For my English, English furniture colleagues, I would like to offer a few travel tips should they want to visit some of the more far flung auction houses in places like Hibbing, Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, Laurel, Mississippi, Anchorage, Alaska, Salem, Oregon, etc.

1. The weather will be violent–dress accordingly and bring a rubber duckie.
2. The people will be friendly except the violent ones–dress accordingly and pack heat.
3. Try the food, but not too much. Bring antacids.
4. The dollar is useless so bring yuan.
5. Don’t pack a bag because it will be lost and probably stolen.
6. Taxi drivers don’t know where they are going and probably don’t speak English.
7. Florida is not Disneyland.
8. California is not Disneyland.
9. Dubai is Disneyland but it is not in America.
10. English is spoken in America. Bring a Spanish dictionary.
11. Watch out for bears, wolves, coyotes, snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. They can all kill you. Pack heat.
12. Don’t pretend you are on vacation when you bump into another dealer.
13. If you get to know a local, emphasize your accent, particularly if you are wearing a tie. He might like foreigners and forgive the tie.
14. Don’t wear a tie.
15. Don’t wear a suit.
16. Forget the hot tea, drink Snapple.
17. We drive on the right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we drive on the right.
18. Don’t order wine outside major cities. If you do, refer to #3.
19. American women love English accents. Their husbands and boyfriends might not. Pack heat.
20. Remember that the goods always look better “undiscovered” in America. Stay home, they will get to you eventually and you won’t have to heed the previsous 19 suggestions.

The first book that I read by Kurt Vonnegut was “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater” which my mother gave to me in 1965. It was clear in that book and all of his subsequent novels that Vonnegut did not trust collective wisdom. It was perhaps most clear in “Slaughterhouse Five” where Vonnegut writes of the fire bombing of Dresden.

Collective wisdom, more often than not, lacks responsibility. With a few shining exceptions such as the Declaration of Independence, collective wisdom more often than not seeks the lowest common denominator of acceptance. Hence such decisions as dumping PCBs in the Hudson, for example. The world of English antique furniture is far removed from such egregious behavioral miscues, but I remember that the reason I got into the business was for the romance, the history, the aesthetics of what I was handling. There are others like me and we all have to acknowledge that the business is for earning our living. But money is much more the focus today. For me the romance always comes first.

Vonnegut used science fiction to step out of the reality of collective wisdom gone awry. There is no such refuge for society today as we reel towards a warmer and warmer planet based on the “needs” a nation has for development. Literature, and I may have been reading too much Joseph Conrad and not enough Kurt Vonnegut, seems to emphasize the inevitability of the nature of man. It is not a pretty picture.

The sheer muscularity of Joseph Conrad’s prose, his ability to transpose opposites to create taut and descriptive sentences is, quite frankly, awesome. His description of a woman’s love is startling. “….for it is only women who manage to put at times into their love an element just palpable enough to give one fright–an extra terrestrial touch.” (Lord Jim, Penguin Classics, 2000, p.247)

There is an honesty and a clear sightedness in Conrad’s prose that is all too lacking in our world of spin and PR. We believe things not because they are, but because we keep getting told that they are. It doesn’t matter what inour lives I am talking about here be it English furniture, politics or science. What is great is great, what is not so great is just that. Do we need to be in Iraq? Does global warming need to be scientifically proven? “Scientifically proven” was the mantra of 1950’s TV advertisers who used the phrase for, among other things, hawking cigarettes. Who would think that it would be used to defeat the initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

It is not just Conrad’s prose that is so deep. His stories involve the corruption of the self. The characters, Kurtz in “The Heart of Darkness”, Nostromo in that eponymous titled novel and Jim of “Lord Jim” understand the depth of their moral compromise and for the three of them it leads to their premature death. The apparent redemption of Jim is all the more poignant in Jim’s inability to escape his fate. The words touch the self in us and remind us what is real. We need that, scientifically proven or not.

The NY Times, my primary source of entertainment and enlightenment, came through again today. The Science Section was all about sexual desire. A hot topic, no doubt, although the articles were far less prurient than might be imagined. It is, after all, the Science Section although I have to admit to liking the candor of the 50ish psychologist who was turned on by listening to Noam Chomsky.

Sexual desire is certainly the most obvious of human wants and it is most likely the source of a great deal of our behavior, but where does the rest of a human being come from? Where on earth does honesty come from, or courage or a whole list of attributes that cover the gamut of character? And evil, what is it and where did it arise? Assuming that you can even define it?

This may not have much to do with English antique furniture, but it is nice not to think about antiques from time to time. I suppose I could relate my passion for antiques as being some sort of sexual manifestation of self but such psychology doesn’t really go far enough. It may link the why, but it doesn’t explain the commitment.

A friend called and suggested that my last blog was offensive to the buyer of the pair of consoles that sold for $637,200. Antiques can be looked at objectively and that is what I was doing in my blog. I further suggested that my two pairs of consoles are better than those two. I still do.

I use my blog competitively. When pieces at auction make huge prices, more than the article might cost in a shop somewhere, I make note of it.  This is one of those instances. I think the buyer could have done better coming to my shop.

I would give my eye teeth to be able to see a piece of English antique furniture through the eyes of someone else. Our personal sense of aesthetics notwithstanding, I have to say that there is among the top dealers a certain uniformity of taste and judgment. However, as I contemplate the pair of consoles that sold in St. Louis last week for $637,200, I realize that there are greater differences than I thought.

It is ever the eye of the beholder that decides what is right in the world of aesthetics. And there are  many documented cases of maligned artists who have gone on to be considered among the world’s greatest. However, art is art and furniture, while artistic, has specific aspects that are to be judged for quality, condition, composition and form.

I just don’t get what is so great about this pair of tables. Condition-wise, the legs have patches of veneer at the top of the legs on the back side. This could have been original, but is highly unusual of circa 1785 cabinetmaking. Several of the legs have screws in them, probably because they have been broken. There is a crack in the veneer of one top. The middle layer of veneer also looks to be boxwood, a most unusual choice for that time period. (It may in fact be satinwood.) The trophies of the frieze are cramped butting on the banding, again, an unusual and particularly ungraceful presentation. What is good  is the overall color of the tables and the engraving is quite fine.  Overall, I think the tables might rate an A- and that perhaps they are made a little after 1785.

I would like to see them through the buyer’s eyes and see whether he sees what I see. Either he does and he discounts the limitations due to the overall paucity of top grade material on the market or he just sees good tables. If it is the former, then I would question these tables of being worthy of such a huge price and if it is the latter then I wholeheartedly disagree with him.

Every once in a while, you hit upon a simile or metaphor that really strikes a chord. While reading Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” the other day, I came across a real dandy. “The young moon newly recurved, and shining low in the west, was like a slender shaving thrown up from a bar of gold…..,” I could see it quite easily.

I am a fan of words but I am also a fan of antiques. The pair of console tables that sold for over $600,000 in St. Louis last week, which I went to see, did not capture my imagination. They did not have it for me–what I would call that extra dimension of greatness. When I said that they were not as good as either of the two pairs I own, I was not being boastful.

If I had to describe those tables with a simile, I would say that they were like a thoroughbred whose lineage was about speed but which just didn’t measure up. That doesn’t really matter, however, as long as someone sees some speed in them.

Is the English antique furniture world facing a decline? In the last five to six weeks, we have seen a serpentine chest sell in auction for over $100,000, a pair of cabinets for over $300,000, a serving table for over $200,000, a sofa table for over $200,000 and a pair of demi-lune inlaid consoles for over $600,000.

I don’t care about high prices. I like good furniture and I have some great English furniture. In fact, I have not one but two pairs of demi-lune consoles that are better than the pair that sold for $600,000, a lot better in fact.

The market may not be what it was, but that is because supply has diminished and fewer people will be able to use English furniture for decoration, particularly with the prices I cite above. Great English furniture can be found in shopslike mine–you needn’t wait for it to appear in auction. And, surprisingly, it isn’t all that brown.