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Treasure: Detroiter curious about stargazing chair

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

“A neighbor and friend of my grandmother collected African antiques and artifacts,” wrote Detroit resident Zakiyyah Young recently to the column about an item she was curious about, asking for an appraisal. “She traveled to Africa a lot through the years…She passed away a few years ago and recently her oldest son, the remaining child, decided to have a private selling amongst close family and friends. I was invited along with my cousin. We purchased a few things but the one thing that stood out was this chair. He informed us that his mother said it was an African slave birthing chair that was maybe 100 plus years old.”

She purchased the chair at the family estate sale and has been curious about it ever since, she told DuMouchelle appraiser Jim Flannery at a recent appraisal event held downtown at the auction house and gallery. “She knew people from Nigeria who said it was a stargazing chair,” she told him.

That’s possible, he said, as these types of pieces of furniture were multifunctional and date back to before the birth of Christ. “It would have been used for a lot of different purposes,” he told her. “We see examples of this type of chair through history, dating back to similar examples depicted in Egyptian papyrus and other historic documents.”

He agreed that her example was African, due to the construction and materials. “Stylistically, it tracks with the idea that it was made there,” he told her. “It’s a very nice example of a birthing chair but unfortunately, it’s not highly or unusually carved, which would help it bring more money at auction. Those are the ones that are elevated to true works of art.”

While on the plain side, it still has value, he told Young, estimating that her piece would bring $150-$300 at auction if she were to put it on the market.

She was curious about its age, which Flannery estimated at approximately late 1800s-early 1900s. “These chairs have been around thousands of years, but its the really old ones that bring a lot more money.”

She wasn’t disappointed with his appraisal, she said. “It sits in my living room where I have a lot of African pieces. I have it displayed in the corner. I purchased it with a number of other pieces so I didn’t pay a lot. It’s going to go back in the corner.”

“Either way, it’s a great conversation piece,” added Flannery, agreeing that it would be a good place to lean back and enjoy the night sky. “If I did that it would probably take three people to get me out of it after,” said Young with a laugh.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : African chair

Owner: Zakiyyah Young, Detroit

Appraised by: Jim Flannery, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $150-$300