The large ungainly chair has been sitting in Gordon Jacobs' Bethesda living room for the past several years now, and frankly, he isn't too crazy about it.
"It doesn't go with anything we have," complained Jacobs, 36, a grant manager for the National Science Foundation. "I wanted to find out if we could sell it for enough money to buy something we really like," he said.
So Jacobs joined an estimated 750 others who trundled their knick-knacks, geegaws, chipped china plates, paintngs found in attcis, and plaster busts to the Jewsit Community Center in Rockville yesterday. There, for a $5 fee, staff members of Sotheby Parke Bernet, the Manhattan-based auction company, appraised the possessions.
"The chair was originally owned by the family that made the Tootsie-Roll candy bar," Jacobs said hopefully as Robert Woolley, a Sotheby vice president, coolly appraised the chair.
"It's a Victorian-era design, with Louis XV flavor, Woolley said diplomatically, turning the chair upside down and sideways, searching for scratches or a craftsman's signature. "I'd say it might bring $150 or $200."
Jacobs, who said he had been hoping the chair might be worth at least $400, took his disappointment in stride. "The thing's always been out of place before, and now I think I'm going to put it really out of place, like in the Closet or something," he said, struggling to carry the chair home.
While Jacobs plans on finding a nice dark cellar for his chair, others' were more fortunate in the appraisals they received. One elderly woman with a sharp eye for quality brought in two silver tankards for which she had paid $100 about 15 years ago. The tankards were made in Holland in the 17th century and were appraised yesterday at $10,000.
Then she took from her paper shopping bag a 6 inch long cylindrical perfume bottle, made of glass, with delicately painted designs on it. "I paid $35 for this several years ago. I knew it was valuable," she said, smiling.
A Sotheby appraiser agreed and placed its value at $400.
Bonnie and Neil Sherman of Potomac stood in line with a small land scape picture they used to keep in the attic. "My father brought it in the 1930s. I don't know what he paid, but it couldn't have been much," Mrs. Sherman said.
"It's a Bierstaedt," appraiser Jan Andersen informed them, naming a 19th century German-born American landscape artist. "It might bring as much a $5,000 today," she said.
"I had no idea it was worth so much," said, a startled Neil Sherman, a jeweler. "But we'd never sell it, we like it too much," he said.
Pride in possession was the theme throughout much of the afternoon, as "jade" peonie trees turned out to be made of plastic and a porcelain-covered toaster made in 1913 was valued at $150. One man brought in a wicker-enclosed Bacardi rum jug and seemed upset when appraiser Sam Blaisdell told him it might look nice with a candle in it."
"During the past two years more than 80,000 people have brought in their possessions to us at the 60 appraisals we've held throughout the country," Woolley said. "If someone is interested in talking to us about selling their possessions. I'll give him a business card," he said.
Most of the people yesterday just wanted to learn about the statues and paperweights and old plates that have given them pleasure for years.
"I have lived with these gowns for 40 years and I would never sell them," said Mrs. W.F. Sappington, of Camp Springs. "My husband brought them back from China in the 1930s."
She held up two elaborately embroidered silk gowns, resplendent with dragons and flowers, which were valued at several hundred dollars each.
"Really, it's just the love you get from having beautiful things surround you. I would never sell them because they are a part of me," she said.