Question: Among some pieces of furniture, my daughter recently bought at a storage shed sale that is a sturdy, 40-inch-high, 18-inch-wide, wooden high-back chair with an arced top, no arms, very short legs, a low, upholstered seat close to the floor, and a shelf below the seat. The chair’s entire back is pierced with an elaborate, carved-out design, and it was sold as a “possible prie-dieu.” Can you tell us anything about this chair, its age and value? W.D., Vineland
Answer: Also known as a prayer chair, a prie-dieu is furniture used while praying. It is identified by its straight, narrow back often decorated with ornamental carving and a low kneeling surface over a shelf where prayer books were stored.
Originally used by important clergy conducting European religious services during the Middle Ages, prie-dieus became popular walnut and mahogany Gothic Revival furniture used for private family prayers in well-to-do homes by the mid-1800’s. At that time, what had previously been a knee rest was often changed to a low seat, frequently upholstered with leather or needlepoint.
While prie-dieus are not widely collected now, there is moderate interest in examples offered for sale by folks who decorated their homes with authentic Victorian-era furniture during the late twentieth century. Several antique prie-dieus in very good to excellent condition fetched $1,475 to $1,885 this year.
Question: Many years ago when a friend divorced and moved to California, I agreed to store several boxes of her winter clothing in my attic. After her recent death, her daughter suggested I throw them away. Before doing so, I opened the boxes and was surprised to find Halloween costumes. Among them is a new, unused Purple Bat costume made for a pet, sealed in an unopened clear plastic package marked “Martha By Mail.” Additional printing indicates it contains a size small polyester three-piece costume consisting of a collar with removable wings, a harness and a tutu that measures 10 inches from “neck to tail.” I know that early Martha Stewart items are collected and would appreciate your input. N.N., Seabright
Answer: “Martha By Mail” was a Martha Stewart mail-order catalog launched in 1996 by businesswoman, TV program host, author, “Martha Stewart Living Magazine” publisher, retailer and New Jersey native, Martha Helen Stewart.
Although Martha By Mail items originally were purchased by ordering them on mail-order forms inserted in “Martha Stewart Living Magazines,” the quality, unique designs and large selection of offerings rapidly increased demand, requiring the creation of a special division of Stewart’s company. In 1996, Martha By Mail became the firm’s official catalog business, remaining until it closed in 2004.
Made by leading silversmiths, glasshouses, ceramists, foundries and furniture makers, many Martha By Mail pieces associated with cooking, sewing, crafting, gardening, family life and entertaining are collected and used today.
Recent prices paid for perfect Martha By Mail Purple Bat Pet costumes, once part of a line of Martha Stewart by Mail all occasion pet costumes, have ranged from $25 to $33.