Antique dresser

Our antiques expert values an ornate sideboard

by Allan Blackburn

Dear Allan,
This lovely dresser/sideboard was passed on to us from an elderly relative. As far as I know she was married in 1910 and whether it was new then or bought second hand we do not know. It is very dark wood and polishes up beautifully. The mirrors are in perfect condition but there is slight damage to one of the side panels of the cupboard doors. It is a straight split could easily be mended. No one notices it unless told. An expert like yourself would see it straight away. We have had it now for nearly 30 years and would appreciate your comments on it.

Yours sincerely,
Mrs G Simmonds, Wakefield

Thank you for sending this in. Huge sideboards like this one, along with dressers were once the most coveted and sought-after pieces of furniture. These one-time necessities of 19th century cottages were the forerunner of the kitchen cabinet we now have, and were used in the kitchen or the dining room.

Sideboards first began to appear in homes during the Regency period in the early 1800s. These early sideboards, or ‘sideboard tables’ as they were called, were not the massive, clumsy sideboards of the Victorians, but tables with drawers. They were used to either display the family silver or as an extra surface to put dishes on, while the meal was in progress. The earliest sideboard tables had a brass rail with a hanging curtain at the back to protect the walls from splashing. This curtain was later replaced by a wooden backing board. Regency sideboards were usually made of mahogany, but sometimes and more fashionably of rosewood.

For the Victorians, the sideboard was a prestigious piece of furniture. They were symbols of status and so were often very big and heavy as well as being ornate and richly polished. Made of oak or mahogany, they aimed to impress.

Your sideboard is made of mahogany. Mahogany was the most popular choice in the fashionable cities. In the provinces, this type of furniture would probably have been made of oak. Walnut was largely reserved for bedrooms and pine was for servants!

Mahogany continued to be popular in wealthier houses, so your gorgeous piece would have only been seen in upper class homes and would have had a high value.

The mirrored back sideboard was popular with the late Victorians and was an essential piece of furniture in Victorian households. Nowadays, we think of a sideboard as somewhere to store our papers and display ornaments, but in Victorian days they had a much more utilitarian purpose.

They were used for putting their breakfast on! Under a series of metal cloches, different breakfast items would be displayed and the family could come and chose what they wanted to eat from there. A bit like a mini buffet! Under one cloche would be the bacon, under another some sausage and under another eggs.

Much Victorian furniture is lambasted for its ugliness – bulky and over-decorated; it typically looks out of place in our modern homes and this isn’t good news.

Your sideboard is huge and as it’s so tall your market is restricted to people living in older houses, with higher ceilings and generally more space. Modern houses are smaller and space for growing families is tight. Ten years ago big pieces of second hand furniture like this (along with dressers and washstands) were extremely popular and would sell in the centre as soon we got them in stock. We would value them for insurance purposes for at least several hundred pounds. Ten years ago I would have happily have parted with about £600 – £700 for something like this. However, nowadays we are finding it increasingly difficult to sell them. New houses just can’t give a cumbersome piece of furniture the space it deserves (no matter how beautiful it is). Unless it’s something really special, rare or old, there’s no huge value in them. People are buying more disposable furniture than ever before and we can only hope that over the next few years, things turn around and tastes and buying habits change.

Your sideboard is really lovely, the carving is ornate and decorative and that helps hold its value. For insurance purposes I would value this at between £150 – £200.