The value of antique furniture rests in part on its purity–is it still in the form it was when it was made and are all the accoutrements, hardware, etc. original? If it is original, it has greater value, although without going into details at this point there are exceptions to this rule. Hence, a piece of French furniture with gilded mounts is worth more if the mounts are original.

In talking with James Robinson, a restorer in Ashburnham, Mass. who has an extensive resume which includes many of the finest collections of English and French furniture around the world, he told me about a problem that seemed to have no answer at first blush. A commode he was working on had a set of gilded brass mounts that did not fit properly on the carcase. They looked like they should be slightly higher and yet there was only one set of screw holes showing that the mounts had never been moved. Were they later additions or replacements? He felt quite certain that the mounts were old and when moved higher, looked quite perfect for the piece.

Restorers are often not asked to go the extra mile when working. They are expected to conserve money as well as the piece they are working on, but this problem was perplexing. Eventually, James decided to pop off the veneer to look at the carcase to see if anything was amiss there and voila, there were the original holes for the mounts. Why had they been covered? The screws had broken off while being removed and that restorer decided to patch the veneer and lower the mounts. James pulled out the broken screws, three out of sixteen, reveneered the carcase and patched the incorrect holes and replaced the mounts. Problem solved.

Problems that seem insoluble happen all the time. The economy, for example, seems in such a Gordian Knot that it would be hard to imagine it ever returning to “normalcy”. And whatever that state of normalcy is, we can almost never look at another price tag and just accept the value that is being presented to us therein. In the world of antiques, the value of something has never, in my opinion, been based on investment potential. Rather, antiques are to live with and enjoy, they are not an investment portfolio. For those people who have bought things as investments, I say, good luck, and for those people who have bought what they loved, I say, enjoy.

The history/fiction, “Augustus”, written by John Williams and published in 1972 is written in epistolary form with letters and excerpts from diaries by the people around Augustus including Vergil, Livy, Horace and his daughter, Julia. It is an intriguing way to write history. The fiction may or may not be accurate, but it makes for an interesting way to learn about Rome of that era.

The finest part of the book is the penultimate letter written by Augustus to Nicholaus of Damascus, an old friend, in the week before the end of his life. In it, Augustus explains that everything he did, including the subsuming of his own character, was for the perpetuation of Rome and how, in that moment, he is unsure that what he did was correct. He comes to the conclusion that when you give people peace, they tend towards anarchy. The philosophy is certainly Williams’, but in Augustus’ mouth, it has great resonance.

It is interesting to see how history can give almost anything grandeur, or if not grandeur, a respect that it otherwise would not have. From a bed that George Washington slept in to the rock where the Puritans landed, the symbolism is undeniable. I don’t think Augustus understood this symbolism, at least not according to Williams and it makes his last letter that much sadder. Because as much as Rome is the train, Augustus was the fuel and it was his personality that could have prevented his debauched successors including Tiberius, Caligula and Nero.

Antiques have a little of this power and I am glad that they do. They represent something other than what we believe today. They are from another time and place where people saw things differently and they symbolize, to some extent, the glory and perhaps even the tragedy of that moment. Furthermore, they continue to accrue more symbolism with every passing owner. It is a part of life that can’t be seen, but which has great power.

I was surprised to see in a review of the new biography on V.S. Naipaul that Naipaul gave the writer complete access to all his papers as well as access to many unflattering papers written by his deceased wife and former mistress. I salute Naipaul for allowing the markers of his life to be so openly pored over. It is unusual that he did not try to burnish his image for posterity and restrict some of the less flattering material from the author.

Antiques, of course, are a marker from the past. Obviously, their character is far from human, but they are survivors. Survival of such markers relies on lots of different things, but in my opinion, at least as far as furniture goes, it is aesthetics coupled with inertia. Beauty can be ignored, but it is hard to trash and inertia is a powerful force for many. The destruction of all those country houses before and between the two world wars could have used a little inertia.

Most of the things that I sell are not that meaningful save for their aesthetic charm. At least, not as far as we know. They could have, at some time or times, in the past, been a favored piece of furniture, bought for reasons that resonated for years and years. I am almost certain that most of the pieces I am selling will one day have such significance. It is my raison d’etre.

George W. Bush is profiling himself as someone who is neither reflective nor introspective. Such moral certitude is reminiscent of John D. MacDonald’s Good Samaritan, Travis McGee, who always knew what the right thing to do was. But then, Ahab and Othello were equally certain of themselves and it didn’t enlighten them for a moment. What is so wonderful about not being reflective?

Our mere existence poses the question we all must ask ourselves at some point–why do we exist? The answer for many is that we are God’s creation and that we do His will. The certitude of that answer is not for everyone. I look at the question and choose to divert it to understanding how we live. To my mind, how we live, how we behave, what we create are all significant answers to the question. It gives moral significance to all our actions.

The majority of my adult life has been steeped in the understanding of 18th century English furniture. It is a picture to the past for me and reflects the incredible levels of sophistication that were attained in the century known as the Age of Reason. I admire the time period (though I am happy that I am alive today) and look at it as a step to what and where civilization is today. Reflection and introspection allow me to both understand and appreciate this. You can extrapolate this to cover the history of all the arts–they are essential to what we are as a civilization.

I know that “to do” is always better than “to think” about doing. But doing things right the first time requires experience and judgment. These qualifications come with time and being wrong often enough to know what is right. The moral certitude in this world is a luxury that only religion can truly afford and I suggest that religionists enjoy and savor it and keep it to and for themselves. For the rest of us, we have the chance to do something right by learning what is right. It is the lesson that we learn in life.