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Duncan Phyfe Furniture: The Real vs. the Reproduction

It may look as good as the original, but it’s no authentic Duncan Phyfe.

A question about one of the most common names in antique furniture came to my attention recently. At one of my antiques appraisal shows, I was asked about a Duncan Phyfe dining room set.

First, I had to explain the difference between an actual Duncan Phyfe set and a reproduction set in the style of Duncan Phyfe.

There is a big difference.

You may have heard the word style used after the description of many objects — Tiffany style, Victorian style, etc. For instance, a Duncan Phyfe style dining room set (emphasis on the word style) differs from an original Duncan Phyfe dining room set. Many furniture makers worked in the manner of the late 18th-century craftsman, Duncan Phyfe.

Think of it this way — It’s like contemporary singer Michael Buble singing in the style of Frank Sinatra.

Buble sings like Sinatra, but he’s not Sinatra! Buble singing Sinatra songs in the 2000s was a revival of Sinatra’s style which was popular in the 1950s. Similarly, this revival of the Duncan Phyfe style is seen in furniture designs in the early decades of the 1900s. It is common that such pieces have come to be known as simply “Duncan Phyfe”, but they are not authentic Duncan Phyfe pieces. They are merely Duncan Phyfe style.

As you probably guessed, there is a big value or monetary difference between authentic Duncan Phyfe furniture and Duncan Phyfe style furniture.

Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) was best known for the straight lines and classical look of his furniture carved in rich hard woods like mahogany and walnut. Values for an original Duncan Phyfe table range from $50,000 to $150,000.

That value is based on actual sales record where somebody actually paid cash, swiped a credit card, or wrote a check for that amount. It is not a price or auction estimate. The values that I provide are based on an actual amount that someone paid for an antique or vintage piece.

For instance, in 2006, a carved mahogany dining table by Duncan Phyfe dating to 1815 measuring 30 inches tall sold for $132,000. That’s actually what someone paid for it. That’s the value you need to know when assessing value.

If you were to put a retail value on a typical, six piece Duncan Phyfe style dining room set like those your elderly aunts may have used to serve dinner on during the 1940s or 1950s, then the retail value for such a set is significantly different from that of an original Duncan Phyfe set from the late 1800s. Usually such vintage Phyfe style sets in good condition from the mid 1900s are worth $2,000 on the retail market.

What do I mean by the retail market? That’s the price you would pay if you went to a retailer and bought a dining room set like your set, with its current condition factored in.

Don’t be confused – original means original but “style” may mean that you have a reproduction or something else.

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Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on the hit TV show, Auction Kings on Discovery channel. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.

Rhonda Hipskind November 06, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Do original Duncan Phyfe tables and chairs have his name/stamp on them? How do we tell the difference between the real deal and "style"?

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