Value of an Old Lane Chest

By Carl Mathie
Chests can be extremely useful pieces of furniture.

Lane Furniture was founded in 1912 by Edward Hudson Lane in Altavista, Virginia. The company has always made chests and boxes, and for many years its mainstay was well-made cedar "hope chests" designed for storage of clothes and household goods. During the First World War, the company also supplied pine ammunition boxes to the government, and after the war was able to apply these mass-production methods to the manufacture of its cedar chests. Helped by aggressive advertising campaigns, the company's chests began to sell all over the United States. In later years, Lane expanded to produce other kinds of furniture, but its cedar chests are still the most emblematic of its products. Because the chests were mass-produced throughout the 20th century and are thus quite common, only older examples tend to fetch high prices at auction.

Age

The age of your Lane chest is the most important determining factor when assessing its value. Fortunately, since most Lane chests were given a serial number, this is relatively easy to find out. Look on the bottom of the chest for a six- or seven-digit number, then read that number backwards for the date it was produced. So, 947140 would mean it was produced on the 04/17/49, or the 17th of April, 1949. An extra digit occasionally indicates the factory in which it was produced, so 9471401 would indicate that it was built on that date in factory number "1."

Condition

The second most important determining factor in value is the condition. Are there any scratches, blemishes or signs of wear and tear (even a single scratch can lower the value markedly) on any part of the chest? Are the lining and hinges in good condition? Has the cedar kept its original color or aged? Does the lock turn, and does it have a key? All of this will affect the value.

Originality

Even if the chest is in excellent condition, its value as an antique is likely to be lower if parts have been replaced or altered by previous owners. Compare your chest's fittings and veneer to photos of original examples to make sure.

History

Try to find out the history of the chest and all of its previous owners. A good story or association with a famous or historical figure can increase an antique chest's value markedly.

Auction

If you plan to auction your chest, pick both the location and timing of the auction carefully. You should not pick an auction where too many other similar chests are to be sold, but it should feature buyers who are interested in 20th-century American furniture and cedar furniture.

About the Author

Carl Mathie began working as a translator, editor and writer in 2004 at two independent literary publishers in London. His work has been published in the "Financial Times" and online at Readysteadybook and Vulpes Libris. He has translated for several important international publishers including Grupo Planeta and Oxygen Books. He has a Bachelor of Arts in comparative American studies from the University of Warwick.