This antique commode looks like it could be American. It also looks like it could be French. It’s a piece of furniture that we don’t encounter very often at all, in fact. I first saw this little three-drawer bureau many months ago in a house on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
This piece was an interesting read from the start: an unusual piece of furniture, in a dark room, being used as a TV table. A closer look revealed one major clue: the secondary wood. Eastern white pine was used to make the drawer sides and the backboard. A gut reaction told me that it was a rare piece from French Canada. Only when it finally arrived at Skinner, in time for our recent Americana auction in August, were we able to examine it to the degree it deserved.
We found the carving on the bombe case to be quite ambitious. Carved rococo knees continue to carved claw-and-ball feet, joined by a deep shaped skirt, decorated with an elaborate spiraling pattern. The brass, rococo-style hardware seems to be original.
The drawers are very sturdily, constructed with large dovetails, the primary wood is butternut, and the backboard is a fielded panel, or a piece of wood that fits on four sides to a frame to help softwoods deal with shrinkage. In other words, this is a well made piece of furniture that has lasted for a very long time. The fact that the commode comes from French Canada makes it all the more rare and desirable.
At our August American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction, bidding was fast and furious among varied parties, including a number of Canadian bidders. All of this interest drove the price realized up to $77,025, including buyer’s premium. I was happy to learn that the consignor plans to spend this windfall on his child’s college education.
If you’re interested in learning more about Canadian furniture, I recommend the book “The Early Furniture of French Canada” by Jean Palardy. It’s a wonderful book with many excellent examples of this rare and interesting variety of antique furniture.