A chest of drawers - once part of an elegantly handcrafted highboy.Thank you for sending me an image of your chest of drawers. It is a nice piece and tells an interesting story. Originally made as the upper section for a high chest or highboy, this piece would have had a crown moulding and would have been raised on a lower section typically with cabriole legs and fitted with drawers.Your piece was made in the 18th century in New England and is beautifully constructed. Evidence shows that the hardware is replaced, as easily seen by the shadow of a previous knob and drilled hole in the drawer front. The top board was added when the crown moulding was removed. In addition, bun feet and casters were added because this was the top of another piece of furniture which would have been set into a raised base.Your chest bears a graphite inscription on the center drawer: FH Waters / Manchester NH 2/26 1927. I would assume this was the cabinetmaker who adapted your piece. The highboy was one of the prized pieces of furniture in a household. When an estate was being settled, often one sibling would take the upper section and fashion it into a chest (as was done to yours) and another sibling would take the lower section and add a top board to turn it into a serving piece for the dining room. The upper and lower cases of different highboys are often put together. An assembled highboy of mismatched sections is called a "married" piece of furniture. Some of these marriages can be quite good and difficult to spot without taking the piece apart. As this was such a common practice, when one is looking at a highboy today it is important to look for consistency of construction, tool marks, secondary woods and finish to make certain that the upper and lower cases started out together. This greatly affects the value of a piece.A married highboy can be purchased for far less than one that is original. One could also imagine that since highboys can be quite costly (tens of thousands of dollars, with the rarest surpassing one million dollars) that there are many fakes out there. Make certain that you are buying a highboy from a reputable dealer.I would value your piece at $1,600.
This article appears in the March 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine