Antique Journal: The Gentleman’s Chest
While we have seen many Gentleman’s Chests in our search for antiques, we haven’t seen one quite like this before. It looks like it might have been a special order build for someone. “It’s different—too small for a wardrobe, but it has a lot of extras, and it’s too new for the era that it is styled from,” explained Hunter Elam, our antique expert. “It doesn’t show the signs of quite the age of an Empire piece—the drawers are dovetailed, but not wood pegged, which it would have been had it been from the correct decade—and the hardware is not the correct age.” It doesn’t show signs of being ‘redone’ other than one door that was almost off when Elam found it; he repaired the minor damage. “We all kind of understand that with a really good piece, you know you need to use the best replacement parts to preserve the integrity of the piece.”
“Someone certainly loved the Empire style (1800-1815). This chest is old, but not that old, and it would have been a relatively expensive piece of furniture to have been made around the turn of the 20th Century or perhaps just a little later. They had the money to pay for beautiful burled wood doors, empire legs, and extra design elements that make it unique. Because it’s not a mass-produced piece, there may not be another exactly like it; I’ve not seen one quite like it,” finished Elam.
The piece has its drawers for socks, ties, and undergarments, but it also has a pull-out writing surface with a space for a pen, and it still has an intact glass inkwell attached. The mirror slides out to be used for shaving—it’s angled just right to fit someone’s height of 5’5” to a little over 6’. All of the drawers and small doors are on the right side. Then the unusual happens: the left side is open for clothing as a wardrobe and has brackets and hooks for canes, walking sticks, ties, and umbrellas. “Walking sticks were really popular for young men at the time,” Elam added. “It has spaces for the bottom of the cane to rest and has several spaces for them.”
Elam plans on keeping the integrity of the piece. He is using it in the dining room for placemats, glasses, etc., that he doesn’t use every day. And the piece is very heavy, so he’s not planning on moving it much. “It takes 4 big guys to move this thing!”
Hunter has been working in antiques since he was in middle school. “My mom had a booth down in Memphis, and I remember helping her restock.” Elam spent 10 years in New York and would send pieces to his parents, Mary Gail and Bill Elam. His parents have at least 25 years working with antiques.
“These sort of antique pieces are dying every day. We need to learn and understand the value of the furniture...of the time, labor, and love that has gone into making the pieces.” Elam elaborated, “I love the search, the find, digging through what other people don’t see as treasures and preserving something… and I love it when someone appreciates what it is as much, if not more than I do. I love bringing it back to life and letting others appreciate it!” Elam had a shop, Grain Antiques, on the Covington Square for seven years.