Q: I bought this chest at an estate sale. After some research, I discovered that the emblems are Imperial Russian double eagles. I haven't been able to find any other information. Is the chest military? What era is it from? Is it rare? Any information will help.
A: Donning my mind reader's hat as The Great Arnet, I intuit that this reader really hopes her buy makes up for missing out on the big Powerball. One can hope.
The chest or trunk seen in images measures roughly 30 inches by 17 inches by 16 inches. Made of wood, it's covered with sheets of brass; the long panels are decorated with a double-eagle design done in repousse.
Centuries old, repousse is a metalworking technique where parts of the design are raised by pushing the metal up from the back surface. The effect is high relief. Matter of fact, the oldest flatware pattern made in the U.S. is done in that manner and bears the name "Repousse."
Smart collectors know that the heraldic image of a double-headed eagle predates the Byzantine Empire. Famously associated with the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs, it has been adopted by Russians and by just about every country or territory in proximity to Russia. Today, it still flies on flags and appears on coats of arms.
One cannot assume that the chest is automatically Russian because it's decorated with double-eagle crests.
Paul Pat Morse, of www.trunk.com knows old trunks and chests. With Linda Edelstein, he's written several books; the newest, "Antique Trunks, Refinish, Repair, Restore: Revised and Expanded," is available on the website. The pair also operates a trunk shop in New Hampshire where they specialize in restoration and replacement parts.
Looking over the images, Morse thinks the chest was made to be used as a wood box. The uncovered under side of the lid is tunneled with insect trails. Brass sheeting was probably intended as protection from varmints.
"My guess on the age is circa 1950-1960," he added. Morse, who has worked on many immigrant trunks, notes that "My grandparents had a similar box with a much different design that was bought in the U.S." He doubts that it was made for use in the military.
"The handles are a pretty cheap manufactured accessory, so my guess is also that it's a production or semi-production piece," said Morse. In other words, mass-made.
Here's a puzzle for you: Morse finds it interesting that the repousse and metalwork are "quite good," yet the maker used cheap handles.
Finally, he adds that the box must be seen for a more definitive opinion.
As for value, on www.worthpoint.com we found that a Russian dome top trunk circa 1900 with Cyrillic writing on the top and original paint intact in patches sold on eBay last year for $185. Character and age drove value.
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