Rescued From A Back Porch, Valuable Cabinet Comes Home

In our business, valuations change constantly. Time, geography, taste, styles and supply/demand all are factors.    Things change and journeys take paths that make no apparent sense, yet somehow end up at the right place. Or, in this case, the same place. This is the story of a forlorn cabinet, caked in crud, neglected and cast away on the back porch of a modest home in Pasco County 20 years ago, exposed to the elements. At the request of the owner, I’d sent two of my best house call specialists to buy some sterling silver and other family items she wanted to get rid of, including this cabinet taking up space on her porch.

One of my specialists was an Arts and Crafts nut and he spent a lot of my money on a quantity of sterling silver. This  was fine, but the lady had insisted he take the cabinet off her porch, too. So he spent my money on it. And the monster cabinet, black with grime, was not welcome. Katrina protested — she wanted it out of the showroom. Our home visit specialist insisted the cabinet was “something,” but he wasn’t sure just what. There it sat for months — huge, imposing and dirty — in a corner of our showroom, while we tried to figure out what    it was. The owner said it came from an in-law who was related to a New York beer baron named Oelsner who moved to the Pasco area in the early 1900s.

safe cabinet

Museum's Collection

Months later, a friend of our expert was able to identify the maker of the cabinet, and a New York Arts and Crafts expert flew in and identified it as possibly an important, if obscure, piece. He said it could be worth over $5,000! We were shocked and even more motivated now to get it sold. Months passed as we took the advice of several middlemen and sent it to be painstakingly restored to keep its fine finish underneath the grime. We were offered $7,000 for it       “as is,” but would have to pay three middlemen their cut, as well. We were told it was a crap-shoot as to whether the restoration would be successful. But the final product underneath the grime was nothing short of astonishing — revealing a rare safe cabinet. We finally sold it for a very good profit, but only after paying three or four middlemen and an expert Arts and Crafts furniture restorer a lot of money to properly conserve it. Our profit was a bit more than normal, and we continued to follow it as it changed hands five times in the red-hot Arts and Crafts market.

We were astounded much later when it fetched six figures at a prestigious Vermont auction! We now know that Rudolph Oelsner had a place in Pasco County (where there is a park named after him). His shirttail relative ended up with the cabinet, which he brought with him from New York. The piece was made by Charles Rohlfs, an artist, actor and furnituremaker from Buffalo and one of the most celebrated if obscure Arts and Crafts makers. Its journey was long — from Buffalo to New York City to Pasco to St. Pete, then to New Hampshire for cleaning, to Vermont to sell at auction and now back to St. Pete, where it will reportedly be a centerpiece in the upcoming Arts and Crafts museum in downtown St. Pete. This museum is expected to be one of the most important Arts and Crafts museums in the world. As an inclusion in this important museum’s collection, the cabinet’s value is likely incalculable.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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