Antique Curio Cabinets
Antique Curio Cabinets are pieces of furniture designed to display interesting and unusual objects.
Brief history and description
Curio cabinets originate from the 16th century, and have continued to expand their popularity ever since. Designed specifically to display curiosities, they were a product of the height of the Renaissance, and initially provided a viewing window on the new discoveries of that era from the worlds of the arts and the sciences.
Their purpose was later adapted to no longer be entirely intellectualized, and they became instead a coveted piece of home or office furniture, as well as a way of displaying objects which in many cases precluded any previously considered noble historical significance, and may only have held lasting interest to the collector themselves.
The design of the cabinet itself is relatively simple, though prone to embellishments, which vary in complexity dependent upon the year of production. The piece is made largely of glass, with either a wood or metal framework. The majority of curio cabinets also contain a mirror panel at the back so as to show the objects on display from all angles.
In addition to both showcasing and housing objects of either personal or monetary worth, the curios also served a practical function by preventing damage to their contents. The original curio cabinets of the 16th and 17th centuries also served as inspiration for what we consider modern-day museums.
Guide for collectors
Appearing amidst the Renaissance, a time of curiosity and invention, the name of the curio cabinet is fitting. They make an attractive and useful collectable antique, and have acquired great popularity as such. They are popular not only with lovers of antique furniture, but have also proven a much-coveted piece amongst collectors of other items, due to their functionality as a place to display their various finds.
Whilst readily available in antique shops, prospective collectors are advised to seek out both mainstream and specialist auctioneers, as they are liable to find great bargains there.
Notable auction sales
The most expensive curio cabinet ever sold was a mahogany piece by Greene & Greene, dated from 1908, auctioned from Sotheby’s in New York on 17th December 2004 for $209,600, far surpassing its estimate of $60,000-$80,000.
This was followed by the sale of a rare embellished bamboo veneer curio cabinet and stand, dated from the 18th century, which sold for $120,000 from Sotheby’s New York on 31st March 2005, and a 20th century painted French curio cabinet, which sold on 29th October 2011 from Kimball M. Sterling, for the sum of $14,500.
In the middle price-range, on 1st May 2011, Great American Auction Service Inc. sold a miniature size round centre room curio cabinet from 1900 for $250, whilst on 13th September 2008, Grand View Antiques & Auction sold an antique gilded Verni Martin curio cabinet for $475.
At the lower end of the price range, the smallest amount of money paid for a curio cabinet at auction was the sale of a wood and glass cabinet with two shelves, requiring some minimal repair, sold for just $7 from Desert West Auction Service on 28th September 2008. Similarly, an oak bevelled mirror curio cabinet dated from 1910 was auctioned on 7th August 2004 from John Coker, Ltd. for $25.