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What's It Worth?

An Unusual Example of a Victorian Standard

April 10, 1999|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This is a 40-inch-high walnut Victorian Cheval fire screen.

"I had never seen one with this kind of scrolled foliate or leaf cresting," said Al Farah, owner of Rothdale's Antiques, Fine Furnishing and Collectibles in Orange. "Its origin is most likely French, circa 1880. The design is termed Regence."

WHAT'S ITS HISTORY?

Fire screens were made to block drafts from open fireplaces. They were invented in Europe in the Middle Ages and are regularly cited in 15th century records.

This Cheval--or "horse"--screen has a fixed panel inset with needlework and was made from walnut, a popular wood of the 19th century.

Cheval screens were often made to coordinate with the chairs in the room. Some elaborate ones had hinged flaps that could be turned into writing desks. The owner could write letters while keeping his or her feet warm by the fire.

Fire screens were standard features in almost every Victorian drawing room, and many survive to this day.

WHAT'S THE LEGEND?

This particular fire screen was bequeathed to Corona del Mar resident Gloria Queen by her mother 20 years ago. "She acquired it in 1952 from a French lady in Arlington, Va.," Queen said. "It's quite beautiful, so I didn't want to get rid of it. Still, it's not the right size for our fireplace."

Queen's mother did a lot of needlepoint, which was probably her attraction to the screen.

WHY IS IT POPULAR NOW?

Though central heating and enclosed fireplaces have made fire screens unnecessary, some are regarded as works of art. A screen in good condition, such as this one, is highly prized.

WHAT'S IT WORTH?

"This is a very nice piece," Farah said, "so it would probably be worth from $1,000 to $1,250. I hadn't seen this particular cresting before, and I have over 1,100 books on antiques in my home library."

Value is based on material, maker, quality and condition. When buying a fire screen, check to make sure it is complete because repairs are costly.

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

Fine antiques stores such as Rothdale's sometimes have them.

MORE DETAILS AROUND?

Miller's Antiques Encyclopedia (Mitchell Beazley, 1998, $70) has a short history of fire screens. The Web site is http://www.mitchell-beazley.co.uk.

* To have an item considered for this column, send information and a photograph of it to What's It Worth?, Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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