“The Inheritance of Rome” by Chris Wickham is a history of 400-1000 A.D. the first half about western Europe and the second half about the eastern Roman Empire. This period is known as the Dark Ages and Wickham’s raison d’ecrire seems to be to dispel the notion that it was dark and that the hangover of laws and ways of being from Rome contributed a great deal to the establishment of Europe as it exists today.

English history touches on a number of significant dates such as 1066 when the Norman invasion of England took place, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 which subjected kings to the rule of law and the union of Great Britain in 1603 under James VI and I. But what has been lost is what life was like prior to the Norman Invasion. Indeed, we don’t really know that much about life in England up to 1603, at least not at all levels of society.

The concentration of United States history within the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and today allows for the average American to know what life has been like for Americans from the very beginning of statehood. Granted, many American traditions are juvenile in comparison to most European traditions, but then there is not the weight of what has gone on before. The inbred antagonisms that haunt Europe and the Middle East, some political, some economic and a great many of them religious have never hampered America. That may be changing as politics embraces “culture” wars. We should think twice before going down that road.


One of the things I admire most about people who think is how they take on difficult situations. My two year older brother demonstrated his thinking abilities when our parents asked the two of us what instruments we would like to learn to play? I was eager, but my brother was not and yet his demurral was not to be accepted. I can still remember his silence that seemed to last quite a long time when he finally suggested in a tremulous voice, “bagpipes”. He was never asked again.

The panoply of styles that can be found in English furniture in the 18th century is broad for a number of reasons. The most obvious is because of all the immigrant craftsmen. One of the greatest of this number is Pierre Langlois who came from France imbued with French styles which he continued in England. A commode by Langlois is in the Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino, CA and was bought because the Huntingtons thought it was French. I have to say that it was a brilliant purchase, country of origin notwithstanding. It is a great piece and the fact that it was made in England only makes it more intriguing.

Langlois was not mainstream but he was a great craftsman. There are others like him such as Gerrit Jensen or any of the numerous Swedes who followed the French trained Swedes, Haupt, Furlohg and Lining to start their own workshops. That England, the country that could be called Europe’s cabinetmaker for the vast amount of furniture it exported, could so readily accept these itinerant craftsmen makes English furniture that much more interesting. On the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s, “The Origin of the Species”, it is only fitting to salute the evolutionary quality of 18th century English style and craftsmanship.


The fracturing of stone beneath the earth to enable a drill bit to run through very hard rock in order to reach gas deposits trapped in the earth is achieved with chemicals that are not good for you or anything else in the environment. I am told, however, that this process, known as “fracking”, can be done safely if the proper precautions are taken.

“Mad as a hatter” is a phrase that was coined in the 18th century for those people in hat factories who shaped felt with the aid of hot mercury fumes. Hot mercury was used to adhere silver to glass and gold to brass. Hence, hatters could be found in the upstairs of plate glass or ormolu manufacturers. Hatters weren’t mad, they were poisoned. No one told them of the risks of such a job and that is an horrific situation.

There are a great many things that are bad for you in this world. Jaywalking, which will get me killed one day, is an acceptable risk for me. Certain taxi drivers are not an acceptable risk but if I am trapped in one that isn’t, there is precious little I can do about it. No one wants to take stupid risks, but we all accept the responsibility of some risk. Is “fracking” acceptable? I don’t know. But I accept risk when I get in an airplane or eat processed food. There is an answer, but I doubt it will be acceptable to everyone as no one wants their risks to be calculated for them by somebody else.


I was pleased to see a large and boisterous crowd at Olympia the other night. The Olympia Fairs may be gaining a Lester but they have slowly been losing their luster as the antiques trade undergoes what can only be called a downsizing. The November Fair reflects this in its smaller size and there are really no stands that boasted what I would call great Georgian furniture. A few near misses perhaps, but nothing quite on target. The public seem unfazed by this fact. And the bar was packed by the time I left.

The collecting of things has probably run unabated since the dawn of time. Talismans, think of those poor saints whose bones were dispersed far and wide for those of little faith, were collected for their spiritual meaning. Magic was as much a part of this kind of collecting as anything else. What is so remarkable is the way in which collecting has gone from the spiritual and religious to the secular and monetary. I must remind myself here that all good furniture collectors focus on color first and that is how you recognize a furniture collector.

I live to meet collectors, particularly the neophyte collectors. They always seem so certain of what they are doing. Furthermore, they have a sense of security and knowledge about their actions that belies the quixotic God in the Book of Job. These collectors give order not just to their own universe but to mine as well. I salute them with utmost sincerity.


In reading about Dick Armey’s intent to thwart the government health insurance plan, I realized that Mr. Armey expects all of us to outsmart the insurance companies. The thought of a larger government is scary to be sure, but the insurance company quest for profit means that finding insurance if you are ill or have a pre-existing condition more difficult than finding that needle in a haystack. Mr. Armey is covertly suggesting we outsmart the insurance companies on our own so that the government doesn’t try to.

The English furniture market should, by all accounts, be reeling in this recession. You would think furniture would be selling for less. However, it isn’t and there seems to be very little of quality coming on the market. When things of good quality come on the market for the first time in years, they sell for a great deal. For a dealer, that means it is hard to sell one’s stock and it is hard to replenish. Nobody is outsmarting anyone at the moment, except that big money is buying quality. That may be the best and smartest strategy of all.

Understanding markets is a function of being expert and making bold moves. This is true in antique furniture, health or any other market you may want or have to be in. It is often not a case of outsmarting anyone, more a function of reading a situation in a way that you think you can make work for yourself. That may still be possible in English furniture if you work hard. When it comes to health insurance, the only way to outsmart anyone is to stay healthy.


I have a very hard time differentiating black and dark blue, particularly in the form of socks. Hence, I tend to wear colored socks because they are so much easier to sort. (They are also more fun, but I don’t think everyone gets the joke.) I know that I have a very good eye for color and it annoys me that I have a hard time with black and blue.

Antique furniture is, for the most part, about color. It isn’t always as sometimes it is about design, and occasionally it is about craftsmanship and to some degree about materials and rarely about provenance although a cast iron provenance of something extraordinary trumps every other category by which we judge antiques. Anyone buying an antique with lousy color needs to reassess why they buy antiques in the first place.

It was made clear to me yet again the other day that what I like about a painting is how the artist reveals light. My lack of enthusiasm for contemporary art is because concept is rather like an insiders joke whereas craft reveals itself. Of course, 19th century painting abounds in artists capturing light, some examples of which ended up on chocolate boxes. My favorite, however, remains JMW Turner. No one has tried harder to reveal light and few have had such success.


Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times the other day about a lunch she had with Rush Limbaugh a number of years ago where he stated that he was proud to be “one dimensional”. My first thought on reading that was of a Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde. I suppose life does imitate art, but maybe I am giving Mr. Limbaugh too much credit.

The depth and complexity of English furniture is but a pale reflection of the complexity of life. Nothing is as simple as it seems and in talking about trust, as I did yesterday, I believe it is the person who can best explain the complexity of English furniture who can engender trust in his clients. And yet, a good salesman without knowledge often understands character better than what he may be selling. Charm is the weapon of the salesman, knowledge is a hindrance to uneducated charm.

I tried to imagine just what Mr. Limbaugh meant by his remark. It could be a reference to his thought process, a metaphor for his unequivocal style. It could also be a declaration that there is no depth and that certitude underscores that simplicity. I would guess, however, that Mr. Limbaugh was using hyperbole to describe his style. But does hyperbole fit into just one dimension?


The need to question everything belies the sense of trust that all of us must have. Without trust, there is no security and the lack of security is at the root of most conflict. How do we get to trust when we are warned not to?

The complexities of English furniture leave lots of latitude for people selling furniture that is not antique. The rules, the exceptions to the rules and the unique things that just don’t seem right but which are real call our trust into question. The issue of trust is paramount to any buyer.

Trust must be earned somehow. It is interesting that religion demands the trust of its followers but often casts other religions as untrustworthy. This duality is one of many conundrums that cause us to question and possibly to distrust. The issue is a hard nut to crack.


The conspiracy theories of the 1960’s were, for the most part, risible. Save for J. Edgar Hoover who seemed capable of just about anything, most conspiracies were aggravated rumor and forgettable. But conspiracy theories have not died. They have life on the internet as I learned in listening to a story on the radio last night about how vaccinations were being railed at on the internet by people believing all sorts of strange conspiracies. The off balance odor of the half truths almost made me smile in remembrance until I realized the stupidity that was being purveyed. The 1960’s have not died, they continue to simmer.

There is an internet site offering a Chippendale table that has carved and gilded legs, except for the fact that the legs are not carved. The ornament on the legs is composition, a material made from glue, whiting and linseed oil. This material came into vogue after Chippendale’s era and you will not find it on any documented Chippendale furniture. In a way, this dealer’s assertions reminds me of both the anti-vaccine crowd and the 1960’s. The more outrageous something is, the better chance it has of being believed.

You can go onto the internet or read newspapers and magazines that will adjure that the world is flat. The essence of truth today seems to lie in the repetition of something that is said, not in whether it has any basis in fact. The computer has become a form of Miracle-Gro for half truths that would wilt under serious examination. Of course, brain washing is what the witch doctor did and mass delusion is what the magician does. Undermining the truth is the essence of all conspiracy theory. I am sorry about this. I rather like the unvarnished truth.