Object Lesson

Chippendale chest-on-chest

Piece de resistance Chippendale parcel-gilt mahogany bonnet-top chest-on-chest, from the Lammot du Pont Copeland collection of American furniture and decorative art. John Nye, director of American furniture at Sotheby's, calls it "one of the last great collections of Americana" assembled during the "golden age" of collecting, from 1935 to 1955. Pieces date from the late 1600s, the so-called Pilgrim Century, through the Federal Period, ending in the 1820s. On auction January 19 at Sotheby's, New York.

Provenance The chest, with carvings by Philadelphia master craftsmen Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez, dates from the third quarter of the 18th century. The Copelands--a prominent couple from Wilmington, Delaware, and heirs to the du Pont fortune--bought the piece in 1954 from the Auchincloss family of Marietta, Pennsylvania.

Distinguishing characteristics "It's in a terrific state of preservation, with the majority of the carving on the tympanum and finials being original," says Nye. "The chest also has a grungy, dirty patina." In this case, "dirty" is a good thing. The grunge factor can mean the difference between a piece's selling and really soaring, he explains. "It guarantees that the object's surface is original. It's often a good indication of age--like finding an archeological site and knowing that the ground underneath is intact."

Estimate $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Sotheby's, 1334 York Ave.; 212-606-7000; www.sothebys.com.