Trash or Treasure: Game table an example of lost art

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Linda Gratz poses with an 1800s Syrian game table.

“It’s been in my family forever,” Linda Higgins Gratz told expert Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal session held at Troy’s Michigan Design Center.  “It came from the Old Country. My grandfather is from Beirut and came to the United States at the turn of the century but we don’t know exactly where the table came from for sure.”

Thomczek identified Gratz’s intricately detailed and impressive piece of furniture as a late 19th-century games table, probably Syrian in origin. He also identified the woods as teak and fruitwood, marks of an older piece and of good quality, he said.

“Many of the newer examples of tables like these are mixed lower quality woods or walnut,” he explained to Gratz, opening the piece of furniture and showing Gratz and others assembled for the event how it contained spaces for games that included cards, backgammon, checkers and chess. It also has imbedded pieces of mother of pearl for decorative purposes, he added.

Thomczek explained further that the piece was handmade and the product of an intensive labor process that includes careful placement of small pieces, much like a mosaic or puzzle. “It’s not regular or perfect, so you know it was hand done,” he pointed out.

He added that many times tables of its age and have large chunks of inlay missing and that while Gratz’s table has some condition issues, including some minor wear, they are inconsequential overall. “Obviously this was meant to be used and was, but it’s in amazing condition and really nice to see here today.”

He also showed Gratz and guests at the event that it was made to be folded for easy mobility.

“This is as nice of a quality games table as I’ve seen,” he added. His only bad news was that like many pieces of older wood furniture, it would suffer from decreased demand and a soft market. “Antique furniture is down across the board,” he said. “The only thing doing really well is mid-century modern.”  He said it would command $2,400 to $3,500 in an antique shop, $800 to $1,200 at auction, which represents a wholesale price.  

“It’s been passed down to the oldest child in the family for generations,” Gratz explained. “We don’t know what happened to the other family pieces.”

Even though the value is down, Thomczek praised the piece and said he’d recommend keeping it in the family if possible. He said the best way to clean it is with mild soap and a soft cloth. 

“It’s just unbelievable how a man or woman sat and did every small piece by hand,” Thomczek mused. “It truly is a lost art.”


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About this item

Item: 19th-century games table

Owned by: Linda and Richard Gratz

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $800 to $1,200 at auction