The Finer Points

It has almost been sixty years since Albert Sack published, “The Finer Points of Furniture”. Sack understood that dealer knowledge was different to both a museum or collector’s knowledge which is usually far more narrow than that of a dealer. Sack’s book points this out with the plethora of examples that he uses to show good, better and best examples of antique furniture. It is the dealer’s knowledge that he is touting in the book and it is a connoisseur’s delight.

Look-alike antiques are not necessarily about good, better, best. Sack was making it clear that the term “antiques” has multiple meanings to people. A plain country chair made in 1770 was no less an antique than a high style Philadelphia chair, but it was certainly less aesthetically involved. He offers no pejorative of the simple chair but points out that knowing the difference between the two is what makes a connoisseur.

I was asked to look at a breakfront bookcase yesterday. It was simple, made in the country and yet it had been “imporved” with blind fret and fancy dentil mouldings. That it was made by a country cabinetmaker is not a strike against it, but country makers did not age their wood the way someone like Chippendale, for example, might have. To that end, the piece has taken a beating from central heating. No high end dealer would look at it for inventory.

English antique furniture has suffered from pieces like the breakfront. Nice enough, it qualifies as an antique, but it hasn’t survived well. And yet, I can guarantee that the owners looked on it as an investment, which it most certainly isn’t. If there is an investment grade of antique furniture, it is furniture made by great craftsmen and the furniture was well cared for. Any antique buyer in the market today must know this.

The market is in a conundrum. Beset with pieces that I would call good furnishing goods which might inspire future buyers, these pieces, when found in shops, are still too expensive. The high end pieces are extremely expensive, because they are good and command great prices. No one wants to buy something that has little or no future and not everyone can afford the great piece. Someone needs to take Albert Sack’s lead and write another finer points.

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