A price on priceless

A price on priceless
Published January 18, 2004


TAMPA – With their treasures protected by towels, bundled in bubble wrap and
covered with paper, they came wondering.

What’s it worth? When was it made? Is the family legend true?

They were all participants Saturday in the most recent Antique Evaluation,
hosted each month in the University of Tampa’s Plant Hall, adjacent to the
Henry B. Plant Museum.

Some went away disappointed.

Jeff Crawford came from Tarpon Springs with two small creamers that,
according to family members, had been used in the White House.

Not true, appraiser Ashby Moody assured them. More likely, they came from a

On the other hand, appraiser Jay Hunter Loiselle cooed over a Windsor chair
owned by Tori Johnston of Brandon.

“The form is terrific,” he said.

Johnston’s grandparents were antique collectors who bought the chair in the
1920s. It had been passed on to Johnston, and she wanted to know how much it
might be worth.

“I’d hate to keep it for 20 years and then find out it’s kindling,” she

Her Internet searches revealed that similar chairs were selling for more
than $30,000. Perhaps she was sitting on something just as valuable.

Loiselle examined the chair’s legs, ran a finger over its back, turned it
over and looked closely at the bottom of the seat.

“It’s a very fine chair,” he said.

The splayed legs, uneven number of spindles and well-defined turnings all
indicated it was an original Windsor dating from the mid 1700s. A repair
that looked like it was made in the 1840s knocked a bit off the chair’s

But the paint was the main problem. The characteristic green paint, where 95
percent of a Windsor chair’s value lies, was not original.

His final evaluation: about $1,500. Had the paint been original, he said, it
might have been worth $15,000.

Elsewhere, Rosalyn Gibbs of Tampa unrolled two large round pieces of
Hawaiian cloth. All Gibbs knew is that they were bought by family members
who lived in Hawaii in the early 1900s. She wanted to know more.

Fine art expert Frances Redell-White said she thinks the pieces are made of
bark and painted with vegetable pigments. But a primitive art expert at a
major auction house would have to provide details.

Shirley Mahler wanted an evaluation of a book about women’s fashion printed
in 1813 with hand-colored illustrations.

Part of the book’s worth was its 200-year-old social commentary, Loiselle
noted. It advised women to dress with “Taste and Judgment, Elegance and
Grace, Modesty, Simplicity and Economy.” A far cry from the counsel found in
Cosmopolitan magazine, Loiselle said.

Andy Bermejo brought photographs of his 1960s moped. Joan Schabacker was
curious about a 100-year-old battle ax that she saved from her neighbor’s

The museum has been hosting the evaluations for nearly 20 years, said
Cynthia Gandee, executive director of the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Participants pay $5 for each piece evaluated; appraisers judge large items
based on photographs. The event Saturday drew almost 90 people, and some
paid for multiple evaluations, Gandee said.

The money generated barely pays for the cost of running the event.

It does, however, raise awareness of the museum, Gandee said.

All participants get free passes to the museum, which houses European
furniture and art that were in the building when it was the Tampa Bay Hotel
in the late 1800s – a perfect fit for people interested in antiques.

“Everyone here is a potential supporter of the museum,” Gandee said.

Most of the people at Saturday’s event brought family heirlooms.

Evelyn Conti of Tampa discovered that a dozen or so English sterling silver
pieces that have been in her family for several generations are worth about
$700. More important, she learned that a serving spoon dated from 1810,
which offered insight into her family tree.

Margerita Schoenau of Brandon brought a violin that had belonged to her
grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Germany. She wondered
whether it would retain its value if she mounted it on a wall.

Loiselle figured it might be 80 to 100 years old and valued the instrument
at about $150.

“The fact that it descended in your family makes it valuable,” he told
Schoenau. “So put it out and enjoy it.”

(c) Copyright 2002-2004, St. Petersburg Times

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