included books that were issued in that year, first editions new then but rare books now:

• Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Stern  (vols. 7 and 8).
• The Fool of Quality by Henry Brooke.
• Works of William Collins.
• The Works of Ossian (James Macpherson).
• Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone.
• A Complete History of England by Thomas Smollett.
• An Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life by  Joseph Priestley.
• Essays by Oliver Goldsmith.
• The Plays of William Shakespeare, edited by Samuel Johnson.
• A Review of Doctor Johnson's New Edition of Shakespeare by William Kenrick.

But I like to think that the very wealthy gentleman of the Age of Enlightenment who originally bought it was one with an interest in Shakespeare and also owned a First Folio, and a Gutenberg. He had an interest in science and so possessed first  editions of  Copernicus, Galileo. and other greats. Early printing fascinated him; he had an eye for incunabula.

If those books come with the bookcase at the Christies sale bump up the estimate a few million or so.

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