The problem with being quoted is that you have to remind yourself that no one will ever understand just why you said what you said. I was quoted last Thursday by Bill Hamilton in an article for the NY Times regarding the Winter Antiques Show. “It’s the worst show I’ve ever had.” was how I was quoted and that is true. What I might have said was that it was a beautiful show, a great crowd of people and that I had a lot of great conversations with potential clients. That is true as well.

The crux of what I wanted to make clear to Mr. Hamilton was that markets are cyclical (which he mentioned in the article) and that I cannot make people see what they don’t wish to see. If someone is buying modernist now, you can bet that at some point in their life, they will be switching to buy something else, perhaps even English antique furniture. If that is the case, I hope they will remember who I am and come to me. That is why dealers do shows. They also would like to sell, but that doesn’t always come to pass.

Having said that context is everything, I started to read the comments by five conservative Republicans about how they would attempt to reorganize health care in this country. The first thing that Bill Frist, the former senator and a doctor, said was that it was not in the DNA of any Democrat to understand markets and that they should not be fiddling with them. A Democrat might respond that Republicans don’t understand regulation and that they are solely responsible for the financial meltdown. Neither of these statements are true, they are grandstanding.

My comment to Mr. Hamilton may have been impolitic, at least from the point of view of public relations. But I have never been much for PR and to that end, I guess I am a good interviewee. Politicians are different as they play games that are designed to win the hearts and minds of the people. One would think that the best way to win those hearts and minds was to work for the people, show them what you can think up to make a situation better, not be a smartass. Politicians who like clever lines are wasting everyone’s time.


In reading the Sunday NY Times about the school board in Dallas that seems to have sway over how history is presented in America’s schools, I could not help but think about the book I am reading, “The Great Influenza”. Anna Williams, a scientist in New York City at the time (1918) wrote of her “discontent with a happiness in the lack of knowledge”. Of course, she was referring to the attempt at finding the pathogen that was sickening New York at an alarming rate, not to an interpretation of history.

Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1747) ends with the lines, “No more, where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.” The lines were about the innocence of childhood, not the pleasure of ignorance. The lines, however, resonate well beyond childhood and could reflect the innocence of the Age of Enlightenment in England and in France. The French beheaded their monarch for it, the English only lost their American colony.

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the NY Times on Mondays wrote in regards to the current political impasse, “But the best outcome, even now, might be some sort of compromise.” The essence of democracy, if you think about the Constitutional Convention of 1776, is compromise. Yes, it is great to get your own way but it is not always right–think of Jefferson and his slaves. The end of innocence lies in recognizing that, like it or not, we are all connected. Lose sight of that and you lose sight of the reason for America.

It is hard to equate the fear of the influenza outbreak in Philadelphia in the fall of 1918 with anything that is happening today in America. Debt and unemployment notwithstanding, death is the final frontier for most of us and the influenza death was painful and impartial. Few did not get sick from it and of those that did get sick, a great many died, 4,597 in one week in Philadelphia, a figure that is deemed to be under reported.

Fear, real or imagined, is a powerful force. In the 1660’s, London not only faced the plague but was also the victim of fire. Charles II wisely stayed in London and worked with his people to ameliorate the effects of the fire, but without doubt there were many Londoners willing to blame him for their troubles as he was, after all, rumored to be Catholic. Hogwash has many guises.

The appalling governance of America in 1918-19, from top to bottom, claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Politicians reacted according to their own interests which only served in spreading the flu. Those same self interests are paramount again today. The Tea Partiers, for example, who claim to be fearful for America by fearing the Federal government, are being courted by the Republican right. As a result, the debate of serious issues is reduced to the lowest common denominator. Maybe the pain of the flu, as sharp and awful as it must have been, was better for this country than this.


The sublime qualities of a great painting reveal themselves in many ways be it the brush strokes (Van Gogh’s are insanely patterned) the subject (the “Mona Lisa” continues to draw publicity) the psychology (Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” inspired a novel) or the time period in which the painting was created (Picasso in all his periods). I find it difficult to look at a great many paintings because there is just so much to see.

Objects, and I am thinking primarily of furniture, have two basic premises, function and beauty. The furniture trade, which had thousands of practitioners in the 18th century in England was capable of fulfilling those premises and as early as 1720 was out-exporting furniture to every European country save for France by a minimum of at least five times. In other words, for every five chairs that were exported, they only imported one. it is an impressive testament to art as craft and craft as art.

It is the survival of objects that helps make them something other than just functional items. Objects get loved and they get ignored, but when they survive, they say something. I have been told about good furniture that has been thrown in the trash. It almost never stays there because people walking by it just can’t leave it there. The same has happened to paintings and I even though I suspect some masterpieces have been destroyed, it is a testimony to mankind that we seldom let that happen.


I would like to think of myself as a thinker, but I am not certain that I fully qualify. In reading, “The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry, it is clear to me that great thinking requires a dedication to the re-thinking of those things you consider well thought out. The battling of the 1918 flu pandemic was a battle not just to save lives, but to re-cast medicine and the science of medicine to cope with such extraordinary crises and to jettison those methods, despite their current approval, that were unsustainable in figuring out the underlying causes of the pandemic.

The nature of thought and thinking in 18th century England looks insubstantial given that a large part of the population was illiterate and barely educated. Given that the 18th century was the platform from which the Industrial Revolution arose, it almost seems like a contradiction that such a society could yield such dynamism in so short a time. The population might have been uneducated, but the country was far from ignorant. The questioning of how things worked might in fact be the motto of 18th century England. That is what laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution.

The struggles that the 21st century world faces have a lot less to do with ideology, differences in society or politics than we would like to think. It should not matter where you are from, what your religion might be or whether you are a liberal or conservative provided you choose to re-think that which you hold as sacrosanct. The life blood of all living things is compromise as without compromise no organism will survive. That is what scientists do when searching for solutions. Fortunately they did it in the early 20th century. Let’s hope it can happen in the early 21st.


Alistair Bradley Martin died several weeks ago at the age of 94. He remains one of the few collectors I have met whose visceral understanding of objects could guide him unfailingly. And yet he was as cerebral about the things he bought as any curator. Those of us expert in a field were awed by his ready grasp of the intrinsic nature of the objects that he purchased.

Around 25 years ago, I bought a scarlet japanned, lobe top table circa 1845 that had penwork drawings of medieval type characters in each lobe. Alistair saw the table in my shop about a half hour after I purchased it and bought it within minutes. I never had a chance. To him, he was looking at history, even if he did not know about the brief medieval revival that was happening in England in the 1840’s.

Alistair’s ready understanding of the place that culture has in history made him a unique individual. His business was collecting and he did it superbly. The Guennol lion that made fifty-seven million dollars at auction was, to him, just a footnote. It was the object, this early Assyrian lion that told about a culture that was the cradle of civilization. Alistair really knew his stuff, all right. I can only wish the world will see more like him.