A lot has been written about the demise of the popularity of English antique furniture. From my perspective, which spans about forty years in the business, I see a number of things happening, but they are less about the popularity of English furniture and more about the way people spend thier money. English furniture can be extraordinarily interesting and deadly dull. The shades between these extremes, like it or not, are the English antique furniture market. Quality, which touches on proportion, materials, craftsmanship and condition coupled with rarity and provenance, are the parameters that determine value within that sphere.
The driving force behind the popularity of English antiques in the 1980’s and 90’s were the auction houses. To start, there was lots of it to sell and they could have sales all the time. The English “look” became the rage helped not a little by exhibitions such as “The Country Houses of Britain” at the National Gallery in 1985. The enormous boost given to the English decorative arts by all these events created a monster. English furniture became less about what made it good and more about the fact that it was English. This was a certain recipe for disaster.
English furniture is about its greatness and about how interesting and beautiful it can be. Collectors and dealers have not forgotten this. There is, however, a diminished supply and the large auction houses amalgamate English furniture into catalogues touting “500 Years of European Decorative Arts”. English antique furniture dealers benefit from this, but today’s buyer is sophisticated and does not wish to yield profits to the dealers on things they could have purchased at auction. The cross currents of these various events make for a market that appears both weak and strong. One thing is for certain, however, and it is that any epitaph written for English antique furniture is based on imagination, not reality.