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Antique European Secretary Desk with Carved Face on Drawer

I bought this desk / secretary 3 years ago at a yard sale for $50.  The woman selling it was about 50y/o; she said her husband's grandmother had brought it from 'the old country' -- somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Unfortunately I can find no date or manufacturer's stamp.

The desk is 38" tall, 27" wide, and 18" deep. It stands on gracefully bowed slender legs. The front panel is slanted and swings down to create a flat writing surface and to reveal letter/envelope slots and a small (8" x 3") drawer. The hinges are intact, the writing surface flat and solid.

What makes this piece special is the carving. The panel has a swirling fleur-de-lis pattern with a fan in the center, all intricately carved.

beneath the panel is a drawer that extends the width of the secretary. This drawer is deeply carved with a face / mask of a gnome or nisse -- some sort of woodland sprite. The drawer pulls appear to be brass and are cast with similar faces of impish gremlins. The faces appear to corroborate the desk's origins in Eastern Europe, as I've never seen this sort of imagery carved on American antique furniture.

The finish is not original -- it's inexpertly applied and is an unpleasantly dark opaque varnish that obscures the grain of the wood.

There is slight damage at the left side (as you face it) of the carved face on the drawer. There is also a panel missing from the back, though that doesn't show at all from the front. Otherwise this desk is in excellent condition.

I have three questions. First, of course, approximately how much is this secretary worth?

Second, has anyone information about its possible history and origins?  I'm hoping the face(s) are iconic of some specific locale or time period.

Third: if I decide to keep this piece I will want to refinish it. Will I be drastically damaging its value thereby?

Thank you so much!!

Category: 
European Furniture
Condition: 
Excellent
Medium: 
Wood with brass hardware and pulls
Distinguishing marks: 
No maker's marks.
Date Period: 
? mid-1850's ?
Size and dimensions of this item: 
38" H x 27" W x 18" D
Weight: 
lightweight -- maybe 35#
History: 
Brought to Chicago in early 1900's by Eastern European immigrant
For Sale?: 
No

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