My sister-in-law, Susan Allport, is writing a book about Omega 3 fatty acids. They are much more interesting than most people know. From what she tells me, the world would be a healthier place if we ate foods with Omega 3’s or at least took the bona fide supplements thereof.

Which leads me to the point that I would like to make about trends in English antique furniture. In some ways, the world is getting more sophisticated. Buyers of antiques in the 1980’s and 90’s cruised shops and shows and bought what they thought were antiques. There were a lot of charlatans out there selling and not a great deal of knowledge buying. It was a happy market, ignorant in its self assuredness.

Today’s buyers know more. They are not a happy lot at all. Prices have gone up precisely because there are so many knowledgeable buyers out there. There are also fewer goods available. A dealer told me the other day, “The things that sold for ten thousand pounds ten years ago now sell for three and the things that sold for one hundred thousand now sell for at least two hundred thousand if not more.”

It’s worthy of a nose bleed. Take your Omega 3’s and be healthy.

 

A great client of mine who was called “Americaq’s greatest collector” by Thomas Hoving wrote several books on collecting. They were actually more like essays on what moved him to buy certain things. He certainly wasn’t collecting to make money. If that had been the case, he would have gone to the family investment firm.

I think of him in relation to trends because there are so many different reasons why people buy English furniture. As I mentioned yesterday, the 1980’s and 90’s were all about the investment value of English furniture and loads of people were convinced to buy and bought for that reason. Phooey!

I saw my client’s daughter as well as Martha Stewart in a consignment shop on Saturday. It says a lot about trends. Two people who can afford what they want looking for things in any place but an antique shop. I have to admit, consignment shops are hot, but not for antique furniture. Good antiques are also hot, but then you have to know one when you see one.

 

The antique dealer today buys the best that he can for his inventory. He will own six sets of chairs if that is all he can find on the market.

The only trend for dealers selling high quality 18th century English furniture is to buy the best they can that not only passes vetting at shows but which makes people respond positively. That is hard.

People who really care about great things do not follow trends. They also make room for great things. People who collect should not follow trends. Trends are for people who want to get published or known for their savoir faire but who have no other reason for buying something. Follow your heart.


I was criticized for using the word harsh to describe summer light. Strong is probably the better adjective. The problem is that we see ourselves, specifically our skin, looking better in the summer. In the winter, we see pallor and lines and in the summer, a healthly glow. But the light is stronger in the summer and looking at objects is different than looking at skin. Objects that are old reveal themselves more readily in strong natural light as patina is a slow and steady accumulation of wear, polish, dirt and fading which is extremely hard, if not impossible, to manufacture. It is as good a reason as I know for buying antiques in the summer time.


Now that I have vented my spleen regarding dead beats, liars, etc., I can concentrate on the real issues which are basically how to make a living in the summer time when peoples minds are anywhere but on the interior of their houses.

There is a difference between how you see things in summer light versus winter light. Summer light is stronger and harsher making a good piece of furniture, one with a great natural patina, look spectacular. You almost feel that you can see the layers of age. In the winter under artificial light, we are manipulated into seeing a lot less because of the lack of light intensity.

Dealers train themselves to see these differences, but for people not used to looking so closely, it is like having a brand new way of seeing the same thing. Thank God for summers.


There is an English dealer, not a furniture dealer I must emphasize, who has owed me a substantial sum of money for six months. He bought something on the opening night of the Winter Antiques Show and agreed to pay within four or five weeks. He hasn’t yet and continues to lie to me.

There are people that haven’t got a clue. Their presumption is enormous. That presumption is that the world should see them the way they see themselves, or at the least, the way that they see the world. This group includes anyone who lies, cheats, steals or uses violence. They see the rest of us as sheep–easy prey, subject to their wants and beyond accountability.

Where are the shepherds in all of this, the leaders that would keep us from those that prey on us, the extremely stupid sheep. It is no longer the wolves that we fear because it is the shepherds who are wayward. Sooner or later, they must realize that they, the shepherds, are plentiful in this day and age and, whether they know it or not, will be soon forgotten when they are gone.


The market place, as defined by a respondent to yesterday’s entry, is defined by what someone will pay for something. A price is asked and it is either accepted or rejected. It is a simple and logical concept which you would think is black and white.

Except that I have been reading a Benjamin Franklin biography and his forte was understanding human nature. Human nature is inconsistent, often irrational. The same person who has made billions can be outraged by what he or she perceives to be someone’s usurious profits. As antique dealers buy in public auctions, sometimes against their own clientele, they are targets for such outrage.

I made a point yesterday about the dealer client relationship because it transcends the black and white nature of the price tag. Clients who appreciate the dealer’s expertise and effort get better service and, at times, better prices. The shade of gray, not the black and white, is where human nature resides. Ergo, the topic of how things are priced will always be a matter for discussion.


The question I asked yesterday was whether a dealer willing to pay a big price for something should mark that item for less if he buys it inexpensively? People feel that antique dealers rip them off when they learn, sometimes by accident and sometimes because a competing dealer has let the client know, how much the dealer has paid for an item.

The question is a complex one. In a moment of Jimmy Carter candor, I would admit that it is likely that a few bad apples rip people off. I would maintain, however, that the function of the dealer is as a knowledgeable tastemaker. What he charges is based on what he knows about condition, rarity, color, similar examples in other collections, how to restore and how restoration affects value and, of course, service such as the willingness to try something in your home. Do I think this has value? Absolutely, and the profit, whatever it may be, is earned, not grifted.

What we are really talking about, however, is the relationship between the dealer and client. Dealers will always help faithful clients. Clients that work with dealers get deals. This has and always will be the case.


An English friend of mine recently sold off his father’s estate at a reputable provincial auction house. His expectations were reasonable and they were, by in large, met. He was a little surprised when he went to the Grosvernor House Antiques Fair and saw several things (silver) selling for up to five times what they sold for at the auction.

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s have built international brand names. Some well heeled gent with some time to spare might just drop by and bid on something for this reason. This rarely happens at provincial sale rooms.

Dealers focus on sales world wide from Hong Kong and Singapore to Vancouver to Paris. The world is their oyster and often times long journeys and a great deal of time are wasted chasing some supposed treasure down. The reward is when you buy something inexpensively.

Dealers are often criticized for huge mark ups. But the fact is that a dealer prepared to pay a large price values the object before he bids. If a lot is worth $100,000 to him, he may bid up to $60-70,000 for it and then pay restoration and transportation fees. Should he charge any less for the item if he buys it for $10,000?


What about the dealer? How do you know what a dealer is about, whether he is knowledgable or trustworthy? I can’t answer that question. Neither knowledge or honesty wear recognizable clothing nor do they speak with a particular accent.

A dealer I know dropped in yesterday to say that his summer time was slow, but that he felt there was more to it than the normal summer slumber. “The amount of damage one bad dealer does is a generic smear to all dealers.” The statement is true. One bad dealer does enormous damage.

This is a business of trust. It is too easy to corrupt that trust. Perhaps it is time for a national standard. I’ll be the judge.

(If my irony excapes you, remember the French revolution.)


I asked the question a while back whether dealers ever regret buying or not buying something. What about private buyers?

Auction houses make people feel comfortable about buying from them because there is an underbider. The psychology of the situation is irrefutable for the person that worries about getting value for money. Is that really the case?

There are two questions that I would pose to the auction buyer. The first is whether auctions are unbiased, meaning have the goods been properly catalogued and reasonably estimated against the market? A survey of English furniture sales at the major auction houses will tell you that is not the case. Estimates fluctuate, occasionally dramatically, and if that is true, what is the value of the estimate as a price guide? The second question is who is the underbidder? Is that person knowledgeable or was it someone who felt moved to buy a piece on that particular day just for the hell of it?

It is silly to think that because an underbidder existed, you at least bought something that was worth the money. You learn value by learning the market and the auction houses are just one slice of the market. Value doesn’t exist because there is more than one foolish bidder.