A marvelous quote from the obituary of P.B.MacCready, the designer of the ultra light airplane Gossamer Albatross that a good bicyclist was able to fly across the English channel in 1979 under his own power. “I’m more interested in a world that works than what sells.”

My sentiments exactly.


It is always a mistake to talk politics if you are as apolitical as I am. Politics has become a blood sport in this country and I dare say that neither side wishes to take prisoners, they just want to win. Perhaps the dynamic is a good thing, but I find it boring and non-constructive. It rules out common sense.

Common sense is what you think everyone HAS to have to get by. It is the grammar of constructive life. I am always amazed how people will not buy English antique furniture in America despite the fact that there is a great deal of it here. What you are buying is an object and that object is just as likely to turn up in New York as London. The common sense of this is undeniable.

The U.S. constitution was written by honorable men trying to establish rules for a republic of honorable people. I am not so certain that today’s politics have anything to do with honor which is not good for this republic. I would love for the partisans to stop harping on about dogma and to start focusing on the character of their teams.


Does creativity dim with aging? Mathematicians freely admit that they do not have the same creative insight past the age of thirty that they do in their youth. Artists seldom get better although Rembrandt certainly kept on being great. I think craftsmen improve with age in a thousand different ways, many of them not at all obvious to the casual observer. Watch an old stone wall maker and watch a young one. There is a difference and the older man is not at a disadvantage for his age.

The most comforting aspect of the decorative arts is the devotion to function and beauty. Flights of fancy that are impractical weed themselves out. Indeed, the pieces are clearly objective and although you can be subjective about, for example, the quality of carving on a piece (it requires connoisseurship to make this kind of judgment) anyone can determine functionality.

Creativity is ultimately difficult to define. The demands that we have on ourselves to make a living require us to plow a field and if we know what is good for us, we tend to plow the field that yields a predictable profit. What greater stifling is there to the creative mind than that? The dynamic, a distinctly human one, is of mediocrity.


Christie’s has raised their commission rate on purchases up to ten thousand pounds to twenty-five percent. I think you could rant and rave about this, but I don’t think it worth the fervor. As a dealer, it is important to know your market and know how much you can spend on something and stop when the item gets too expensive. It is a straightforward equation.

The antiques business used to rely heavily on the major auction houses to supply them with goods. It doesn’t as much as it used to for several reasons, the foremost being an overall shortage of supply of antique furniture. There are four major sales of English furniture in New York these days and usually only two of them are worthwhile. This has to be affecting the thinking of the auction houses and the value of staying in the antique furniture market altogether.

I have to admit to feeling just a little sorry for the auction houses. They are making moves towards getting into the contemporary art market, a more fickle market there isn’t. Where do you go if your sources are drying up? Perhaps ready-to-move-in-to homes with the art and decorative art of your choice. The auction houses could sell the lock, stock and barrel. How much is that worth?


I was told once by an antique dealer that the more unusual and rare an item was, the more you should suspect whether it was an antique or an inspired reproduction. I would like to think that there are some rules in the antique furniture business, but there aren’t. This rule, like all the others, is a rule of thumb., something to go by when you are in a pinch and is certainly not an absolute.

What is true in the antiques business is that if you come upon something extremely unusual, it is likely to have a great many detractors among your competitors. There is a herd mentality in the business, probably in all businesses for that matter, that finds it difficult to accept the unique. Unique objects were, of course, made, just as pieces have been altered and re-made. The antiques world has a very hard time with these pieces.

The concept of unique is unsettling. It throws the rule of thumb out of whack. I’ll never forget coming upon a cove on Lake Cayuga that had many thousands of geese resting in it. They were all facing the same way and you could sense that the safety of the species depended on their massing together. But our instincts to amass ourselves in thought and deed can’t always be right. Otherwise there wouldn’t be hermits.


In an article in the NY Times Magazine several weeks ago, Michael Ignatieff wrote of President Bush as having led a “charmed life” and ergo his decision making was thereby suspect. This logic is suspect and the statement nothing more than a gratuitous swipe at a class, which may be fair game, but which is not really the point. Attacking someone for being wrong is one thing, but the attribution for error is another thing altogether.

I have tried to apply the concept of what a charmed life would be in the antiques trade. The only thing I can think is tha multi-generational firms are charmed for lasting so long. Even then, however, each new generation has to build their own business so the charm only lasts so long. The word charmed is clearly inappropriate here as it was in the context of Ignatieff’s article.

The word Ignatieff was seeking, or one that I believe is a-propos, is hubris. Bush’s hubris is his hammartia or as was written in Proverbs, pride goeth before the fall. George Bush has done many things wrong in my opinion, but they are not the fault of where he came from. The American people wanted a president whose greatest conviction is his own rightness, something that could be said about a great many Americans from all walks of life.


Those who like to say to-mah-to
Enjoy the tone, the deep vibrato.
Those who say it is to-may-to,
Know their god, know who to pray to.
To them, to-mah is pseudo-classy,
To-may, however, is just too brassy.
There is proof alas, that one is right,
It comes just after one sweet bite.
The syllable that escapes the lips,
Slips and slides and slides and slips,
It is contentment, what one says aaah! to
That makes the long “a” obligato.


Does it ever make you wonder how politicians can continue to reiterate a falsity in order to substantiate the claim of veracity? Our president has done this in saying that Al Qaeda necessitated his invasion of Iraq. No matter what else you say, this is a falsity and it is no truer no matter how many times he says it. Debate the value of the war, perhaps, but don’t debate this fact.

I call this blindspeak. The repetitive declamation, true or false, definitely has power, particularly when you are in the position of having news people covering your every utterance. It doesn’t work when it is your mother that you are trying to blindspeak when she has caught you with your hand in the cookie jar.

In the antique world, blindspeak is the salesman who will say what the client wants to hear even when it includes bald faced lies. Fortunately, this type of salesman is on the wane if only because the English furniture business attracts fewer charlatans these days. I just hope our president doesn’t go into the antiques business when he is done as president. He might give the business a bad name.


An article in today’s NY Times noted the passing of Norma Gabler, woman who with her husband Mel, virtually controlled the content of a great many text books in the American school system. Their close atttention to detail allowed them to severrely criticize not only details that were incorrect but overly “liberal” concepts espoused in the textbooks of the American classroom. I am sure George Bush owes the Gablers a debt of gratitude.

Input becomes our understanding without doubt. I can sympathize with the Gablers sense of outrage that there is a longer paragraph on Marilyn Monroe than George Washington in a history textbook, but I also have to stand up for cultural history. Marilyn Monroe may not have been an important personage on the stage of 20th century history but she helped personify an era. Not knowing who she is will not affect your understanding of the cold war, but you will certainly not understand America in the 1950’s and 60’s if you don’t know Marilyn.  Extrapolate this to  furniture and you will understand my passion for English antique furniture and, by extent, English history.

Power is an interesting phenomenon. First you have to grab it and then you have to hold on to it. Rather like Oscar Wilde’s observation about golf being a terrible way to ruin a good walk, power is a terrible way to ruin a good life. I suspect my viewpoint might be lost on the Gablers, but then I don’t regret that at all.