One of the fields of antiques and collectibles that took a nose dive in value during the latest economic downturn was what dealers call "brown furniture." That is, household furniture made from or finished to look like dark wood. The category has not bounced back to previous values and prices are still depressed.
There are exceptions, of course. And in today's What's It Worth? two readers inquire about their small tables, each of which runs contrary to the current market.
Q. We got this little table some time ago. It has a marble top and I first thought the wood was cherry. But an old label underneath says it is mahogany. It was purchased at a fundraiser at Washington State University and came from one of the school's oldest halls. It measures 42 inches across the top. Could you give me an idea of the value of this table? -- Louise in Kennewick
A. This would be "just a little coffee table," except for two things. It came from WSU and it has that special label.
Almost any item "deaccessioned" as excess from a college will have some collector interest. In this case, that interest would increase if we knew the name of that old hall.
But it is the little, worn label that gives Louise's table its real history and value. It is from a trade group called the Mahogany Association Inc.
Established in the 1930s, the association was a collective effort by American furniture manufacturers to inform the public about the quality of their mahogany products. There were two different labels -- blue and red.
The red labels were for furniture made of solid mahogany wood; the blue labels, as the association noted in trade publications of the era, were "For furniture, particularly case goods, in which mahogany lumber and mahogany plywood are used." Louise's table has the blue label.
The labeling system and an industrywide agreement on standards stemmed from the increasing use of "mahogany" from the Philippines.
Although it is called "Philippine mahogany," those woods from Southeast Asia bear no relation to "real" -- and very expensive -- mahogany from South America, Honduras, Cuba and West Africa. The labels were a way to inform the public, and to time protect member manufacturers from cheap, competing imports.
The labels were made so that, while you might be able to pry them off a piece of furniture, they couldn't be reattached to another item. The labels were used from 1936-69.
The number on this label -- 320 -- is a code for the manufacturer. While most of the American furniture makers of that era were in and around Grand Rapids, Mich., researchers have yet to match 320 with a specific maker.
The table appears to be in fairly good condition. Given the presence of the label and the WSU connection, we'd put it in the $200 to $250 range.
Q. In my mother's estate I found a little silverware table. It measures 36 inches side to side with leaves out, 18 inches wide for the silverware section and 17 inches high. I could find no markings. Thanks. -- Arlene in Prosser
A. What Arlene has is an unusual table, which does double duty as a silverware chest. These are uncommon.
It would be described as a "silverware chest small side table." Our research found only a few that had been sold at auction in recent years.
That does not, however, make the table rare or of exceptionally high value.
This is most likely an American piece, and like the other table in today's What's It Worth?, it probably was made in the mid-20th century in the Grand Rapids area.
There were hundreds of furniture makers in that area by 1900, because of a skilled labor force, access to raw materials and easy shipping.
While the bulk of American furniture production shifted to North Carolina in the 1960s, Grand Rapids is still known as "Furniture City." There are five major manufacturers of office furniture there today.
This table has some condition issues, with scratches and wear evident.
Both of today's tables are the kind of furniture that could be refinished without negatively impacting value.
This table would be estimated at $200 to $400 in a well-advertised auction.
-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.