Ask Antique Trader: Renaissance Revival server great for storage

Q This chest, buffet — whatever — was inherited from an elderly cousin. We know nothing about it and would surely appreciate any information you are able to come up with. It is really beautiful and in very good condition. – Shirley L. Smith, Branson West, Mo.

A These big walnut servers were popular in the late 19th century, often part of an entire suite of furniture that could include table, chairs and sideboards. Yours is in the Renaissance Revival style and has all the classic hallmarks of this design: It has a massive “broken” pediment with space for displaying objects on the top; carved human and animal heads applied to the front; drawer fronts decorated with “bosses” — a circular rounded projection or protuberance; and bale-handle pulls.Your server has the added detail of inset ceramic plaques depicting cherubs, swags and scrolls. These are similar to Wedgwood Jasperware, but are not by that firm, I believe.

Even though prices for such Continental furniture pieces have come down in recent years, these forms are still desirable today as storage units, and in good condition, your example is worth $2,000 to $3,000.

Q I would greatly appreciate any information on my 80-year-old air organ. – Peggy Latter, Canadian, Okla.

A Your beautiful old pump organ is typical of instruments produced around the turn of the 19th century and well into the 1920s.

Unless they have been severely damaged by water, mice or insects, they can be restored to perfect playing condition. Your appears to be in great shape, and if in good working order, would be valued at from $800 to $1,500. For more information about these fine old pieces, visit the Reed Organ Society’s Web site.

Founded in 1981, the Reed Organ Society is an international, non-profit organization devoted to the appreciation, study, collection, restoration and preservation of reed organs. Membership is open to anyone who is genuinely interested in reed organs. If you enjoy these organs and want to learn more about them, there is a place for you in the ROS; visit

Q I would like to know about a pair of lamps (one shown) that we bought at an estate sale about 15 years ago. The bases are 16 inches high and in perfect condition. We paid $80 for both. What can you tell me about them? – Alfred Zentgraf, Annapolis, Md.

A Although you did not indicate the material the figures are made of, they appear to be spelter, or pot metal, with painted highlights. Such figural lamps were popular in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Spelter is an alloy composed chiefly of zinc. It was often used as a cheaper substitute for bronze, principally in cast decorative pieces, and was often painted or patinated to simulate ivory or bronze. It is very soft and malleable, but when cast tends to be crystalline and brittle, and which when broken shows a granular, silvery fracture. In many cases it was copper-plated before any other finish such as gold plating was applied and therefore a worn piece may look coppery. It as quite fragile if thin and there is no really trusted method of repair. In some cases such as figurines, a filler such as plaster, may be added to give weight and strength. Spelter can often be detected by a scratch in an inconspicuous place, which will show a bright silver color.

I think your investment of $80 for the pair was a good one. With a fresh pair of shades in an appropriate pattern, I would value them at $400 for the pair.

Mark F. Moran is Senior Editor, Antiques and Collectibles Books, for Krause Publications, Iola, Wis., and has been a contributing editor for Antique Trader magazine. He has also served as editor of Antique Review East magazine; as producer of Atlantique City, and as editorial director of F+W Media’s Antiques Group. He is the author of more than 20 books on antiques and collectibles.

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