Local collectors of rare hard-wood antique furniture don’t have to stray too far off the beaten track to find exquisite pieces – some of which may fetch record prices on the auction floor.

Stinkwood and yellowwood chairs in virtually any design or style are becoming more valuable across the world. Age is no longer the only factor driving prices. Rarity, condition and provenance are also important.

Cape Furniture Smashing Auction Records

Bureau cabinet (1750-1760)

Image by Arthur Elliot

Neo-classical solid wood armchairs dating from the early 19th century are going under the hammer for as much as R30,000 apiece. Source a matching set of Cape Africana chairs, whether in stinkwood or yellowwood, and there’s likely to be a bidding battle.

Over six years ago, Bonhams Auctioneers of London realised R79,000 for a set of five 19th century stinkwood corner chairs. More recently, auction records were smashed when a late 18th century yellowwood, stinkwood and ebony cupboard fetched R560,000.

Categorising Cape Africana Collectibles

Stinkwood armoire

Image by Cape Times

Cape Africana collectibles are loosely grouped in two major categories – Cape country furniture and patrician furniture.

Cape country furniture includes hand-crafted items made of stinkwood, yellowwood, hard pear and other indigenous hard woods, sourced largely from the Knysna and Amatola forests.

Patrician furniture consists of high-end pieces manufactured in Cape Town for the who’s who of the then Cape colony. Examples are on view at stately old residences such as Groot Constantia and Koopmans-de Wet House.

Because furniture has been manufactured in the Cape since 1652, collectible Cape chairs are found in all the major stylistic genres, from Baroque and Rococo to Regency.

Best Sellers

Best-selling items from the Cape include stinkwood tolletjie chairs, stinkwood Tulbagh side chairs, Cape stinkwood bergère chairs in the Rococo style, yellowwood kists and jonkmanskaste in contrasting yellowwood and stinkwood.

Highly decorative antiques may still be in favour but they don’t always set the bar as regards financial returns. A brown armchair with relatively small proportions became the most expensive 20th century piece ever auctioned. The Eileen Gray-designed chair, manufactured in around 1920, fetched an incredible £19.4 million, or roughly R305 million, at the height of the recession in 2009.

Are you Sitting on a Small Fortune?

If you own any sturdily built solid wood chairs – from elegant antique chairs to relatively modern chairs in the neo-classical style or even simple well worn H-shaped children’s chairs – as you may be sitting on a small fortune!