A recent sale at Christie’s of New York, titled: “A Trumbauer Estate on The Philadelphia Main Line,” saw an Italian Giltwood table sell for $116,500 (£70,300) against an upper estimate of $60,000 (£36,000.) Several antique chests (called commodes) also realised high prices, one fine marquetry example achieving $35,000 (£21,100).
To collectors in Lancashire, antique chests and commodes appear to be very much the same thing. So what, exactly, is the difference between the two? And how does it affect the value at auction?
At a provincial auction in Cumbria, a single Victorian balloon back dining chair will probably be of more interest than the commode standing next to it, since for many people the word has slightly unsavoury connotations. Indeed, by the Victorian period many commodes were being used to house chamber pots; from these, the purpose-built item of “toilet furniture” evolved. However, the word, which derives from the French for “accommodating” or “convenient,” was originally applied to any low unglazed cabinet or chest-of drawers, which had both a decorative and functional use. All the commodes at the Christie’s sale were of 18th century European origin – and none housed a chamber pot!
If you have an antique chest-of-drawers in your Cumbrian home, no more than waist height and of French Rococo (or Rococo Revival) design, then it’s safe to assume it’s a commode. In an auction catalogue, it may well attract attention, though a plainer antique chest-of-drawers, with good provenance, may still sell for more.
If you need advice on buying or selling antique chests, a good Preston antique dealer can help.