by Dr. Lori Verderame
I authenticated and valued a Hepplewhite writing desk that belonged to President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) on the popular Discovery channel TV show Auction Kings. The desk was based on the designs of the British cabinetmaker, George Hepplewhite. Like President Jefferson, many of us also own fine examples of Hepplewhite or Hepplewhite style furniture today. Just like Duncan Phyfe furniture, some Hepplewhite pieces are original Hepplewhite designs and others are good reproductions of the popular 18th and 19th Century style. Both can be valuable. Read more about Thomas Jefferson collectibles and this valuable desk.
George Hepplewhite was a designer and cabinetmaker based in London, England who was active in the 18th Century. George Hepplewhite’s famous guidebook, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Guide was published after his death in 1788. The guidebook sparked a period of popularity for the furniture designs, forms, and motifs known to the world as Hepplewhite from circa 1780-1810.
While Hepplewhite offered designs for many types of furniture and furniture pieces, one of he most popular Hepplewhite pieces is the decorative dining room sideboard. In the early 1800s, a sideboard was a new furniture form and one that quickly gained in popularity. Hepplewhite sideboards are often bow-shaped, Bombay-shaped or serpentined (curved) in form. This form became known as a trait of high style Hepplewhite furniture. As with any furniture, be sure you know the value of your Hepplewhite furniture before you refinish your furniture.
The Hepplewhite style gained interest and was widely seen in elite homes throughout the 1800s. In the late Victorian period, circa 1870s-90s, Hepplewhite reproductions came onto the market and were widely purchased and collected.
What to Look For
Some of the distinguishing traits of a true piece of Hepplewhite furniture include a consistency of formal design attributes. Hepplewhite pieces typically have straight legs which may be square or may be tapered at the bottom or foot. A Hepplewhite style foot is simple and straightforward in its design. On Hepplewhite desks or tall chests, bracketed feet are commonplace.
One of the most typical characteristics of a piece of Hepplewhite furniture is the use of intricate inlays of contrasting woods and burl veneers. Hepplewhite pieces may feature sycamore, birch, or rosewood. Also, satinwood, maple, and mahogany are standard woods found on Hepplewhite furniture examples. Be sure you are identifying the wood correctly and not being fooled by the stained used.
In the 20th Century, many furniture manufacturers reproduced Hepplewhite style furniture for the masses. Today, Hepplewhite furniture commands high values for their classical lines, variety of woods, and formal looks. A Hepplewhite style or reproduction sideboard can command a few thousand dollars on the market whereas a good, original example of Hepplewhite furniture in the form of a desk or chest piece can bring significantly more money from collectors.
The Hepplewhite desk that belonged to President Thomas Jefferson had a solid provenance and was worth more than $100,000.00. Your pieces can be worth thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and some Hepplewhite reproductions can have high values too. Even DIYers and repurposers today are using Hepplewhite furniture designs for their projects.
Get an online appraisal of your Hepplewhite furniture from Dr. Lori.