Antique Sugar Chest or Antique Blanket Chest? How to Know the Difference

The Daryle Lambert 31 Club Blog

 

35″ High Maple Sugar Chest, Early 19th Century, Sold for $9,000 at Doyle New York in May, 2007.
What qualifies a piece of furniture to be called a “chest?” Surprisingly, many pieces of furniture can be called a chest. You have a chest for holding clothes, but this is just one kind of chest. How about a sugar chest, or even a blanket chest? These three chests had entirely different functions, but all are called a “chest.” So let’s examine some of the differences in these three types of chests.

Did you know that at one time sugar, was a very precious commodity? Back in the early to mid 1800′s, sugar, in fact, was so expensive and prized, it was kept in a locked chest. This furniture was a very functional piece, plain in decor, yet often a symbol of the family’s social status. They were often kept out in plain view, usually in a parlor room or dining room. The most expensive of the sugar chests might well be the Kentucky chest.

These chests were usually made of walnut, and often consisted of just four boards. Why is this important to know? A four board chest was special because it meant it was formed from virgin timber. Today, most furniture is composed of several boards glued together to make a side, front, back, top. Only with virgin timber were the trees large enough so that an entire side or top could be produce from one log.

The sugar chest could have one small drawer at the bottom, but some had no drawers at all. The chest opened from the top, and inside you would find a small space where the knife that cut the sugar was kept. These chests can be fairly primitive or very formal in design.

You must be familiar with sugar chests if you have an interest in antique furniture, because the value is substantially different between sugar chests and blanket chests. The sugar chests are usually much more valuable, and be warned — there are people who rework blanket chests to look like sugar chests for obvious reasons. A good Kentucky sugar chest may bring $25,000 or more, so they are well worth looking for. The best places to find these at a bargain price is at sales in states where they weren’t used. They’ve moved with families through the generations and the new generation doesn’t know its use nor care to inquire of its history.

The expression “a horse being taken to the glue factory?” comes from the fact that early glue was made from horse parts. This also explains why older furniture often comes apart. The early glue was water soluble, and if it was exposed to moisture it would easily come apart.

Unlike the valuable sugar chest, a valuable blanket chest that will bring big money usually has to be signed and dated. Blanket chests from the 1700′s, with the right information on it about the owner, can easily bring $50,000 to $1,000,000. These are, indeed, rare. Blanket chests you are more likely to come across will be valued in the $500 to $2,500 range. These chests are usually long and narrow, standing on very short legs, opening from the top. They can have up to two small drawers underneath the main compartment.

It is easy to see how someone could convert this to look like a sugar chest, so don’t be fooled.

In both of these types of chests, you will find the value between the best to the average is the difference between night and day. If you are fortunate enough to find a piece that could be of substantial value, that might be the time to call in an expert to confirm your opinion. Any repair or the use of new parts to the piece will reduce the chest value by up to 80 %. So be on the lookout for more modern parts or any repair.

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Thanks to everyone who tuned into my discussion Monday with Auctionwally on BlogTalk Radio. The show was a BLAST and if you missed it, you can listen to it this week at Auctionwally.com. As soon as we are able, we’ll have a link to it on our site, as well as a posted transcript.
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8 Responses

  1. I have what my mother always refered to as a blanket chest. Today, a friend & antique dealer said she felt it was a sugar chest – the main clue was inside the chest, although there was no divider inside the chest the grooves where a divider once was, are plainly intact. Also the keyhole is there with inlay around it and a matching keyhole w/inlay is in the bottome drawer. It is constructed with walnut wood. Her suggestion was to do some investigation for if it is a sugar chest she said it would by far be the most valuable antique that i own. What do you think?

  2. Can you send me a picture of it with diminsions.

    God Bless

    Daryle

  3. I have a sugar chest belonging to my greatgrandparents who had a sugar maple farm in Indiana. I have the iron kettle they boiled down the surrip. It is cherry 20×30-39″ high legs turned at the bottom appx 6″ off the floow-lock on the lid. Dark collar -may have been varnished at one time.Should I have it professionally refinished or leave it like it is for best value.? It iis appx 130 years old.As I am 80 years old I can use the money better than storing clothes iin it.Any suggestions on price and best way to sell it.

  4. I would be more than glad to help you. I would like pictures if you could send them. My tel. is 1-847-784-8544. Don’t refinish it.

    God Bless

    Daryle

  5. Daryle, From my pictures, where do you think my sugar chest was made? My ancestors came from Kentucky. I think my greatgrandfathr was born in Indiana. I don’t know if he bought it new or could have been owned prior to his owning it. I am ocurios to know where it came from. Have a great year, LYLE ASHER lma28@tds.net

  6. I also have a sugar chest that belonged to my grandmother that I am interested in selling. it’s in excellent condition. I can send pictures if anyone would like to see them and can give me an emal address. My email is annagram@comcast.net

  7. Thank Youhttp://www.antiques-collectibles.us

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