A pair of commodes sold in London for ninety-five thousand pounds the other day. Given their rarity, it is an odd price in the eyes of the antiques trade which feels that they should either have been four to five hundred thousand or, if they were 19th century, a good deal less.
The commodes raised questions that could not be answered from the point of view of a workshop like Thomas Chippendale’s, or for that matter, by any sophisticated London shop of the 1750’s. The inconsistencies in construction, none of which condemned the piece entirely but which did cast shades, not absolute, doubt on the pair, were sufficient for two people in particular to question the authenticiy of the pair. The two individuals, both experienced and with excellent credentials, one a restorer and the other an auction house expert, were leery enough about the commodes to forestall bidding by dealers who felt that such a negative slant might harm their prospects of selling the pieces. Whether they knew it or not, they affected the bidding.
The question that begs to be asked is how did these two individuals earn such a valuable position in the antiques trade without being dealers? I know of instances where the auction house expert has incorrectly rated furniture. That is not to say that I or anyone in this business is infallible, but isn’t that the point? Further, does a lukewarm opinion of goods at a rival business guarantee an unbiased opinion?
The one thing that I have learned in the English furniture business is that there is no such thing as altruism. There are people with agendas who will say negative things for their impact. I am not saying this is the case here because I did not examine the commodes and may agree wholeheartedly with the rumored judgment. But I will say that people who speak honestly are seldom given credit for it and/or they are roundly condemned for their naivete. The consequence is that one has to invariably suspect any opinion, no matter who voices it. In the end, honesty is a variable commodity and that is a great pity.