Dear Helaine and Joe:
Hello, we have a haberdashery case with all the original curved glass, all the original hardware and fixtures – but it's missing its shelves. Can you tell me more about its history and what would be its value? If you could help me find some information about the shelves I would like to replace or refabricate them.
Dear L. M.
Old store items can be very popular with collectors. We have been in the homes of collectors who have converted one or more rooms into replicas of country stores, complete with shelves, glass-fronted counters and merchandise.
These ersatz mercantiles were interesting and decorative spaces, and the owners were passionate about their interest in old country stores and big city retailers. They were the sort of spaces where visitors could spend hours examining the fascinating collections and remarking on everything from the old lithographed tin food containers to the curved glass display cabinets.
We explored sales records for the past 10 years and found only one cabinet similar to the one owned by L. M. that had been sold at auction in 2007. It was a tad plainer than the one in today's question because the top of the one sold at auction was essentially undecorated, while the L. M.'s example appears to have a narrow fluted frieze across the top.
But the two cabinets are otherwise almost identical. The one that sold at auction did not have shelves behind the curved glass fronts, and we question whether the one belonging to L. M. had them either. If the unit were designed for hats, a shelf dividing the compartments might have gotten in the way of the display if the hats were of a size typical for women's dress hats in the early 20th century. Men's dress hats would have been too large as well. Our recommendation is to leave the piece as it is.
The cabinet we found was manufactured by Clatworthy & Son and had a patent date of March 31, 1903. Search as we might, we could find no information on the history of the company, but we did discover they made other store display items including a bustlike display stand with a black velvet surface that might showcase a piece of jewelry, a fur or perhaps a hat.
There is no doubt the wonderful cabinet was manufactured during the early years of the 20th century and was probably made before the beginning of World War I. L. M. appears to be putting the charming display unit to good use by filling it with her collections of Nippon porcelains, Lladro figurines, opalescent hobnail glassware and other collectible items.
She should take great care not to damage the curved semi-cylinders of glass that form the front of the piece, which operates in much the same manner as a lawyer's bookcase, because glass replacement would be very expensive.
For insurance replacement purposes we would value this piece in the $2,500 to $3,000 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.