|By Eric C. Rodenberg
EDINBURG, Va. — The fact that the early 19th century cupboard ever survived into the 21st century is nothing short of a miracle.
But, this survivor of critical 1864 Civil War campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley – and beyond – was duly recognized by bidders at Laughlin Auctions on Jan. 12. After a frenzied battle in the auction house among many of the top folk art and primitive collectors in the country, the circa 1825, walnut inlaid, corner cupboard brought $80,000 – what is thought to be a record for such a Page County piece in the Valley.
It had it all, according to Auctioneer Hoyle Laughlin.
“It had great form, untouched finish. It had beautiful inlay, was a wonderful size,” Laughlin said. “It had a strong provenance, an interesting history, and it was complete.”
Laughlin had a pre-sale estimate on the cupboard at $30,000 to $50,000. But, he is not surprised that it went higher. “It was a great piece. We were very pleased.”
So were the consignors – Marshall, Ernest and Clifford Barkman, descendants of the original owner, John R. Burner, who they say built the piece in 1814.
“I got a lot of criticism from people in the business when I sent it to Laughlins,” Marshall Barkman III, an active antique buyer and seller, said. “Everyone kept telling me to send it to one of the big auctioneers, not a little country auction. But, I like Hoyle and his brothers. I knew they would get the job done, and they did. They got it worldwide attention.”
Laughlin Auctions is no stranger to high-flying prices. Established in 1986, the Laughlins early last year sold a Johannes Spitler (1774-1837) blanket chest for $150,000. Work by Spitler, who lived a mile down the road from the Burner home where the corner cupboard was for nearly 200 years, is extremely sought after.
“Johannes Spitler was a friend of my great, great grandfather, and he spent many a day there at the Burner house,” Barkman said.
Burner was a fifer during the Revolutionary War, according to Barkman. “He was later a craftsman … or in the trade,” Barkman said. “He was a jack-of-all-trades. He built the house in 1814, and then a bed, cupboard and some other utilitarian things, according to our family documents.”
The Barkman family has several other items made by John R. Burner that will be auctioned at a future date, Barkman said.
Perhaps what is so remarkable is the survival of the piece.
The home Burner built, Massanutton Heights, is a noted local historical gem, in that it is an “essentially undisturbed example of a prosperous 19th century Shenandoah Valley farmstead,” according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
In 1831, Burner was granted a tavern license, according to those historical documents. During the Civil War, the farm was used as the headquarters of Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. Troops camped there to use the mountain as a shield from the sun during the summer and for warmth during the winter, according to Barkman.
In 1864, and later, the Shenandoah Valley became the focal point of the Civil War, with both Union and Confederate armies clashing through bloody battles.
The town of Luray, as well as Richmond and many other towns, were decimated – totally destroyed by fire and cannon. However, the Burner home place, two or three miles outside Luray, was spared.
Family member Davey Burner served under Jackson, probably as a teenager, according to Barkman.
“It is a widely known fact that the only barn not burnt after the North defeated Jackson was the Burner farm because the troops camped there and used the chicken eggs to live on, so the barn was spared,” Barkman said.
And, so was the corner cupboard.
“I remember as a child, the cupboard sat in the parlor,” Barkman said. “My grandmother, when she would have the family over, would get all the family dishes – all these pieces – out of that cupboard.”
Barkman said he was, from an early age, fascinated by the piece.
“It has all these inlays,” he said. “These beautiful birds, flowers, and a big Federal eagle … I’ve been in this game for some time – and I’ve talked with people who have been in longer, 30-40 years, and I believe it could be the very earliest federal eagle seen in a corner cabinet.
“Despite the economy being down, and all the doom and gloom, it’s good to see that people still have that passion for antiques,” Barkman continued. “It just goes to show that antiques are still viable. If you have something that is good, original and has the right provenance it will always hold its value.”
Laughlin agreed with his consigner.
“It was a good sale,” he said. “We had several other pieces that did well. There were a lot of top collectors there. We had a good time with that cupboard.”
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