To some, an armoire is a pompous way of saying wardrobe. But that’s far from the truth. While armoires eventually evolved into wardrobes, they used to be much more than that. As the name suggests, at the beginning they were used to store arms. Armoire comes from the French word armorie, which means “cupboard or bookcase”.
Nowadays, there are differences between an armoire and a wardrobe that is slim. The main one is that armoires are often bigger and more ornate. Wardrobes follow today’s trends of minimalism with a hyper-focus on utility. Whereas armoires, like many things of old, also satisfy an aesthetic ideal.
And it’s this aesthetic ideal, combined with their age, that makes antique armoires valuable to collectors. They are great pieces of furniture that can give any room a vintage touch. They often have complex decorations and intricate designs that matched their original owner’s taste and social status. Plus, they are quite rare nowadays, as they were replaced by modern wardrobes. And rarity is what drives a collectible’s price in the first place.
In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about antique armoires. Their history, how to determine their value, and notable past sales.
Let’s get started into this exciting journey into antique armoires.
The History of the Armoire
The armoire has a long and complicated history. The very first armoires were built in medieval times, but they were very different from the ones we’re accustomed to. They sported a simpler design with one big block of oak wood. Extra accessories like drawers and doors only appeared later as the design evolved to expand their use.
Armoires as we know them today first saw the light in 17th century France. Back then they were as much pieces of furniture as of art. They were painted or carved with complex patterns to ornate them. The woods used varied depending on the style – oak, walnut, chestnut, and ebony were all used. The decorations were often in different materials, each picked to exalt the design.
Eventually, the design kept evolving throughout the Renaissance to get to the one we know today. What was fashionable in the French courts in the 1600s wasn’t in U.S. homes in the 1800s. The armoire’s design followed suit, seeing multiple adaptations through the years. In general, they got thinner but taller, to the point where they had the dimensions of a modern-day wardrobe.
Each armoire’s design reveals its owner’s social status. Common folks’ armoires followed functionality over form. Plain hinges and minimal to no decorations were the norm in their homes. Whereas richer people — who had money to splurge — wanted their armoires to reflect their noble taste. With time, however, armoire designs flattened and got to the point of modern wardrobes.
Let’s now see how you can evaluate an antique armoire.
Evaluating an Antique Armoire
Being able to evaluate an antique armoire is crucial for 2 reasons:
- Avoiding frauds
- Recognizing fakes
Frauds are self-explanatory. Some people claim their armoire is way more valuable than it really is. And unsuspecting buyers might believe them. That’s awful, as it inflates the market with low-quality pieces that got paid a fortune. It’s bad for everyone – buyers and sellers, as it erodes trust.
Fakes are, unfortunately, a plague in the antique collectibles space. Dishonest people build new armoires following the old ones’ designs, and then try to make them look old. They carve a few chips or nicks here and there, and try to be inconsistent with the way they paint the armoires.
Here’s what you need to look at when evaluating an armoire:
- Age — Older armoires are rarer and more valuable. Think about it this way: every year the armoire has more chances to get destroyed or tossed away. These things are over 100 years old. Time took its toll. The owner’s antics took their tolls. Moving houses took its toll. World’s history took its toll. It’s quite remarkable for an armoire to have survived to this day.
- Conditions — An armoire in better conditions is more valuable than one in poor conditions. Chips, nicks, wood discoloration, broken doors, and other factors all affect a piece’s value. The closer to new the armoire looks, the higher its price. Be extra careful of man-made imperfections designed to make the piece look older/authentic.
- Style — Style is loosely correlated to age. As in, different styles were favored in different periods, depending on the fashion of the time. For example, an armoire in the Georgian Era style was probably built between 1714 and 1830. However, style can also be misleading, as obviously someone could have just as easily build a Georgian Era armoire later on. Style is only one piece of the puzzle of figuring out an armoire’s age.
- Rarity — A piece’s rarity, while partially predicated on age, conditions, and style, also takes on a life of its own when evaluating an armoire. Yes, older pieces in better conditions are rarer, and thus more valuable. But also, an armoire could be rare purely because it was owned by a celebrity. Let’s say you got your hands on King Louis XV’s personal armoire. How much more valuable do you think it is compared to a regular armoire owned by a peasant?
Once you’ve analyzed all of the above, you should be able to give a decent estimate of a piece’s value. Speaking of which, let’s see some of the most valuable armoire that have been sold recently.
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The Most Valuable Antique Armoires
Antique armoires can be a work of beauty. And if you’re in the market for a high-end one, you’ll find yourself needing to be ready to drop some serious cash for one. However, with their beauty and usefulness, you’ll be happy with your purchase.
To help you better budget for an antique armoire, we compiled a list of recent sales of valuable ones. These are the top of the top – the most expensive and beautiful antique armoires you’ll find on the market. If you want something that collectors value a lot, these will be your best options.
Let’s get started.
Georgian Inlaid Walnut Linen Press, Armoire Dresser, Scotland 1820 — $2,360
This solid walnut with veneer finish armoire hails from Scotland. It was built in 1820, which makes it almost 200 years old. Despite its age, however, it’s still in good condition. You can see some imperfections, especially around the drawers and doors, but the piece still looks excellent.
The inside is quite spacious, thanks to the armoire’s size (it’s over 81 inches tall). It’s a great addition to rooms in many styles, as the Victorian design makes it quite versatile. Great purchase if you want a rare piece that doesn’t look too out of place in a modern setting.
Chinese Antique Red Lacquered Armoire with Distressed Gold Floral Motifs — $2,900
For those looking for an exotic piece, this Chinese armoire should be (…have been) on their radar. Built in 19th century in China, this red lacquered armoire has an ornate design with gold vases with bouquets of flowers. Conditions-wise, the armoire has seen better days, with evident discoloration and scratches all around the surface. However, with a little restoration work, this piece would go back to its past glory, and embellish any kind of room it’s put in.
The lock still works, and despite the armoire looking small in pictures, if you check the actual size, it reveals a lot of space inside the piece. This was definitely a solid buy for anyone who knew someone capable of restoring the piece.
Oak Art Deco Modernist Armoire or Wardrobe by Fa. Drilling Amsterdam, 1920s — $3,468.78
Going by the most widely accepted definition of “antique”, this piece just joined the family, as it was built in the 1920s. Art deco as a style had just gotten popular, with its geometric forms and appreciation for everything machine-made. That meant perfect symmetry, simplicity, and repetitiveness. All characteristics well represented by this armoire.
The piece was assembled in the Netherlands and is made with solid oak. Those black lines are in ebony. The piece is very elegant and minimalistic, making it very versatile. You could combine it with many other styles to create your ideal room.
Conditions-wise, there is not much to complain about. There are minor flaws here and there, which is perfectly normal for a piece approaching 100 years of age. But they are tiny and hardly impact the piece’s looks.
Antique 3 Door French Walnut Armoire Cabinet Bookcase Display China Cabinet — $3,650
If you are looking for a piece to decorate a spacious room, look no further than to this beauty of an armoire. Built in walnut in the French style (dating this around the 18th-19th century), this is slightly different from other armoires on this list.
While every other armoire here could also be used as a wardrobe, this is more of an exposition piece, with the triple glass door and glass shelves. The pictures show us a piece in great condition, with a very intricate and beautiful decoration. You can tell a skilled craftsman chiseled this.
This would be a great addition to any living room, perhaps as a library, or a place to showcase trinkets from all over the world. Or your other collectibles. Anything that works well with the piece’s antique French style.
Mid-Century Canadian Brutalist 2 Piece Armoire — $3,895
Some people would argue this piece isn’t an antique – after all, it’s only about 50 years old. Technically, true antiques are over 100 years old. But antique and vintage (antique’s little brother) are often used interchangeably, and we wanted to give you an idea of different styles and price points.
Brutalism gets a bad reputation in the art world. It’s a very polarizing style characterized by very “in your face” decorations. This armoire is a perfect example of brutalism, with a very strong pattern on each door. A peculiarity of this piece is that the buyer could choose to have it restored before shipping. That would remove any sign of poor condition, such as discoloration, nicks, and scratches.
This piece would look best in a room that has a very aggressive style choice. Something that you want to make a strong impression in anyone seeing it. If you’re a meek kind of person, this is definitely not for you. But if you want to express your boldness, this piece would express it in full.
Antique Victorian Rococo Revival Rosewood Armoire Belter Meeks Mallard — $4,900
If you like Rococo, this is definitely an armoire you’ll love. This is a single-door mirrored armoire, built so that you get your clothes out and try them on with the help of the mirror. Very good for vain people, or for those who are very conscious about how they dress.
There are a couple of issues with this announcement though. First off, the seller doesn’t tell us the piece’s age. It’s not the end of the world, as it’s definitely antique, but we’d have preferred to see something more accurate. Our estimate is that this piece is from around 1850.
The second complain is that the pictures’ quality is a bit low. You can still tell from those pics that the conditions of the armoire are great. There’s very little – if any – wear and tear displayed throughout the piece. And the decorations look as good as ever.
This armoire is a great addition to spacious rooms looking to recreate a rococo/baroque style. It’s a bit visually noisy, so it would clash horribly with a more minimal style room. If opulence is your thing, then this is a must buy, provided you can afford it.
18thC French Bleached Walnut Armoire — $11,571.02
What a piece we’ve got here. And at what price! This is a bleached walnut armoire built around 1780. It is among the rarest armoires you’ll find, thanks to its removable shelves. Yes, you read that right, brilliant French engineers already figured out removable shelves back then.
Beyond the uniqueness of the piece, its high price comes from its conditions. They are basically perfect. You can tell by looking at the picture that this has been properly stored and maintained throughout the centuries. The outside presents only minor wear, with a few scratches here and there, and the doors’ corners have had it rough. The same goes for the inside. For a piece that’s almost 250 years old, this is one of the most well-conserved ones, impressive.
However, we must notify you about the fact that this piece is not 100% original. As the website tell us, the inside base and top were replaced. The job, however, was done to perfection. It’s indistinguishable from the rest, it doesn’t look replaced at all.
The asking price was very high, at $11,571.02, but this piece is definitely worth every penny.
But what if you want to buy your own antique armoire?
Antique Armoires for Sale
If you’re on the market to get your very own antique armoire, here are a few examples with their prices:
- Here’s an antique French oak armoire that sells for $750. It’s a double door mirrored armoire that looks very elegant. It would be great in a room with lots of light, where the mirror can really shine. It’s also quite affordable. Definitely a solid buy.
- Here’s a pine two door armoire. Pine is a type of wood you don’t see often in armoires, which adds to this piece’s value. It’s a bit on the expensive size with its $2,150 asking price, especially since it looks a little weird on the sides, but its color is quite unique for an armoire.
- Last, here’s an antique art deco knock down armoire. This three-doors mirrored model is in great condition. And it sells for only $500. Definitely a bargain for someone looking for an antique armoire that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and that goes well with most interiors.
You can find antique armoires at most price points, though don’t expect to spend less than $200 for anything that is remotely decently-looking. Still, since you can use them in your daily life, you can consider them as a more luxurious wardrobe.
FAQs about Antique Armoires
Are restored armoires less valuable?
It depends on how the job was done. If the restoration blends in perfectly, no. Take this armoire for example. It costs over $50,000 despite being restored.
Are antique armoires rare?
Each piece has its own rarity so to speak. More common armoires sell for a few hundred dollars, whereas top of the top ones can go for tens of thousands of dollars.
What is the difference between an armoire and a wardrobe?
Armoires and wardrobes are very similar. Indeed, wardrobes are the spiritual successor to armoire. The main difference is that armoires usually have more intricate designs, and are refined with multiple materials. Wardrobes are more minimalistic in style.
There you have it, the most valuable antique armoires. This piece of furniture used to be a staple in every house, and it still is through its natural evolution: wardrobes. But many people want something more than the typical minimalistic wardrobe every other person has. And antique armoires are perfect for that.
The beauty of buying or collecting antique armoires is that you can find all sort of pieces to complete your interior designs. Whether you’re looking for something simplistic like the Victorian style, or something of great visual impact like brutalism, there is an armoire for everyone.
Before rushing to buy one though, do your research to make sure you won’t run into problems when buying. There are dishonest people out there who ruin the collectibles market to make a quick buck. Knowledge is the only way to avoid them, so consider spending extra time to acquire all the information you need before buying.
Happy hunting, and good luck. We hope you’ll find the perfect armoire you’re looking for.