The best thing about contemporary art as far as I can see is how it deals with certain issues. Take authenticity, for example. I read in the New York Times that a Damien Hirst shark is decomposing in its tank and that one of the Hirst people said that replacing the shark with a second one won’t affect the integrity of the piece. I love that! I wonder what the insurance industry’s take on that is?

In my business, I have people asking me just exactly what has been done to restore a piece and the answer, in the trade in general, is nothing. I don’t agree with that answer but people are generally quite skittish about buying anything that has even seen the inside of a restorer’s studio. And everything has in some way or another.

No, contemporary art knows how to deal with their clientele. I can’t help but reiterate, I love that! Imagine building half of a house and then telling the client it was finished because the idea of the house was the important thing. I wonder what will happen when there are no more sharks to fill the tank? You still have the tank, the formaldehyde and, of course, the idea.

The movie, “Wordplay” is a charming film about the 2005 Crossword Puzzle Tournament held in the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, CT. Well, that is part of what it is about. It is also about the allure that the New York Times crossword puzzle has for a great many people. I am among those people. I have competed in the last four or five tournaments and after having peaked in 2004 have watched my mental capacity deteriorate quantitatively since.

The movie is really charming. The people who do crosswords, the people who are really good at them, crackle with the competitive urge to go faster and be smarter than anyone else. I won’t say that I don’t enjoy being able to do all the puzzles, because I do and I really enjoy being better at them than most people. Not these people, however. They are good and fast and I am not in their league.

I did the Sunday puzzle yesterday while watching England beat Ecuador in soccer. It took me about forty minutes of on again, off again concentration. I like this technique because I work in pen and it is neater because any jams allow me to lay the puzzle aside for a few minutes. I still make mistakes but far fewer than when I was in my 30’s. It is also illustrative of why I will never be better than I was the year I finished at 153rd. In any case, this is all to say that I can be seen in “Wordplay” in the last 15 minutes or so. Enjoy.

And by the way, today’s puzzle, which is very easy and which I timed myself on took me close to five minutes, a full three minutes longer than some of the pros. I was not stumped on one clue and I never stopped writing. Go figure.

It isn’t often that you get to see a reasonable fake, but there is a group of Irishmen wandering around that is peddling some reasonably good fakes. Their modus operandi is to show you what is in the back of their truck and to not mention anything about what they are selling. It is simply furniture and they let the dealer make the assumption that it is antique. The price is an antique price so the dealer thinks that it is antique, but the pieces are not antiques, they are well crafted fakes.

A year or two ago there was a story about a table that was sold by a London dealer for a huge price but that when they were offered a second, virtually identical table, they realized that the first table was a fake, i.e. a piece made to deceive one into believing that it was two hundred years old. I mention this because this particular group of Irishmen know that story and it makes me think that they were either the ones who sold the table or know the person who made it. That table was an extending round table.

These Irishmen caught a dealer friend of mine in their web of deception by selling him a four pillar dining table, but he stopped the check he gave to them on determining the piece was not an antique. Because I aided him in discovering this, they came to my shop and aggressively claimed that they had never said the table was antique but that it was circa 1880. Even this assertion is false as the pedestals on the table are no more than twenty or thirty years old, if that. Oddly enough, they caught another dealer in the same web of deception after claiming they had bought the piece just eight or so miles from his shop. The lies they told him were similar but different.

These Irishmen are taking their shot at the American trade. Either they think the American trade are too stupid to tell the difference or that they can pull off a sale with their lies. In either case, they will not be allowed into my shop again. Their aggressive and threatening demeanor is no joke and belies their innocence. I hope that no other dealers get caught in this web.

When discussing the incident I wrote about yesterday with a British dealer, he told me that there were a great many fakes coming out of Ireland at the moment. He had an experience with an Irishman who tried to sell him an early Regency serving table that had come from “a private home in Ireland”.

My friend looked at the table and it tweaked a memory of a sale he had attended in the country. He still had the catalogue and went into his office to look it up. It was the same table and the Irishman had clearly been the consignor as the table had not sold. When he pointed this out to the Irishman, he discounted his lies and admitted that he had put it into auction. My friend was appalled at this conduct.

These are cautionary tales. Anyone who thinks they can get something on the cheap is just kidding themselves. When we willingly suspend common sense because something is too good to be true, it is too good to be true. But this story is re-played again and again as human nature is, particularly for trusting people, open to believing in miracles.

An expanding circular table, one of the fakes that has been circulating around London, is coming up for sale soon in Stamford, CT, courtesy of the Irish mob I met the other day. It is a modern table and nothing more.

While reading a book on the contents of the Harvard Natural History Museum, I came across the distinction made by paleontologists of people who, on seeing a new skeleton found in the field, either try to define a new species (splitters) or lump the skeleton into an existing species (lumpers). This applies to how furniture is seen by the antiques trade, according to which category best advertises the piece of furniture.

For example, Thomas Chippendale made very distinctive feet on a great deal of his furniture, regardless of the form. If the legs were straight, the feet were often blocked and if turned, the feet would be bulbous at the ankles. I have a supper table at home which has straight legs that are blocked at the ankles so I lump it into the Chippendale category. Other than the high level of craftsmanship of the table and the good timber it is made from, there is nothing else that relates to Chippendale.

When Christopher Gilbert did his research on Chippendale, one of the discoveries he made was why the rails of his chairs were notched. Gilbert said this was to secure the chairs in the packing crates. Before you knew it, every chair with notches in the rails was made by Chippendale. The lumpers were happy to know this fact.

The late dealer Ronald Lee loved focusing on details and had a wide knowledge of distinctive traits on furniture from eccentric mouldings, unusual hardware, odd feet, etc. He was a splitter who would try to pin down a maker through his details. The problem was that the information was useless without the identification of the maker and a lot of Lee’s knowledge died with him.

More on lumpers and splitters tomorrow.


There is a set of Chippendale dining chairs at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire that are made by Thomas Chippendale. It is a large set and most of the chairs have been kept around the table. However, several of them have been placed in the window alcoves for the last two hundred and fifty years and because of that have been bleached by the sun. They almost look like different chairs because the color of the chairs is so different.

I was once asked to go to Louisiana to look at a John Cobb commode. It was a period commode, serpentine shape with marquetry inlay. Unfortunately, the engraving on the commode had been re-done, most likely because someone had sanded the original surface and caused it to be erased. It was badly re-engraved and looked terrible.

The thing most ignored by people who are lumping and splitting to further define their furniture is the condition that the furniture is in. The Cobb commode was a good period piece, but it was drastically damaged by the poor re-engraving. The Chippendale chairs are just fine in my opinion, but if I was selling them, I know that most potential clients would have problems with the chairs that were sun bleached.

Every piece of furniture is different, not just because it was made one piece at a time, but because it has survived to the present age differently than the piece that might have been made right along side of it. Even, as is the case with the chairs at Nostell, if they have lived in the same room for their entire existence! Split and lump as you like as it is important to make definitions, but choose your furniture according to the condition that it is in today.

The English fairs in June, Olympia and Grosvenor House, are in full swing as I write this. They are the main event for many in the English antique furniture trade until the November Olympia. The better financed dealers show at the International Fair in New York in October. Both of these June shows are good with Olympia currently pushing towards a more high end image. I am not certain they will ever be able to challenge Grosvenor House because of existing perceptions that second tier furniture is exhibited at Olympia. Not true at all, but perception is reality.

Suffice it to say that a great many dealers at both fairs are worthy of a visit. I saw new things, or at least I saw forms that I have heretofore only seen in books which is always worth the trip. However, I think the English should invest more in air conditioning as last Friday to Monday in London was unbearable unless you were wearing what my friend Gaylord Dillingham wears around the house, a pose pouch and a tank top. I haven’t graduated to that clothing standard yet.

Speaking of Gaylord Dillingham, the BADA fair in New York at Sotheby’s in January is canceled. Dillingham derserves credit for leading the charge against the fair. I think, however, that the expense of the venue was what did the fair in. Many at BADA have said the fair is “postponed”, I prefer to say canceled.