A few weeks ago, my sister Theresa and I went to a taping of Antiques Roadshow in Virginia Beach. I’d been trying to score tickets for years — it’s a lottery — and finally got them this year. I was so excited, having collected antiques for decades and having deemed numerous things over the years my “Antiques Roadshow item,” should I ever be lucky enough to get tickets.
So, naturally, when I finally got tickets, I wondered, “Whatever will I bring?”
My first item, more correctly items, were letters written to husband John’s grandma by her second cousin, once removed, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice James Clark McReynolds.
John wondered what they might be worth and also what the appraiser might think of them.
McReynolds, a Woodrow Wilson appointee who served on the court from 1914 to 1941, was apparently a character, and not in the best way.
He was known for doing things like turning his back on women who were addressing the court, and in 1924, he refused to sit for the annual SCOTUS group photo because, due to seniority, he had to sit next to Louis Brandeis, who was Jewish.
It doesn’t sound like McReynolds was a very nice guy, but he sure seemed to like John’s grandma, the former Lillian Boone. They both grew up in the same small town of Elkton, Kentucky, and while I don’t know much about their relationship, it appears he was quite fond of her.
In a letter congratulating Lillian on her 1944 marriage to Bromfield Ridley, McReynolds wrote:
Felicitations, my dear lovely girl! Brom may count himself the luckiest of men. And my affectionate good wishes will follow you both.
Of course, I think no woman can have a higher mission than to make a loyal wife. She can be happiest there as nowhere else. You will make a success, I am sure. He will find that nothing is so superb as a woman who cares.
As an indication of my interest, please accept the enclosed check and convert it into something you will like to have.
The best of good luck all the days of your life.
The second item I took — you’re allowed to bring two — was an old ladder-back chair. Bringing the chair, which I bought for $10 at a local consignment shop, was a last-minute decision.
I took it because, in the end, it was the only antique in my house that I knew absolutely nothing about.
If you Google search images for “ladder back chair,” you come up with near-infinite examples of chairs from the 1700s to the present day. I figured my chair was “old” but had no idea how old or where it might have been made.
For her two items, Theresa took a powder horn our grandpa had given her many years ago and a painting.
She suspected the painting was by an artist named Edwin Oman, but since it was signed only “OMAN” she wasn’t 100-percent sure. It looked like Oman’s other work on AskArt and it was framed in New York, where Oman lived.
The painting’s subject looked like it could have been Central Park. Oman did a painting called “Walking in Central Park,” but Theresa hasn’t found a photo of it. Perhaps, it’s because she owns it. Who knows?
So, off we went to Antiques Roadshow, where for six hours we waited in lines to have our items appraised. The painting line alone took more than two hours to get through, and by the time we’d had all four items appraised my feet were killing me.
We had a great time, though, and here’s what we found out about our items:
The appraiser said the letters were worth about $100 and were of sentimental value only. Had McReynolds been writing about SCOTUS-related subjects, he said, they would have been worth more. How much more? I didn’t ask, but there have been some McReynolds letters online that folks wanted about $1,200 for.
The Powder Horn:
It was a real, usable powder horn, made in the early 1800s. Value was about 30 bucks. Theresa was happy that it wasn’t a 1950s-era decoration.
The appraiser agreed with Theresa that it was an Edwin Oman painting. He wasn’t familiar with the artist and researched it online, just as Theresa had already done. He valued the painting at about $150. Theresa was happy to be right about the artist, but a little disappointed that the painting wasn’t worth thousands and thousands of dollars.
The first appraiser who looked at my chair said it was an 18th-century, ladder-backed “country chair.” It was the kind of low chair that would have sat in front of a fireplace. She also described it as “Colonial.” I thought it was old, but hadn’t expected Colonial, so that made me happy.
The appraiser, who works in New England, said the chair was made of ash, chestnut and maple, and had likely been painted in a former life. She said people would paint these kinds of chairs because they had used all sorts of un-matching woods. It looked to her like a New England chair. She was confident it wasn’t Shaker.
She valued it at about $100.
When she consulted another appraiser about it, he thought it was likely made in the 19th century and possibly in Lynchburg, maybe even by a member of the Johnson family.
A couple of weeks after the trip, I visited the Lynchburg Museum. I looked at furniture items in their collection and files on local craftsmen of the early-to-mid 1800s. While they have a few examples of Johnson chairs, in photos or in the collection, they are all Windsor chairs.
The files actually contained the names of several Lynchburg chair makers who were operating during the time period in which the chair was made, among them George T. Johnson, Lewis Johnson, Thomas H. Johnson, Benjamin Caldwell, George Walker, Edward Litchfield, Chesley Hardy and Alanson Winston.
It would take a great deal of research and an even greater amount of luck to find out who made my chair. It’s likely I’ll never know who made it. Regardless, I like it and had a great time at Antiques Roadshow.
Also, in case you’re interested, here’s a closeup of one of the McReynolds letters: