They didn't mention Claire's last name for the obvious reason; some thug might break into her house. Chubb's Antiques Roadshow airs weekly on PBS. It's one of the most entertaining and enlightening programs on television and required viewing of any serious antiques dealer, collector, or treasure hunter. Seeing an ad, Claire transported her antique "card table" to a New Jersey coliseum where the Road-show offered free appraisals She looks about 60, and sported an outfit that was more probably purchased at J.C. Penney than Saks Fifth Avenue.
Card tables became popular in America during the late stages of the 18th century when the country became affluent and could afford time for games. Most card tables have a two-leaf fold-over top with a conforming skirt and four legs; the right rear one swinging on a pivoted bracket to support the fold over leaf when the table is opened.
Claire and her card table were greeted by two regulars on the Road-show; tall, lean, blonde, very polite identical twins known in the industry as the Keno brothers. Only in their thirties, Leslie and Lee Keno, who have been antique dealing since they were toddlers, are regarded amongst the country's premier antique furniture scholars.
"Can you tell me a little about how you came across this table?" Leslie said.
"I bought it at garage sale, about thirty years ago," Claire said. "It was pitch black, a moldy mess. The lady was asking $30. I only had $25."
"You got her down to $25!" Leslie said, laughing.
Lee Keno examined the table. "For most pieces from the Federal Period (1785-1830) we make attributions on the basis of inlay, style, and hidden "secondary woods" like backboards," he said. "On your particular table you're very fortunate to have the actual label of "John Seymour and Son, Creek Square, Boston," which is where they worked. It's extraordinary because it's so rare to find labeled pieces. What you brought here today is a Federal, inlaid, mahogany, demilune card table made by one of the most distinguished cabinet-making shops in history."
Taking turns, the other twin added, "Everything about this table, even if it didn't have a label, says John and Thomas Seymour. The quality is incredible. The top has inlaid egg and dot decoration which was colored with hot sand to give it a three dimensional effect. The side has figured satinwood inlay and a typical Seymour "coved" edge. Incredibly, the legs have graduated bellflower inlay tapering down to the "spade" feet. Did you try to clean this table at any point?"
"I didn't refinish it!" Claire protested. "I just wiped it off!"
The twins assure Claire that she did the right thing. The old dirty surface adds much value.
"When we saw you walk in with this table my heart started beating like this," Lee said, thumping his chest with his fist. Leslie began thumping his chest too. "It's one of the most exciting moments we've ever had!" they said.
I traveled with my mom down to New York last week to see how the principals of this story made out. Lee sold almost every piece in his booth at the prestigious East House Settlement Winter Antiques Show, including a reported 4 million dollar tea table. Leslie, who works at Sotheby's, had a boomer auction including Claire's table that he landed on consignment. And Claire, her $25 garage sale discovery was hammered-out for a staggering $541,000! Way to go Claire!