T.H. White’s, “The Sword in the Stone” was a childhood delight for me. My mother read it to me because she knew she would enjoy it as much as I would. I, in turn, read it to my son for the same reasons and enjoyed it all over again.

The character of The Questing Beast was one of my favorite parts of the four part novel. I loved the knight, King Pellinore, whose life it was to search for the beast and never find anything save for its fewmets (feces) that he would examine to determine just how far in front of him the beast was. Vladimir and Estragon of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” owe something to White’s Pellinore.

There is a certain type of journalism that provides fewmets for our contemplation. Their very incompleteness leaves us dangling allowing us, no matter how well or poorly informed we are, to fill in the rest. The lack of substance is rather like a come-on that will either titillate us or allow us to ignore it and find the come-on that fits our mood that much better.

As someone who deals in real things, I find suggestive possibility to be the equivalent of negative space–possibly interesting to contemplate, but really more of a mind game. I know that artists are very concerned by negative space, it is part of their metier, but decorative art needs to be substantive first and suggestive thereafter. The function that decorative art must comply to is what keeps me an antique dealer. If it doesn’t work, it is rather like the fewmets King Pellinore gathers–excrement.

I used to love hearing Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet” say, “just the facts, maam”. It was his signature line and a good one. I would like to say it to all those journalist pundits (most of whom I read in the NY Times but who can be found in virtually any newspaper) who are currently teeing off on John Thain’s $1,400 waste basket. Think about it for a second–a basket that has survived 200 years! That should be worth something. Think of all the successive baskets that haven’t needed making because that one survived. Think of how it might have been made–by hand and largely with human labor. What a green product!

Antiques are survivors and their survival is based on their perceived value at any given moment. That Maureen Dowd wants to question that value per se is an inherently false premise as she would be hard pressed to find something more economical than that basket. Indeed, she should be congratulating Thain for buying antiques as at least their is some value to recoup in their re-use. Had he gone to Target, the whole lot would be heading for the dumpster by now, filling up yet another landfill. We must like landfills, or at least Ms. Dowd, Mr. Rich and the rest of the NY Times crew must as they are so much more justifiable to the taxpayers who are bailing out the Bank of America. (Pardon the non sequitur as none of this really makes any sense.)
The antiques side of the Thain story is so sensationalist that it quietly reveals how little these pundits really think about when they want to skewer some character. I repeat, John Thain’s excesses at Merrill have nothing to do with purchasing antiques, but with his failure in judgment overall. Probably the very best thing he did was to purchase antiques in the first place. But that would not fit into their stories.

Making decisions is quite easy, but putting the thought into decisions is not nearly so. I would suggest that most of us have batting averages, not unlike a major league baseball player, of having one in five to one in three decisions completely analyzed and understood. I know that Malcolm Gladwell says that snap decisions, the first blush of understanding, is often the right understanding and that may be the case, but I would say that most decisions are not black and white and require far more depth than a spur of the moment decision can possibly have.

Buying at auction often looks like a spur of the moment decision, particularly to people not familiar with the items being sold. But dealers, professionals, look at pieces very thoroughly and determine value based on a host of issues including restoration, transportation, potential market, marketing and much more. It seems simple, but it isn’t.

And yet, we are forced to make quick decisions all the time. Indeed, I would say we are even encouraged to make decisions quickly and, in my opinion, rashly. Television news and newspapers have biases that encourage us to think a particular way to ultimately agree with their viewpoint. If a little shove is needed, there is sensationalism that can encourage us like cheerleaders on the sidelines. In a way, we all need to sit back and try to understand the consequences of a decision rather than being encouraged to make a decision. We could benefit from the slow down.

When Bloomberg News asked me what I thought of the $1.2 million spent by John Thain on the decoration of his office, I said it was a drop in the bucket compared to the $56 billion lost by Merrill Lynch. It is approximately, 1/4566th. Put into miles, it is a short walk across Central Park from where my shop is versus a trip across the country and back about a third of the way. I also said that if the decorator bought well (and I assume he did because he is a smart buyer) then some of that value should be recouped. I never said that $1.2 million was an insignificant amount of money in and of itself.

For those people who wrote and said that I was “out of touch” or that I should “be ashamed” for calling $1.2 million an insignificant sum, I suggest that whenever they wish to get in touch with someone who outrages them for what seems to be egregious behavior, that they take out the slim novel by Hawthorne about the story of Hester Prynne, “The Scarlet Letter”. Hypocrisy and self righteousness are neighbors as is made very clear in that story and I would suggest to anyone who wishes to shame or upbraid someone that they go out and do something for someone else before presuming to sit in judgment. It will make you feel a lot better about yourself and you might not have the energy to be presumptuous about the lives of others.

To those people who believe that I think $1.2 million is small beer,  please understand that I would be delighted to be the recipient of said sum should someone wish to offer it to me. When I referred to the amount as insignificant in the John Thain story on Bloomberg News, I was not making light of that sum. I was doing a very human thing which was putting it in relation to the much larger sum that was  lost by Mr. Thain’s firm and trying to make it clear that it was his decision making ability that was at fault, not his decorator and certainly not antiques that should be played up in the story of his excesses.

I have been in business for nearly thirty years and I never thought that I would see the landscape of the English, English furniture trade change the way it has in the last year. The latest business to close its doors is Norman Adams Antiques. One of the finest dealer exhibitions I ever saw was held on “Patina” in the basement of their gallery. Although there were perhaps only fifteen items on display, the exhibition made clear just what patina means and why it is one of the primary reasons so many people have collected English furniture. I will miss the camaraderie of the people in the firm, Stewart Whittington, Christopher Claxton-Stevens, Steven and Dey were all very warm to me on many occasions.

Another dealer, Andrew Jenkins of the firm Avon Antiques in Bradford-on-Avon, is closing his doors. Andrew is a top flight dealer, serious and dedicated and I guess he felt it was the right time to retire.  He was always a one man band so it is not surprising that Avon is closing its doors on his retirement, but it is another sad day for the English furniture trade.

On a lighter note, I remember a conversation I had with Richard Coles of Godson and Coles (one of the up and coming English furniture shops in London even though he has been in business for at least  twenty years) about the viability of modern design. I suggested that he might want to buy something modern for his gallery if there was something he saw in some auction that took his fancy. His response was, “The trouble is is that there is nothing as good as 18th century English furniture.” I second him on that notion. Long may he run.

I was interviewed by “The Magazine Antiques” last fall and the article has appeared in the January edition. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a copy on the newsstands, although I understand that the article is extremely complimentary. Thank you and if anyone at the magazine would like to send me a copy, I would greatly appreciate it.

The Winter Antiques Show begins a week from tomorrow, delayed by one week because of the inauguration of President-elect Obama (finally). I hope that the inauguration gives this nation a boost as we sorely need it. I recently finished “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln and his rivals for the Republican nomination for president in 1860. The challenges that Lincoln faced in 1860 make today’s challenges seem, by comparison, insignificant. It wasn’t that the secession of the southern states was so bad, but the political acumen necessary to bind the myriad groups in the north that wanted everything from the abolition to the legalization of slavery, seemed beyond human capacity. Lincoln seemed to take it in stride.

My most daunting challenge, other than drumming up business in this economy, has been in reading “War and Peace”. It is a long and great historical novel and Tolstoy has many memorable phrases therein, the most apropos to today being, “…all happiness comes not from lack, but superfluity;”.

Listening to Rush Limbaugh on my car radio the other day at the behest of a passenger (who promptly fell asleep once the show started) I realized that Mr. Limbaugh says very little. The way he weaves his words is rather like those confectioners who know how to create line drawings in air with caramelized sugar. Essentially, there is very little there although the crafting of the confenction can take hours. Three hours a day for Mr. Limbaugh at least, I think.

John Fiske wrote about virtual reality versus tactile reality in his editorial in “The Antiques Journal” the other day. He makes a great case for the art boom of the last 10-15 years as being “virtual” in that people bought it for investment, knowing that its value would increase with the rising market. John likes to think that antiques, the ones you live with that is, don’t fall into that category. You have to live with them and, if you grow tired of owning them, pass them on. If they increase in value, you have won a little bit more than you might have anticipated. If their value has decreased, you have still had the joy of them in your living situation. How incredibly far removed that is from virtual art that is bought for investment.

Limbaugh is, however, a virtual reality kind of guy. His show was about how scared he was that Obama did not know what he was doing. He called the press conference Obama had last Friday morning, “spooky”. Whether or not Limbaugh was attempting a racist gibe, I found his cant to be singularly tedious as he kept beating the drum for the type of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place. What I liked about the show is how ineffectual Limbaugh actually is.

Listening to Michael Pollan being interviewed about his new book, “Food Rules”, is a little bit like listening to the suicide prevention expert talking someone down off a high ledge. His straightforward delivery is soothing and elemental. He is a relentless critic of industrialized food and government subsidized monoculture which creates moutains of high fructose corn syrup that ends up in just about everything we eat. His lessons are very simple and “Food Rules” is short and might take all of an hour to read.

The English relationship to food in the 18th century was about having enough to eat which is aptly displayed in William Hogarth’s painting, “The Gate of Calais” which shows a huge side of beef being delivered to the English inn on the shoreline while emaciated Frenchmen look on in envy. The French called the English, “roast-boeufs”, a name the English adored. Today, 250 years later, the English countryside is dotted with “carveries” restaurants devoted to meat eaters and principally, roast beef. My own first memory of British food goes back to August of 1962 when my mother told my brother and me in Brown’s Hotel restaurant, “Boys, you don’t have to eat the vegetables in this country.”

My sister-in-law, Susan Allport wrote a book called, “The Queen of Fats”, which is about the dearth of Omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Omega-3’s are the good fatty acids which are proven to have multiple health benefits. Her and Pollan’s book(s) are, I believe, the necessary forays against government subsidized agriculture which will probably never cease to be. However, if people can be encouraged to eat wisely, maybe all that high fructose corn syrup can be left to wither on the vine.