I found this 18-inch-diameter circular bowl on one of my treasure hunts. The reed trim around the top edge is in excellent condition. The patina is gorgeous, and the piece is quite heavy. Perhaps it was made on a lathe? I wonder if you could tell me what kind of wood it is, where it might have come from, its age and value.
Treasure-hunting can be a great deal of fun.
Sometimes you find something beautiful, sometimes you find something you like but know little or nothing about it and sometimes you find something that is valuable. The question is: What category does this rather large wooden bowl fall into?
Collectors refer to this type of piece as being a "burl bowl." Burl is wood that is characterized by interesting shapes and ring patterns. This kind of wood is used in making a variety of objects that range from furniture and sculpture to decorative objects such as this unusual bowl.
Burl wood does not come from a specific tree. To name just a few, burls can be found associated with maple, ash, apple, plum, redwood, mahogany and oak to more exotic woods such as amboyna.
A burl is caused by fast growth that may be formed by such things as fungus or insect attack. In other words, a burl is an abnormality — a rounded, deformed lump on a tree. The characteristic may be found either above or below ground.
The unusual and generally very attractive highly figured patterns found in burl wood come from the deformity of the wood itself and from dormant buds that leave little "eyes." Burls can be quite large, and one found in Australia is more than 6 feet tall.
Burl is very hard to work with a lathe because of its misshapen grain, and it is not much easier to work with hand tools. We see no evidence that a lathe was used to make this bowl and feel that it was probably laboriously shaped by hand.
It is hard to determine from photographs exactly what wood a particular piece might have been made from, but after close examination, we feel this one might have been crafted from a maple burl. Artists love to work burls from exotic tree species because the result can be a spectacular display of "tortured" wood grain, "eyes," a variety of other anomalies and beautiful colors.
But maple burl is available and has often been used by skilled craftsmen. In addition, the caramel color and heavy weight mentioned in the letter are consistent with this piece being maple.
The woven reed edge on this bowl is very unusual and this leads us to believe that this is an artist-made piece that does not have a great deal of age. This type of rim is not consistent with 19th-century examples, and we feel very strongly that this piece was made sometime during the second half of the 20th century.
It's a pity that this bowl was not signed by the artist because this may have raised the value. Many wood craftspersons working in the past 40 years or so signed their work and burned into the bottom the type of tree that produced the burl used.
Antique burl bowls of this size and larger can bring significant amounts of money at auction. One sold in 2004 at Garth's Auction in Ohio for a staggering $56,000! This more modern example, however, should be valued, for insurance purposes, between $500 and $750.
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Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. E-mail them at email@example.com.