Is there a need for price guides in the world of English antique furniture? Our corporate culture likes to think that everything can be quantified as long as we have enough information from which to draw a conclusion. However, I don’t think English furniture lends itself to this analysis.
I have expounded many times on the five aspects of a piece of furniture that make it unique. The foremost is design because it is the form and shape of the object that is of paramount importance to the buyer. The second is condition. Condition is tricky as sometimes a piece is in terrible shape and can be restored without affecting value. In other words, good color may exist under a bad finish. Or, in regards to gilded things, a mirror might be dry-stripped, a process that rids the mirror of subsequent gilding repairs while essentially retaining the original gesso, clay and if you are really lucky, gold. Experienced dealers make money off of these situations because they know what can and can not be salvaged. The third aspect is craftsmanship. There are poorly made antiques and they don’t earn a great deal of money in auctions because of their dubious quality. The fourth is the materials from which a piece is made. A dumbwaiter made of mahogany is a fairly common object, but one made in rosewood, indicating that it is probably Chinese made, is a great deal rarer and commands a higher price. The fifth is provenance which is likely the trickiest of all to prove unless you have a signature on the piece which happens very seldom in English furniture. There is also another category which is more difficult to define and it is the odd piece of period furniture that does not fit the norm. For example, you would be very hard pressed to find a narrow console table with cabriole legs that is over three feet wide. It goes against the proportional mandates of the 18th century cabinetmaker and yet such oddities do turn up and can be quite valuable.
How can a price guide factor in these elements? I don’t think it can.