A family in Carencro, Louisiana, a town of about 6,000 near Lafayette, was stunned recently when appraiser David J. Goldberg told them the family home held a rare Louis Majorelle desk worth an estimated $250,000. It will be sold at auction at Sotheby's on December 17th.
The descendants of Merwin Hale (Bill) Wilkinson Jr., a former Green Beret and avid bow hunter, had no idea the Art Nouveau desk and matching chair were of the Orchid bedroom suite created in 1903 by the renown French cabinetmaker Louis Majorelle.
Mr. Goldberg said, "It had 'museum quality' written all over it." On close inspection of the desk Goldberg noticed the label of a Paris warehouse where it had been housed, probably just before being shipped to America.
Louis Majorelle was a co-founder of Ecole d'Nancy, the French movement that helped popularize Art Nouveau in France. His designs are in many museum collections, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum, Chicago's Driehaus Museum and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
If the set seems oddly paired with the character of its owner, that is because it was an inheritance item, passed down through the family. A spokesman for the family said, "If it wasn't for Mr. Goldberg, the desk might have been lost to the world forever. We thought the real value was in a carved sideboard and mirror."
Mr. Goldberg said that the two items were nice, but not exceptional. If sold at an Estate Sale, they might have brough a few thousand dollars. The Louis Majorelle desk and chair will likely reap in enough to put a least two of Bill Wilkinson Jr's grandchildren through college.
This is not the first time Mr. Goldberg, an appraiser for more than forty years, has delivered good news to an unsuspecting famiy. In fact, he has a reputation for recognizing treasures others have overlooked.
Among these is a 19th century William H. Buck Louisiana landscape with a $75 garage sale tag on it. Mr. Goldberg saw it and sold it privately on the family's behalf for $300,000. Another find was an Alfred Bierstadt painting originally appraised at $2,000. In Mr. Goldberg's hands it brought the family more than $100,000. Another recent find, a Newcomb Pottery Arts and Crafts style ceramic tile series went off at Rago Auctions this past weekend. The winning bid was $81,250.
Mr. Goldberg's advice to families looking to liquidate family heirlooms is this: "Do not guestimate value based on information gleaned from reality shows such as Antiques Roadshow or American Picker. It is likely you are going to pick a visually attractive item that has less value than an item you may not fully understand aesthetically."
He says he will be on hand when the Louis Majorelle Orchid desk and chair go under the hammer on December 17. He gets as much of a thrill out of seeing a treasure land in the right hands as he does when he discovers hidden values.
Antiques Weeks Media
About The Appraisal Group
Knowledge of art and design was David J. Goldberg's legacy. His father, the late Morton Goldberg was among New Orleans' first generation of auctioneers. As a youngster, David was included in the process of appraisals and auctions. As a college student, he majored in history at Columbia University in New York City. He went on to graduate studies at the University of North Carolina and LSU. Eventually, partnering up with his father, he shepherded thousands of antiques over the threshold, through the cataloging process and to the podium. When the auction house went out of business, he taught classes on antiques at Tulane. Today he is president of The Appraisal Group.