A customer recently sent me these photos of a Chinese Noodle cabinet which they purchased from an estate auction. Their inquiry was pertaining to its age, value and authenticity. In other words, a quick antique appraisal. The question of course was the one I am asked most frequently which was “Is it old and is it valuable“
Is it really old?
The first question of “is it old” is quite easy to answer: Yes and No. Before going any further, take a moment to read a post from a while back entitled “Blurring the line further… How to tell if its a genuine antique?” which will explain just nicely the points to consider here. Finished yet? Ok, great – back to this item.
In this particular case, the actual cabinet itself is a very common tapered edge Chinese Noodle cabinet or “Mian tiao gui” since the shape of the cabinet itself or the hardware (depending on who you talk to) slightly resembles the shape of a noodle. With carved doors like this, it may be mistaken for a scholar cabinet. In un-restored form, a cabinet like this may be referred to by the workers as as a “la ji gui” which literally means “trash cabinet.”A Chinese country antique cabinet such as the one above, in un-restored form, built from common woods (value is often placed on exotic hardwoods), of a non-descript style and in poor condition will often hold minimal value on its own, with its true worth being essentially as parts and raw materials. From a materials cost perspective, a badly damaged cabinet will be cheaper to restore then to build new from scratch.
Here is a quick overview of what typically occurs:
- Take a fairly standard poor condition country antique cabinet ranging in age from 30 to 80 years old, which can be used for parts & materials
- Restore main structure, replacing damaged panels and other sections with replacement wood.
- Add in additional details to spice it up like carved panels.
- Add shelves and drawers for additional functionality (easier to sell)
- Add a new lacquered finish to cover inexpensive woods, repairs, etc.
- Use aging technique so item does not look “too new.”
- Add detailed gold “miao jin” painting for an additional touch.
- Install new hardware.
- Claim to customer it is Qing dynasty scholar cabinet, at least 150 years old and sell at a premium price.
Is it worth anything?
The answer is yes! However, maybe not for the reasons you might expect. Its worth something, because of the time and effort that an artisan put in hand-painting the gold trim and other details. Its worth something, every time someone visits your home and remarks what a beautiful cabinet it is. And its worth something, because you probably have a story about where and how you purchased it. So while it may not be worth an extreme amount in dollars, money is not the only value of worth. Its a beautiful piece and would look great in any home, and you never know – in 100 years down the road it just might be someone else’s genuine antique!