Back into the Fold: A Tudor coffer nearly returns home

It’s nice when things circle back to you – a bit like a fleeting glimpse of an old friend in a crowd. It happened to us last week, when this image arrived in our mailbox from a long-time client. You don’t forget an old friend as good looking as that.

smlf-1In her email she wrote, “I saw this chest searching GOOGLE, saw that it went last year 2017 at Case Auction in TN………Gives YOU as the original seller…………ANY chance you know what happened to this chest?  WOULD LOVE to enquire IF it could possibly be for sale.”

I told her that we had bought the c. 1565 coffer about 20 years ago in England and sold it almost instantly to a couple in Tennessee.  Some years later, I can’t remember exactly when, they asked me to come down and appraise their collection, which gave me the chance to renew my friendship with the coffer (and with them.) Incidentally, they gave me my first ride in a Prius – the total silence of the engine was weird!

Then last year, the husband died, the wife moved into assisted living and she consigned their collection to Case Auctions. I bid strongly on the coffer — but lost. It sold at high retail, so I assume that it’s now the pride of a happy collector’s collection. Lucky them, unlucky me!

What Made it so Special?


It had linenfold panels on all four sides, which meant that it was made to stand in the middle of the room, not against the wall (like 99.9% of coffers.)

There was wear on the lid that showed people had regularly used it as a bench and had sat on it. We know that coffers were sat on, even slept on, but clear evidence of that use is rare indeed.

It was a dark, deeply patinated color. In the Tudor period most oak was left unstained, and today is a rich honey color: the taste for oak stained dark with walnut juice came right at the end of the sixteenth century and lasted throughout the seventeenth.

The panels had six folds each, an unusually high number.

Wonderful early iron – hinges, hasp and lock plate.

smlf-2I was stupid being sensible at the auction! I should have pressed on and bought it.

As is often the case, when you pay more than you wanted to for something wonderful, you’ll have no regrets and will soon forget the cost. But you’ll have long-lasting (everlasting?) regrets if you missed it for the sake of a few dollars. What else would you have spent those dollars on?

One that Didn’t Get Away


Here’s another Tudor coffer with a similar story. We bought in England seven years ago and sold it to a dealer over here. She sold it on (with our provenance) and a couple of months ago the purchaser (whom we did not know) asked if we’d like to buy it back. I’m not stupid enough to be stupid twice.  We did the deal in a gas station off I-84 and I drove home with that smirky grin that always comes when I have something special in the back of the car.

This coffer was not stained, so it is now the deep honey color of most Tudor oak. It has linenfold panels on three sides, but not the fourth, and its central panel is carved with foliate scrolls. The simpler linenfolds date it to a quarter of a century earlier than the first example.

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