The Prized Highboy
Two pieces that are "married"
Your fantastic desk tells an interesting story particularly with the documented provenance back to 1863. Made of maple and pine, the design of its shaped apron and finial drops (probable replacements) give it a Massachusetts origin, made circa 1770.
At one time, your desk was probably much taller and not a desk at all! I believe that it was originally a high chest of drawers, also called a highboy, a prized possession in any 18th century home. These chests were made in two sections: the upper case with typically four or five drawers and a lower section with drawers and a decorative apron, all raised on shaped legs. The highboy is considered one of the ultimate pieces of early American furniture.
Because they were prized possessions, when an estate was settled often the upper section was given to one member of the family and the lower section to another family member. Typically, the upper chest was given new feet and turned into a tall chest while the lower was given a flat top and turned into a server. As result, both recipients had functional furniture. For many years, antique dealers would put together these separated highboys to make them look original. They would refinish them and change moldings as well as hardware to make the piece look like it was always together without the large price tag. A highboy consisting of different sections is called “married.”
Today, people are once again recognizing the value and importance of collecting and living with antiques. In addition to the historical context, antiques are beautifully made and affordable. I just sold a restored 18th century chest of drawers for $600 to a customer that never thought they could afford an antique. As we finished loading the chest into their car they commented, “I almost bought something new that was only half made of wood for twice as much!”
I have seen desks of your type from the Queen Anne period, but not one converted from the base of a high boy. I am convinced of this because of its proportions and cut off pad feet. Your desk has been crafted by a skilled cabinetmaker from the 19th century before your great grandfather purchased it in 1863.
As your piece has been adapted and no longer has its feet, I would value it at $1,450.