Dear Helaine and Joe:
My parents lived all over the world and I remember this birdcage since I was tiny (I am now 62). I must sell it but have no idea of the worth or where I might go to sell it. It is over 5 feet tall and made from wrought iron; it has hand-painted flowers on the vines and glass shelves. There is a light in the top within the tulip-shaped flower. Your help would be appreciated.
The first email came in labeled “Le cage aux folles” and we laughed. Literally, the phrase means “the crazies’ cage” (or in another insensitive term, “the nuthouse”), but it has come to mean “birdcage” after the name of the gay nightclub in Jean Poiret’s 1973 farce by the same name.
But when we looked at the pictures supplied by S., we did not see a birdcage and wrote her back, “Are the sides enclosed in glass? Is there a door of some sort? How about a feeding dish? Can you elaborate?”
The reply came back: “No sides, no dish, no door. Stunning in person. New house — no room for a kitchen table!!”
We laughed again and immediately took a liking to S. She sounds like a fun lady.
Closely re-examining the set of enclosed photographs, we saw a tall floor unit with four glass shelves. The sides are decorated with whimsically trailing vines going at the sides, and at the top a metal flower conceals a light bulb. After we got the notion of this being some sort of birdcage out of our birdbrains, it immediately dawned on us that this was an etagere.
An etagere is a piece of furniture consisting of open shelves used for displaying small objects — glass, porcelain, family photographs, tchotchkes and so forth. It is usually tall and sometimes and has enclosed cabinets at the base, but this is not a necessary component.
The etagere in today’s question originated in Italy and was probably made in the 1960s. This fits with S. having been born about 1956 and remembering this since she was a “tiny” girl. The piece appears to have been gilded, but the surface has acquired a lovely soft patina over the past half century or so and the metal supports are surrounded by leaves and vines with 3-D flowers that seem to just sprout here and there.
It is a pity S. did not tell us where she lives so we could direct her a little better to a place to sell her etagere. An interior designer might be interested, perhaps someone specializing in mid-20th century Italian design. An auction house that focuses on upscale mid-20th century items might sell this between $200 and $250 on a good day.
There was a time around the turn of the 21st century when these were hot and snapped up by dealers and designers as quickly as they came on the market. Things have cooled down a bit in the past 10 years, but this is such a lovely and high-quality piece we think it should have no trouble finding a new home.