By Sally Voth
It may be a corner piece, but the walnut cupboard didn't have trouble standing out to high bidders at a recent auction in Edinburg.
A winning bid of $80,000 was placed on the circa-1825 Shenandoah County corner cupboard Jan. 12 at Laughlin Auctions' mid-winter auction.
Hoyle Laughlin, president of Laughlin Auctions Inc., said the cupboard was highly inlaid.
"One of the strongest features about the inlay on this cupboard was a federal eagle. In addition to the federal eagle, it had eight other oval inlays as well as a series of string inlay," he said.
The furniture came out of a historic Page County home known as Burner's Massanutten Heights, he said. At the time the home was built, Page County was part of Shenandoah County, according to Laughlin.
"John R. Burner built the house in 1824, and we believe this cupboard was made circa 1825, and was in the home continuously until it was sold," he said. "According to family lore, John R. Burner made it, but I don't believe that to be true because the cupboard was made by a master craftsman. This cupboard wasn't made by a backcountry carpenter who was in the process of building a house. The workmanship in this cupboard was exceptional all the way, in every respect."
A mahogany broken arch wall clock, which sold for $2,500, and a yellow pine farm table, which sold for $1,250, were among other items that also came out of the Burner home, Laughlin said.
A private collector in the state bought the cupboard, but wishes to remain anonymous, he said. Bidding started at $12,000.
"There were numerous floor bidders," Laughlin said. "We had six phone bidders, as well as three absentee bidders. My pre-sell estimate on the cupboard was $30,000-50,000.
"There was a tremendous amount of excitement when the cupboard was sold. We were excited. We were pleased -- very pleased -- with the outcome."
That includes the men who consigned the corner cupboard -- brothers Marshall, Clifford and Ernest Barkman.
"I would be the great-great-grandson of John R. Burner," said Marshall Barkman, who lives in Greencastle, Pa, where he owns an art gallery.
He said Burner's estate is now on the market, but has been in the family throughout its history. The brothers inherited it following the death of their mother.
While fewer young people are buying antique furnishings -- or, "brown furniture" -- these days, "the economy doesn't affect the high-end antique buyers," Laughlin said.
And, Virginia-made antiques are highly sought after, he said.
"There are several reasons that this cupboard sold in that price range," Laughlin said. "No. 1 was its provenance."
Another selling point was its untouched, unrefinished condition.
Barkman said he knew Laughlin Auctions would be right for his family's needs.
"I thought Laughlin Auctions was a good fit simply because everyone else thought they were a bad fit," he said. "John [Laughlin] and Hoyle are good old boys. They do the right thing."
And, had Barkman entrusted the auction to a high-end auctioneer, such as Sotheby's, he knew the items could have been overshadowed by pieces bringing in millions, "while if you take what I have and give it to Hoyle, it looks like the Hope Diamond."
He does have a difference of opinion with Laughlin when it comes to who crafted the cupboard.
"John R. Burner did build the corner cupboard," Barkman said.
He said the family has documentation their ancestor built that and other items currently in the family.
"It wasn't hard for me [to auction it off]," Barkman said. "I kind of looked at it like, it's not my taste. It's not that we didn't like it. It doesn't fit any of our tastes in regard to the passions we have."
And, he knew someone would be passionate about possessing an item that was made by a Revolutionary War soldier and is a piece of Americana.
This wasn't the only high-ticket item Laughlin Auctions has sold in recent years. Last winter, a Johannes Spitler blanket chest was sold for $150,000 to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. The auction house also has sold a Jacob Fry tall case clock for $109,000, according to Laughlin.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org