Hepplewhite furniture was created and made famous by English cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite.
Brief history and description of Hepplewhite furniture
Dating from around 1780-1810, original Hepplewhite furniture is neoclassic in style, with balanced designs and straight legs; simplistic in style, the furniture is generally them adorned with inlays and paint to give it extra stylistic value. Little is known about Hepplewhite himself, though his designs are widely known, and a book containing many of these designs, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide was published following his death in 1786 and had a profound effect on future furniture design for several years afterwards. Whilst his work continued to resonate with the generations that followed, there was a particular revival of Hepplewhite traditions in the 1880’s, and though these pieces are now themselves antiques, they are generally not regarded as being to the same standard of construction as older pieces, nor as finely decorated. Many of the features of furniture design which Hepplewhite espoused remain relevant today, giving his work an enduring appeal.
Guide for collectors
There are certain markers to help a prospective collector identify Hepplewhite-style pieces. In contrast to earlier styles, Hepplewhite pieces tends to, in conjunction with a display of balance in their design and construction, have straight legs, which vary in width according to the overall size of the piece, but may be tapered on lighter designs. There is no aversion to heavily inlayed and carved elements, such as intricate and elaborate designs on the back of Hepplewhite-style chairs, and the pieces often contain more than one type of wood, such as mahogany or rosewood. The designs are generally more graceful than the works of some of Hepplewhite’s contemporaries, giving them a distinctive look and feel. Collectors should seek these pieces at auction houses, aware that the higher the quality of the piece the higher the price tag is likely to be. Whilst some Hepplewhite items sell relatively cheaply, others can be very costly.
Notable auction sales of Hepplewhite furniture
The highest price paid for a Hepplewhite piece at auction was $60,000, for a pair of 20-inch library globes in Hepplewhite-style stands. The globes, originating from the early 1800’s, had experienced minimal age-related damage, and auctioned from Skinner on 20th November 2010.
An antique Hepplewhite sideboard was auctioned from S&S Auction, Inc. on 22 March 2005 for $3,250.
A set of 12 mahogany Hepplewhite antique chairs auctioned for $3,750 on 31 May 2010 from Langston Auction Gallery.
In the middling price range, Langston Auction Gallery sold a mahogany carved back Hepplewhite side chair on 2 January 2012 for $475, and similarly, on 16th Dec 2005, Skinner sold a Hepplewhite Mahogany bowfront bureau for $550, whilst in a similar price range, Wiederseim Associates, Inc. auctioned a Hepplewhite shield-back mahogany side chair on 25th November 2006 for $175.
Dependent upon condition, the furniture can sell for even less, as proven by the sale of two somewhat tarnished Hepplewhite mahogany shieldback dining chairs which, requiring restoration, auctioned from Pook & Pook, Inc. on 22nd May 2009 for just $50.