The sale of items from the legendary late collector set new participation records for a Sotheby’s UK auction.
|Duncan Phyfe furniture was a hugely popular style of furniture in nineteenth-century America.
History & Background
Phyfe was born in Scotland, and emigrated to Albany, New York at the age of 16 with his parents, and went to work as an apprentice to a cabinet maker. After making his way to New York City in 1792, he started his own business two years later in 1794, and went on to have over 100 employees.
Phyfe's work encompassed a broad range of styles, amongst them Regency, Empire and Federal, though Phyfe is best known for his simple styles, which were a reaction against the imported French styles of his era. He came to be known as one of the United States most sought after and affordable cabinet makers, as a result of his furniture being both affordable and high quality.
His best work is regarded by many as having been created between the years of 1800-1820. Phyfe's work is of such enduring resonance that it is available to vew in museums worldwide, as well as being included in The White House and several homes owned by the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.
His cabinet-making shops in New York City occupied the numbers 168, 170, and 172 on Fulton Street in New York.
Guide for Collectors
In 1922, an exhibition of Phyfe's work was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, followed by a 1929 Loan Exhibition which helped to solidify his enduring popularity. Fourty-eight pieces of Duncan Phyfe furniture were featured.
Though Phyfe had been dead for many years (he died a wealthy man in 1854) his furniture received much praise, and has subsequently been highly valuable and much sought after by collectors.
Phyfe followed several styles, but his furniture normally strikes a fine balance, being heavy but refined. Early works were less ornate than later works, which were far more detailed and intricate, for instance including carved paws with brass for the feet of tables, or the legs curved and carved. Collectors of Phyfe's furniture are advised to look out for identifiers such as graceful, slender, often vase shaped pedestals underneath tables, and finely carved feet on chairs, tables and sofas.
Due to the age of the objects, which often date from the 1800s, collectors are also advised to make allowances for a certain degree of 'wear and tear'. Prices vary from piece to piece, from $100 upwards to thousands of dollars.
Value & Notable Auction Sales
Due to the objects collectability, Duncan Phyfe furniture has tremendous value and can reach a high price at auction. On 20th January 2002, a Federal inlaid and carved mahogany work table sold for $24900 at Sotheby's, whilst a pair of mahogany carved chairs sold for $1434.
Phyfe's furniture is available from numerous well-known auctioneers, and value tends to vary dependant on the item in question, with starting bids as low as $10 (for a mahogany foot stall, sold at DuMouchelles on 10th June 2005) or as high as $60000, for a carved mahogany desk and bookcase, sold at Sotheby's on 22nd June 2004. In January 2011, a mahogany dining table attributed to Phyfe sold at Sothebys auction house for £74,500.
Main article: Duncan Phyfe Drop Leaf Dining Tables
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