Q: I inherited this chest from my parents. It was shipped to them from Saudi Arabia in 1968, and they referred to it as the “Kuwaiti chest.” My father said it was dug up in the desert somewhere. It measures 52 inches wide by 22 inches tall. Any information would be appreciated, and should I be concerned about sun damage since I have it in a room under a window?
A: This and similar chests are called by a variety of names. “Kuwaiti chest” is one of them. They are also referred to as Shirazi chests (if they show any kind of Persian influence in the design) and Zanzibar chests. They are also known as Omani chests and more generically “Arab chests.”
A Kuwaiti chest is sometimes associated with storage in the captain’s quarters of a seagoing dhow, which is a lateen-rigged (slanted triangular sail) ship that is thought to have originated in India. We also found that at least some of the chests might have been decorated by seamen on dhows during long voyages.
Dhows are often associated with Middle Eastern and Indian vessels sailing in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean but can also be found on the Nile River. Depending on the size, a dhow can have a crew of between 12 and 30. But we think this particular chest was far too large to have been housed in the captain’s cabin of a dhow and was probably not decorated by a ship’s crew.
Instead, we think it is a dower chest — the chest a young woman brought to her new home containing both her material wealth and items she would need to set up housekeeping. We do not have a photograph to substantiate this, but we suspect the top on the piece raises up to reveal an interior that probably has a lidded till along the side at the top of the interior that was designed to hold valuables such as jewelry and/or money.
As for the piece having been dug up in the desert, we doubt if this is literally true. Such a circumstance would have damaged the piece terribly, but it may have some figurative or metaphoric meaning. We believe the piece was actually made in India (some sources suggest near the Pakistan border or even in Pakistan itself), and the wood is probably either teak or shisham (aka Dalbergia sissoo), also called Bombay blackwood or North Indian rosewood.
The beautifully decorated dower chest is probably late 19th or early 20th century and shows English influence in the batwing pulls on the bottom drawer fronts. We suggest keeping the beautiful piece out of direct sunlight because it will eventually fade the wood on the top. This would diminish aesthetic and monetary value.
We have seen similar Kuwaiti dower chests sell for very little at auction (less than $500), but at retail we have found them priced at more than $3,000. This leaves us in a bit of a quandary, but we feel the chest should be insured in the $2,500 to $3,000 range.
Lincoln paper is a fake
Q: I came across a page from the New York Herald announcing the assassination of Abe Lincoln. I have included several pictures of the item. I would like to know about it and its value.
A: While doing our research, we discovered a specialist in the area who noted he had seen 10,000 of the New York Herald newspapers and not one of them was genuine.
During our career, we have seen more than a few of these ourselves and none of them have been the real thing, either. The New York Herald did not have circulation much beyond New York City, so surviving copies can be hard to find.
The newspaper was printed on good rag-based stock, which some think was confiscated from a Confederate ship trying to run the blockade at Wilmington, N.C. It does not yellow or crumble with age, while the reprints were generally printed on newsprint stock, which does yellow, crumble and split with age. The first reprint is said to have been done in 1871, which makes it almost 150 years old.
Reprints were made regularly through 1908 and can be purchased at the Ford’s Theater — the site of the Lincoln assassination — gift shop. But the early reprints have often been passed down through families as the genuine article.
We hear many stories about how the newspaper belonged to a great-great-grandaddy who fought in the Civil War so it must be genuine, but it turns out to be a reprint worth somewhere between $50 and $150 according to auction results. Interestingly, there were a number of editions of the New York Herald on April 15, 1865.
The first was the 2 a.m. regular edition, followed by the 3 a.m. special edition, the 10 a.m. special edition and the 2 p.m. inauguration edition that chronicled the inauguration of Andrew Johnson. Reportedly, there was also a 10 a.m. record edition and a 3:30 p.m. special edition.
But there was no 8:10 edition like the one in today’s question. In addition, there was no edition of the New York Herald that had a drawing of a beardless Abraham Lincoln on the front page. All these are fakes.
Other signs of fakes include a notation near the top of the page that reads, “Whole Number 10459.” Originals have “Whole Number 10456.” Some reprints do have the correct 10456 number on them, but if the number is 10459, it is definitely a fake.
The 8:10 edition you own was thought to be genuine for some time, but in 1972, the Library of Congress declared it to be bogus. Earlier, we reported a $50 to $150 price at auction, but the prices may have been realized due to confusion about authenticity and may not be replicable when the facts are known.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.